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As Figure 11-1 illustrates, in 2001 service providers invested $89 million worldwide on softswitch technology. In the same year, service providers recouped over one-third of that investment in realized service revenue. In the following year, 2002, service providers invested $795 million in softswitch technology. In 2006, service providers will invest over $39 billion in softswitch technology while realizing $85 billion worldwide in revenues for services delivered on that technology.10
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The PSTN transmits conversations at a rate of 64 Kbps. Using a variety of voice coder/decoders (codecs), a conversation can be compressed to use less bandwidth. Table 11-1 lists the various International Telecommunication Union (ITU) voice codecs and their associated data rates. The advantages of compressing a conversation is best illustrated by the early long-distance bypass industry. For example, let s say a service provider is providing long-distance service from the United States to Kenya using a 64 Kbps satellite circuit that costs $1,000 per month. Using G.711 uncompressed voice, the service provider can offer only one conversation at a time. Allowing for some degradation of voice quality, the service provider could compress the conversation to 8 Kbps using G.729. Very simply put, the service provider can now get 8 simultaneous conversations over the same 64 Kbps satellite circuit. This has the potential to boost the revenue
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Table 11-1 ITU voice codecs and their compression rates
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Standard G.711 G.721 G.723 G.726 G.728 G.729 G.723.1
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Data rate (Kbps) 64 16, 24, 32, 40
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10 Dailey, Peter. The Softswitch Driving a New Vision of Communication as the Central Element in the Next-Generation Network. A report from Frost & Sullivan, December 2000, pg. 9.
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Softswitch Economics
11
stream for the service provider eightfold and cut the cost of transmission per conversation by a factor of eight. The service provider can determine which compression algorithm offers the best tradeoff in voice quality and revenue. In the North American market, voice compression in VoIP services has not been a critical issue as the cost of bandwidth, at the time of this writing, has dropped considerably and service providers have been conscious of voice-quality issues when competing with the PSTN. Voice compression is popular for international arbitrage (long-distance bypass) where international bandwidth costs are a serious concern. Although TDM voice can also be compressed, compression has proved popular in VoIP services and is a valid consideration when planning the economics of a softswitched network.
Lower Barrier to Entry
The overarching issue regarding softswitch being cheaper than Class 4 is that it lowers the cost barrier to enter the converging market. The legacy market has required facilities-based carriers to build much of their network at very fixed high costs. The service providers who actually built longdistance networks could charge very high rates for their circuits as they are a scarce commodity. In the case of long-distance bypass carriers, new operators could enter the market because their cost to do so is much less than if they had to purchase, install, and maintain a Class 4 switch for their operations. The same scenario is slowly materializing in the converging market. In addition to a lower barrier to entry as regards the acquisition of softswitch, the leasing of IP circuits has also lowered the barrier to entry. As the financial analysis later in this chapter will indicate, the two major cost factors for new market entrants are switches and IP circuits. In most business models, a long-distance service provider will contract with an IP backbone service provider with nationwide coverage (Level 3 and Qwest are good examples) to provide the IP transport for the VoIP service. The longdistance service provider will contract with the IP transport provider for the appropriate bandwidth and a service level agreement (SLA). Another consideration is that mainstream service providers will want to implement softswitch, as it presents a market opportunity for them to lower any costs of expanding their existing operations while lowering costs associated with OAM&P. This further allows them to undercut other mainstream competitors or withstand any price wars initiated by the competition. Adopting softswitch technology can act as an insurance policy
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