Azaire Networks Enables WiFi, Cellular and WiMAX Integration
Santa Clara-based Azaire Networks was founded in 2003 in both California and India. Its mission is “Enabling Broadband Mobility”, in particular conceptualizing voice, data and other services as just new, easy-to-deploy applications deployed over the IP layer.
Jim Grams, CTO of Azaire Networks, said: “Fundamentally we build software products that we load on standard hardware and sell to carriers. Those products are primarily in the edge-of-network gateway business, where we connect a cellular carrier’s network to various other IP access networks, including WiMAX and WiFi. That’s the basic product set of the company, and we’re essentially in the business of selling to mobile carriers.”
“Some of our engagements are just trials at this stage, and some are launched as a commercial service of one sort or another,” Grams said. “The commercial customers are Optus, which is in Australia, Chungwha Telecom has complete a trial phase and is getting ready for launch. Mobilkom Austria and Go Mobile are a couple of small carriers in Europe. They were early users of our first-generation products. They’ve been live for a while. And Rogers in Canada is preparing to go live with our technology as well.”
Grams continued: “T-Mobile (News - Alert) Germany was a customer that went very far down the road with a trial and really has a commercial system in their network deployed. They just haven’t chosen to launch any customer-visible services on it. But that’s actually the system we use most often because of its accessible worldwide for our demonstrations, because it’s in the T-Mobile Germany network. There’s also TMN, the Portuguese operator, and we recently won some business at Orange in France. We will be doing a trial with them later in 2007, and we’re quite happy about that.”
“The point is, we have some real customers and some real deployments, and we’re seeing some real momentum begin to build toward these convergence products,” said Grams.
“Just in the last few months there has been some additional excitement about fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and convergence products,” said Grams. “However, in the U.S. it has been fueled by two things: T-Mobile’s @home service based on UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) technology, both of which use WiFi (News - Alert), though they use it a bit differently from each other. They use slightly different networking technologies. Our products are basically positioned to serve either kind of device and carriers could use our technology with these or similar kinds of devices, though neither T-Mobile nor AT&T themselves are customers of ours. Interestingly, AT&T’s device is not really a convergence device in the way that one would suspect. It connects to the Internet when it’s on WiFi and then it connects to cellular, so those two connections really don’t interoperate as much as you might think.”
Grams elaborates: “There are four reasons why mobile operators should be interested in Fixed-Mobile Convergence (News - Alert) and why they should be interested in our products.”
“One is that users really like and want mobile broadband services,” said Grams. “They’ve been frustrated to a certain extent with the mobile data products that have existed to date, such as the mobile browser products, which are okay but not quite what they’re looking for since these are a bit awkward to use, and so on.”
Grams continued: “When prompted in market surveys, ‘Would you like a device that gives the full or ‘real’ Internet experience that you’re used to having when you’re sitting at your computer at work or at home on a high-speed broadband connection?’ they enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. They certainly would find that useful. Our conclusion on this first point is that we haven’t gone far enough in the wireless data industry to really provide the kind of high-bandwidth service that people seem to like. The iPhone (News - Alert) in a sense provides people with the first glimpse of what it might be like if you had a really high-speed network and you had a device that was capable of rendering more of the Internet than they’re currently accustomed to. Obviously, that’s all good.”
“The way they’re doing that, of course, is that the iPhone works really well when it’s connected to WiFi and thence to a wide area network,” said Grams. “In the absence of a WiFi connection, however, the experience is, shall we say, ‘less good’. I would argue that once you experience the iPhone on WiFi you loathe running the thing on the EDGE network, because it’s just very slow by comparison.”
Grams continued: “The second FMC driver for mobile operators is the fact that, as the carriers try to provide mobile broadband – and they’ve gone down a path of 3G technologies and there are 3.5G and 4G technologies in the works – they’re continuing to address this issue with a fully mobile wide area mobile network, or what’s known as a macrocellular network. Inevitably, such 3G/3.5G/4G approaches are a more expensive way to provide services in some places, such as inside your home or inside your office, or at an airport or places where WiFi makes for a more natural wireless presence.
Grams went on: “The carriers are trying to duplicate such accessibility with a macrocellular 3G approach, and ultimately that’s quite expensive for them. If you do the math on how many cell stations they’d need, and how close they’d have to be to all of the offices and all of the residences to really provide ubiquitous broadband data services, you’ll see that it gets to be a pretty astronomical number in terms of both the number of sites and how much investment capital they would need, and that sort of thing.”
“Our pitch is more like this: The wide area network is great when you’re fully mobile and moving around in your car, on a train, or walking down the street,” explained Grams. “But you don’t need that when you’re stationary or sitting in your office or home. You can use a hybrid solution using other networking assets to provide that broadband service so you can still connect on a mobile device, whether it’s a PDA, laptop or your mobile phone. But you don’t need to go to the expense of trying to cover it by blasting coverage in from outdoors; you can make use of the other network assets that are around, namely broadband connections via WiFi and WiMAX access points.
Grams explained further, “Our pitch in this area is this: If you fully embrace this approach of hybrid networks you would save a lot of money because you won’t be investing all of this extra money into making your 3G network cover every spot, which is admittedly quite a challenge.”
“Our third point for FMC is this: A few years ago when WiFi networks started to become popular, they were interesting and they popped up here and there,” said Grams. “Now WiFi hotspots have become pretty ubiquitous. There are very few offices these days that don’t have some sort of WiFi coverage. There are also many broadband homes that have added a WiFi access point, not to mention the WiFi coverage provided by coffee shops, hotels, and airports. So why not try to make use of that ubiquity to augment your mobile network coverage?
Grams went on: “The average person spends a great deal of time in locations where WiFi coverage is likely to be available. There are only a few times each day when you’re really mobile, such as taking a trip, commuting or going somewhere in a car, where you’re only access to a data network would be over the macrocellular network. So our pitch to the carriers is, ‘If you’re clever about this, and utilize this concept of the hybrid network, you should be able to offer your customers much better services where they are at any given time of the day’.”
“Finally, our fourth FMC driver for operators is that hybrid handsets are emerging very quickly,” said Grams. “A couple of years ago, when we were starting to develop in this area, the pushback from the carriers was always, ‘Hmm. Interesting story. What devices does this work on?’ At the time, of course, you’d have to throw up your hands and say, ‘Well, you can do this on a laptop, because you can plug a 3G card into a laptop and most of them have WiFi, and so that’s your converged device.
Grams continued: “Fortunately for us, the world is moving quickly and many, many devices are beginning to emerge that have what we call dual-mode operation. They have both cellular and WiFi radios in them. Various people have estimated the numbers of these devices. Siemens Nokia alone claims they’ve shipped millions of dual-mode devices last year. So many dual-mode phones will be shipping. Many devices are on the market today, and many of these are in a smart phone or PDA phone form factor, but you’re beginning to see devices that are more consumer-oriented. You could argue, for example, that the iPhone is a ‘big’ consumer-oriented phone.”
“A number of Nokia’s multimedia phones fall into a similar category where they are high-end, but they are definitely directed toward the consumer,” explained Grams. “It’s clear that this trend is continuing. In fact, if you read reviews from analysts, or folks who review such devices, it’s not uncommon for such people to comment, ‘I like this device, but I sure wish it had WiFi in it’. So, WiFi is now noticed more when it’s an ‘absent’ feature than when it’s actually present in the device.”
“There are various opportunities in the business case for hybrid networks,” said Grams. “The technology improves indoor coverage, accelerates fixed/mobile substitution and lowers overall costs in that savings occur both on CAPEX (regarding radio base stations) and OPEX (in terms of backhaul) for rich data services. Moreover, revenue opportunities are expanded. An operator can define its mobile service offering, extend the subscriber experience with this encompassing technology and they can now tap into the ‘video tsunami’ that seems to be occurring with mobile devices, thanks to the traditional popularity of moving images.”
“However,” cautioned Grams, “there are also threats to established operators in the world of hybrid networks, because this kind of network enables new entrants – such as YouTube, Google and Yahoo – to ‘bypass’ the established mobile operator and offer mobile data services which are new revenue sources, such as access revenue, ISP services, advertising revenue and location-based services. It also accelerates both customers’ and operators’ move to VoIP, which means that the average operator loses voice revenue that much quicker.”
We say to operators, ‘You can have your cake and eat it too. You can embrace these dual-mode devices but yet you can keep control of where the traffic’s going and you can keep control of where the user is routed, and you can do a number of things for the user’s benefit,” said Grams. “First of all, you can do hand-offs, so you can hand-off between the WiFi networks and the cellular networks, you can offer seamless services, which is an advantage particularly when you move to providing real-time services such as video steaming or voice calls.”
“Secondly, you don’t lose visibility with what’s going on in the data network,” said Grams. “When the user is directly connected to an ISP rather than the carrier network, the carrier has no visibility into what they’re doing. They can’t monetize that stream, they can’t protect it against viruses, spam and things like that. So, what our Gateway product does is that it basically lets them have the best of both worlds: The data can still flow through their network, but it can be done in seamless way. They can monitor it if they want to, but they can also deliver it out to the ISP without any problems.”
The Azaire IP Converged Network Platform (IP-CNP) comes in three components:
1. Metro-Wireless Services Gateway (M-WSG). It supports Release-6 of 3GPP PDG/TTG/SeGW UMA/SeGW IMS. A Universal Convergence Gateway, it maintains delivery of Common packet services and supports secure VPN connections and serves as an “inter-system anchor”.
2. Service Control Node (SCN-RAC). It’s a 3GPP/3GPP2 AAA Server capable of multi-authentication, integrated billing, and it supports a Control Plane Interface. It enables secure user roaming on foreign networks.
3. Service Control Node (SCN-VCC). This is a VCC (Voice Call Continuity) Application Server. It can maintain IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) Voice Session Continuity between I-WLAN and the cellular station domain. It has an ingenious IMS Adaptation Layer for non-IMS networks and supports centralized services and integrated billing.
Grams drills down: “The M-WSG is really the basic, foundation product. It provides security functions, tunneling capabilities and the packet switching that necessary between the two networks.”
“We also offer two forms of the Service Control Node,” said Grams. “The SCN-RAC offers what you’d call AAA (Authorization, Authentication and Accounting) via well-known protocols such as RADIUS and its descendant, DIAMETER. The nice thing about the 3GPP standards that we incorporate into the Node is that you can actually utilize the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) credentials of a device to perform the authorizations as well. So carriers now have options that they can work out with the partners on the WiFi side, so if the WiFi partner wants to cooperate with the carrier, for instance, they can utilize SIM credentials rather than a username/password access scenario. That means that the user now has an even easier experience in getting onto a WiFi network.”
“Finally, our latest adjunct to all of this is the SCN-VCC, our Voice Call Continuity application server,” said Grams. “This is basically another blade that we can plug into the system which provides the 3GPP/3GPP2/VCC capability, which is really the ability to switch a VoIP call in the packet data world over to a circuit call in the macro-network. You can start a voice call using VoIP technology on the WiFi side and then as you move out of the WiFi coverage area and you enter the cellular macro coverage, you don’t have to keep the call as a VoIP call against the data network of the mobile carrier; instead, you can now switch that call to the circuit-switched side of the mobile carrier’s network, where the service will be better and the Quality of Service (QoS) will be better. Moreover, it’s more cost-effective for the mobile carrier to keep the call on the circuit side of their 3G network. And, vice versa, you can receive a 3G call and when you walk inside into your WiFi network, you can convert that call into a VoIP call. So that’s what the voice call continuity, or VCC, feature does.”
“The VCC feature is defined as an IMS service,” said Grams, “but one of our value-adds is that our implementation of VCC works either on top of an IMS network (if the carrier has gone through the trouble of building an IMS network), or if a carrier has not built their IMS network yet, there’s no problem because we insert an emulation layer to make an application believe that it’s ‘talking’ to an IMS network, but in fact it could be talking to a straight, pre-IMS, 3G network. The application, and therefore the client that’s on the device, remains unchanged, because it believes it’s talking to a standard VCC server and it’s a standard VCC client.”
Grams continued: “We actually have what we call an IMS Adaptation Layer that we insert that emulates the pieces of an IMS network in case they’re missing. We do this because, frankly, IMS networks haven’t been fully deployed and there’s no reason to make the VCC service wait for IMS network deployments. It’s not necessary. The way we’ve done it, operators can provide a nice emulation of any missing IMS network pieces, and then allow the devices to believe that they’re connected to a full-blown IMS network.”
Three Major Benefits to Carriers
As Grams explained it, “The Azaire IP Converged Network Platform provides benefits to carriers in three areas: First is Secure Access. One of the fears that carriers have of these dual-mode devices equipped with a WiFi radiois that the user will independently connect them with WiFi and do damage to the phone in some sense, either by compromising it with viruses or spam, or, if the user is in a business environment, the system can’t figure out what’s being transmitted on the WiFi side and that could lead to problems in their Internet or Verizon (News - Alert) Business access. So, we provide a way to ensure that you know where all that traffic is. That’s our secure access piece.”
“The second benefit concerns Service Integration,” said Grams. “We basically allow services that people are used to in the mobile carrier space, whether they’re billing services or authentication services, or whatever. Those same services can be extended into the WiFi realm, which is another benefit of our gateway.”
“Finally, the third benefit to carriers is the Mobility Management piece, which concerns hand-off and the seamless transitions between the different network elements,” said Grams.
Grams concluded, “So, virtually any IP access network, be it public WiFi, private WiFi, WiMAX, 4G, or any of the femtocell networks that are being defined now, will ultimately involve IP access. At this point, the mobile carrier network owns and operates its own private radio networks. In some cases this network is already IP-enabled but it most cases it isn’t. Whatever the case, our Metro-Wireless Services Gateway at the edge of the mobile network gives carriers the ability to trust accesses from all of these various IP-enabled networks. Today the carriers don’t trust these the same way they trust their own network traffic. We can change that.”