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From Over the Top to QoS and Back Again

December 05, 2013 by

Back when we started Thinking Phone Networks, we were committed to an over the top (OTT) service delivery model. Our idea was that customers would access our cloud UC services over whatever Internet connection they had. After all, this is how most cloud services work. When we signed up our initial customers, we discovered something pretty quickly: A significant portion of our deployments had at least some service issues because the quality of the customer’s underlying network connectivity wasn’t good enough for UC services. Customers often didn’t even understand when we started talking about things like latency, jitter, and packet loss on their Internet connections.

As a result of these early lessons, we evolved our service delivery model to include network access, typically MPLS connectivity with Quality of Service (QoS) features to prioritize voice and video over other types of data traffic. This was a key change that allowed us to provide end-to-end guarantees around service quality and move up the chain to larger and larger enterprise deployments – different from many early cloud UC providers who focused on the SMB market. This delivery model does come at a price, though.

Deployments get a lot more complicated and take longer when you have to deploy network access in addition to UC services.  For us, this tradeoff is worth it to ensure that we have a very high quality service. It has also allowed us to realize a very low customer churn rate.

The interesting thing I’m seeing now, though, is that things are shifting back to the over the top model. Not for established enterprise locations and users with wired handsets – these will always be best served by wireline QoS-type connectivity. But the OTT trend is being driven by mobile users. When a user with our UC client on a mobile device is in a deployed enterprise location, he can have guaranteed quality via a voice grade Wi-Fi LAN and QoS WAN circuit. However, when that same user leaves the office and is using our client over public Wi-Fi or LTE, he still expects reasonable performance. Trying to get the best possible performance in these mobile OTT scenarios is one of our focus areas for forward-looking development. Things like tunneling SIP and RTP over HTTP, RTP doubling, and improved resiliency codecs are all needed to make VoPublicWIFI and VoLTE work with a reliability approaching the wireline QoS scenario.

Mobile is driving things away from the comfortable and buttoned-up world of our wireline QoS deployment scenario, back to the OTT model. Across the board in our existing customer base, we see shifts of wireline handset endpoints moving to iOS and Android-based endpoints. The trick will be to engineer the software for these mobile endpoints so they work with a performance and reliability approaching the wireline QoS scenario.

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