Syniverse buys Aicent as IPX market consolidates May 14 2014

With carriers like Vodafone threatening to squeeze independents, the carrier services specialist is building scale and a broad offering

By Caroline Gabriel 

With LTE build-outs accelerating in many regions, the need for international roaming is becoming a hot one, and a key driver for providers of intercarrier IPX (IP Exchange) services. However, many large carriers are building their own frameworks, putting pressure on third party suppliers, with Vodafone claiming earlier this year that there would be "no room" left for those independents. The acquisition of one IPX player, Aicent, by another, Syniverse, suggests those words were not just boasting.

Syniverse, whose merger with another carrier services provider, Mach, was finalized a year ago, is clearly building itself up to be a viable independent alternative to the carriers' own offerings, alongside rivals like Comfone, Sybase 365, BICs and TNS. It is shaping up to be a formidable player in LTE and IP roaming hubs and other intercarrier services.

Aicent brings particular strengths among Asian mobile operators as well as enterprises. Syniverse will benefit from an expanded footprint of connections to support roaming, interconnection and A2P (application-to-person) services. Aicent also provides cloud-based analytics tools to monitor quality of service from end-to-end, and increasingly important issue for operators as they fight to compete on the basis of customer experience even when users are roaming.

Syniverse, with its roots in SMS and MMS interworking, has been expanding its activities in LTE and IMS roaming and interoperability. When it merged with Mach, it claimed to support 900 operators worldwide, while Mach had 650 customers, including enterprises and wireline providers as well as the core base of cellcos.

In early 2013, Syniverse announced its LTE Hub, which provides a portfolio of 4G roaming services, including customer care, billing, clearing and settlement. This is built around its Prime IPX Network Solution, which connects operators to the firm's global all-IP network and a suite of 4G solutions. These include Diameter and SIP signalling to support LTE and IMS interworking and roaming, as well as compatibility with legacy networks; real time tracking of all the data travelling over the IPX system, which can be harnessed to optimize the customer experience; clearing and settlement; and interoperability for all kinds of messaging including video and RCS.

However, Syniverse knows it will need even broader capabilities to demonstrate to its customers that it can enable a profitable IP roaming model, and to fight off the big carriers. Cloud-based services and real time intelligence are important, and feature in both the Mach and Aicent purchases.

However, many operators have their own carrier IP businesses, with notable examples including KPN's iBasis, Tata, TeliaSonera and Vodafone. The UK giant created a dedicated Carrier Services unit a year ago, built around its Cable & Wireless Worldwide acquisition and headed by Brian Fitzpatrick, who made the claims (in an interview with telecoms.com) that there would be no space left for third parties. Vodafone is investing heavily in MPLS and says it will have the world's largest physical MPLS infrastructure by the end of this year to support a wide range of solutions for operators, including IPX.

"What we're doing, pointing the industry towards an IPX access, is quite threatening to third party aggregators, because for the first time their business model is in question," he said in the interview. "The industry doesn't need third party IPX but it does need to connect to Vodafone because we have 20% of the world's handsets. And while everyone wants to come to us we're just giving them a better door to come through."

He claimed that independent IPX providers do not connect directly into Vodafone for LTE roaming, so there is an additional link in the chain, adding to cost and reducing quality of service. By contrast, Carrier Services provides a direct integration with the Vodafone 4G network.

However, the rationale for the independents remains clear - the ability to connect all the operators which do not have the resources to build their own IPX infrastructure, and to provide value added services to smaller cellcos. The merger of Mach and Syniverse highlighted the growing opportunity in IPX-based roaming.

The main competitor to the mobile interconnect hub that the combined firm will support is Comfone, but firms with previously narrower scope, such as KPN's iBasis or Transaction Network Services, are expanding into full roaming - iBasis launched its LTE Signalling Exchange last year, for instance. And there are new approaches emerging, including 'as a service' offerings. Recently, wholesale carrier services firm BICS partnered with Aicent itself, to interconnect their IPX communities and support hosted, IP-based interworking and roaming services.

IPX-based LTE roaming will become particularly critical if VoLTE is to be rolled out by most 4G cellcos and not just a handful. Opening up IPX access easily to all operators is the goal of the initiative launched nearly a year ago by the GSM Association and another industry body, the i3forum. They are to coordinate live commercial pilots for voice IPX, to be conducted by mobile and fixed operators including Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and TeliaSonera. These pilots will be used to formulate the technical and commercial agreements needed to use IPX to interconnect voice services on a broad basis, and avoid the tangle of bilat- eral roaming deals which characterized - and slowed down - roaming in previous mobile generations.