Carriers need to stop treating IPX as a service in its own right and instead focus on the needs of their customers and customers’ customers.
Low adoption among retail telcos does not mean that there is no future for IPX, but the technology must reinvent itself, according to key industry stakeholders.
"Most carriers are IPX-ready," said Philippe Millet, chair of the i3forum and head of technical strategy at Orange Labs Network, speaking at Carriers World in London on Wednesday.
However, mobile network operators have largely not embraced IPX, which raises questions over the technology’s future.
When it comes to IPX, "supply exceeds the demand," agreed Christian Michaud, SVP of usage based services, voice and mobility at Tata Communications. "It’s a challenge for the industry," he said.
But, "is it dead? No," he assured attendees at the event.
According to Michaud, the industry needs to reframe the discussion around IPX and potentially rebrand and reposition the technology.
IPX is "definitely not a service on its own… [or] a pure technology play…For me, it’s an enabler," Michaud said.
"Operators are still going towards a multi-service environment" and IPX needs to evolve to support that environment, he said. But, "I don’t know if it’s going to be called IPX."
Key to the future of IPX – the wholesale industry in general – is looking beyond the operator customer.
"We cannot think that what we are serving is the service provider, the operator," Michaud said. Carriers need to consider the needs of the end user, either in the consumer space or enterprise.
Isabelle Paradis, CEO of consultancy Hot Telecom, heartily agrees.
"These are your customers," she told the carriers, showing an image of multiple consumer faces.
"You have to enable the operator to serve the end user," she said. "Wholesale is the new retail."
For the operator customers to adopt IPX they have to see the business benefit, but currently there are few real drivers.
Voice over LTE (VoLTE) has long been touted as the silver bullet for IPX, but as it stands, operators are not prioritising the international VoLTE interconnections that would require IPX.
"There’s no increase in revenues and there’s not a huge cost saving," said Kees Hol, business strategist at iBasis. As such, "building IP interconnection for voice is a low priority."
Legacy TDM works well, said Hol. In fact, "it’s more or less perfect." Conversely, there are still issues with IPX that need to be ironed out. There is no ringback tone, for example, he said.
Ultimately, "VoLTE is a driver," Hol believes, as telcos gradually migrate to IP. But "how long it will take, no one can say," he said.
"I hope it doesn’t go in the same direction as RCS" he said, referring to the GSMA-backed initiative to enable operators to launch messaging services and apps that was effectively rendered obsolete by over-the-top (OTT) players such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Indeed, WhatsApp could easily overtake VoLTE roaming, warned Hol, since it allows users to make international calls.
"The quality is perfect," he said, provided the user has a strong cellular or WiFi connection.
"There’s no monetisation of IPX," Tata Communications’ Michaud agreed. What matters is the business model of the service the operator wants to put on it.
As carriers, "maybe we’ve been wrong…to put the IPX agenda so high in our discussions" with operators said Michaud. "For them it doesn’t mean anything."
Carriers need to refocus their discussions around what the customer actually needs, he added.
"The market is asking for something much larger," he said. "IPX is a piece of the solution."