IP media servers have been around for a decade now, enabling service providers to overcome a number of telecom-related challenges in ways that legacy solutions are simply unable to do. Over the years, IP media processing has taken several steps forward in allowing carriers to deliver multiple IP telecom services, including multimedia conferencing, ringback tones, interactive voice and video response (IVVR) applications and more.
The disruptive technology's pervasiveness is due to its ability to help service providers in a number of ways.
The IP media server first made a name for itself in audio conferencing realms, allowing service providers to replace previously accepted time-division multiplexing (TDM) audio bridges with more cost-effective IP-based service architectures.
Although IP media servers have been supporting cost savings in the conferencing industry for years, deployments have increased recently due to the rapidly evolving telecom market.
Increased demand has caused greater competition among service providers, which has driven the average audio conferencing price point down significantly, contributing to much thinner margins and a greater demand for more cost-effective solutions, according to Al Balasco, director of product management for conferencing solutions at Radisys, who recently authored an article for Unified Communications.
These profitability pressures have forced communication service providers that rely on pricy TDM architectures to open their eyes and understand the cost benefits of highly flexible IP-based alternatives.
Carriers that make the transition to the IP world have a couple of different options, Balasco points out. Many of today's suppliers combine traditional TDM-based audio bridge architecture with modern IP-based add-ons like Voice over IP (VoIP) interface cards and IP-based graphical user interfaces. This is a cost-effective approach – as it takes advantage of VoIP's inexpensive nature – but it also provides limited innovation capabilities and less than ideal platform economics.
An all IP-based architecture, on the other hand, provides a number of additional benefits and differentiators while also offering similar support for Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert) (SIP) trunking and IP-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
"In summary, TDM conferencing solutions provide less agility for introducing new services, are more expensive, often encounter performance degradation and integration issues, and support limited scalability options," says Balasco. "Compared to TDM conferencing solutions, IP-based integrated conferencing solutions cost less, require less space and energy, and offer more integration flexibility and scalability options."
IP media servers also have a long tradition of aiding service providers in the act of transcoding, a process of converting from one encoding format to another. As one would imagine, transcoding has become much more complicated – and necessary – in an IP world due to the influx of dozens of new codecs for wireless, wireline, enterprise and satellite networks.
With IP traffic growth dominating, it only makes sense to migrate the transcoding function from media gateways and session border controllers into the IP media servers, which provide greater media processing functionality with improved voice quality at a lower cost for the service provider.
IP media servers provide the ideal approach for IP-to-IP transcoding in 3G mobile, LTE and IP Multimedia Subsystem (News - Alert) (IMS) networks, says Ray Adensamer, senior product marketing manager for Radisys. The technology can help deliver a myriad of audio and video IP telecom services and can perform "large-scale, real-time transcoding between different codecs in large service deployments."
"A media server-based transcoding solution with signaling only performed in the session border controller (SBC) can deliver up to a 50 percent cost advantage over other approaches with integrated transcoding," adds Adensamer. "Due to a dense digital signaling processor platform and centralizing media processing in a general purpose media server, transcoding efficiencies are achieved and costs decreased."
In addition to their benefit in the audio conferencing world, IP media servers also enable service providers to deliver competitively-priced integrated conferencing solutions, including real-time video communication and the ability to share data. IP media processing allows service providers to deliver flexible and cost-effective video conferencing alternatives that economically extend and interconnect remote participants to more expensive, full-featured on-premise telepresence solutions.
Traditional video services use mountains of pricy bandwidth and are based on proprietary technologies, meaning they offer limited scalability and a lack of ubiquitous endpoints. IP-based technologies, on the other hand, consume minimal bandwidth, provide inherent flexibility and offer a higher-level user experience.
"An IP-based videoconferencing solution bridges the void between existing free applications and prohibitively expensive telepresence solutions for the large market stuck in between," says Adensamer. "Meeting the differing cost, quality, scalability, flexibility and user preferences of both the road warrior and the enterprise professional, an IP-based videoconferencing solution is a means for extending videoconferencing collaboration from the boardroom to the masses."
Where are IP Media Servers Headed Next? - Mobile Video
Another key benefit that IP media processing can provide is growing mobile video service revenue, including differentiating features like ringback tones and interactive voice and video response (IVVR) services. These Personalized mobile video services traditionally have required their own service platforms with a proprietary integration of TDM network interfaces, application logic media processing hardware.
The industry today is full of excitement around LTE (News - Alert) mobile architectures, an end-to-end IP-based mobile architecture which has adopted the IMS standards for the delivery of IP-based telecommunication services. In an LTE IMS, the IP media server performs the function of the Multimedia Resource Function (MRF) to support real-time IP-based audio and video media processing on behalf of the IMS Call State Control Function (CSCF) and multiple Application Servers (AS) in an IMS architecture. It is this reuse of the MRF across multiple audio and video applications−including Voice over LTE (VoLTE), IVVR, audio/video conferencing, multimedia ringback tones, or live event video streaming, all performed across a unified IP-based mobile network−that drives the economics traditional TDM-based service platforms simply can’t achieve. Click here to learn more about IP media servers' expanding role in delivering the broadband MRF in LTE mobile networks.
So in conclusion, IP media servers have already provided cost savings and operational efficiencies in the delivery of many audio telecom services over the past decade. But it is the prospect of introducing these efficiencies against video services in mobile 4G and LTE networks that makes this product segment so exciting for the future.
Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Juliana Kenny