Metaswitch Clearwater: Game Changing Open Source IMS Initiative

The march to a software telco world is progressing nicely

Communications service providers are at war with OTT providers and need to ensure they are able to battle on as level a playing field as possible. There are significant costs associated with running a major telco and hardware infrastructure certainly ranks high among them. Sure, OTT providers like Skype and WhatsApp have infrastructure costs as well but they often leverage standard servers and software to achieve their goals. Contrast this to a telecom operator who typically buys proprietary equipment from a number of specialized manufacturers. The difference in costs between these approaches is quite steep.

This is of course is why carriers are pushing equipment providers to provide all of the network functions they supply in software which will run in virtualized instances on off-the-shelf servers. It also explains what ETSI network functions virtualization or NFV is all about and Metaswitch Networks has been on the forefront of this trend and hopes to ride the wave into larger carriers worldwide.

To further this push from hardware into software, the company recently announced Project Clearwater which takes the components of IMS and runs them on standard servers in an open-source manner. A number of carriers have leveraged open-source Asterisk in the past to provide telephony service to their customers, now they and others can take advantage of this new initiative to provide open-source IMS as well.

One of the main reasons carriers want to shift their network functions to software is it allows them to select products from a wider variety of vendors. The reason has to do with the costs of developing telephony hardware for carriers. You need phenomenally deep pockets and lots of patience to sell to carriers as an upstart hardware provider. As a result, an amazing number of equipment companies have gone belly up waiting to become adopted by telcos worldwide. Software on the other hand has less cost associated with it meaning a potentially higher likelihood of success.

Still, telcos can never be too cautious choosing a company to base their network on. One of the benefits of going with an open-source project is you no longer need to worry about one company to support it.

I spoke at length with CTO Martin Taylor and he tells me they learned a great deal from the efforts of many of the players in the social networking and cloud space and took the best ideas from these players and applied them to a SIP centric IMS network. Some things they learned and applied were using DNS as a load balancing technique as well as building massively scalable and resilient solutions in a low-cost manner.

How low cost you ask? Well, I am glad you did. Taylor says about 2 cents per subscriber per year based on the costs of AWS. Of course the solution is not dependent on Amazon, but this is just a guideline to consider. Moreover, this cost covers core plumbing of voice, video and messaging… You would still need an SBC, telephony app servers, messaging app servers and media gateways.

He further explained that carriers who are looking to deploy RCS know they have compete with OTT providers and being able to lower the cost of IMS is a huge help in doing so.

Metaswitch will supply support and bug fixes for the project. Taylor exclaimed, “Charging for peace of mind really is what it boils down to.” This and supplying additional solutions is how the company hopes to monetize this new initiative which is free for telcos to use.

This news is a potential game changer for telecom. Carriers once had to grapple with whether to purchase their IMS solutions from the US, Europe or Chinese equipment providers… Now they have the option of trying a software-centric, open-source approach. They can even try this solution in tandem with other trials going on in their labs.

Be sure to learn everything there is to know about NFV and the birth of the software telco at Software Telco Congress, Nov 19-21, 2013 in Santa Clara, Ca.

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