World Cup of Telecom


Last Thursday, the FIFA World Cup of football began in Russia with a 5-0 win for the host nation over Saudi Arabia. The tournament has seen lots of thrills already with powerhouse nations like Germany, Brazil and Spain having some disappointing performances and tiny nations like Iceland punching well above their weight with a 1-1 draw against Argentina with the great Messi.

This week, since AurorA and Amitel specialize in international telecommunications, we are going to look at competition in that sector among nations, World Cup style.

Our next door neighbour, the U.S.A. is undergoing some rapid changes in their telecom playbook. They have always had a fast, attacking style and recent moves in the commercial and regulatory scene indicate that that is not about to change anytime soon. The FCC has repealed Net Neutrality laws, and the Supreme Court has allowed AT&T to purchase Time-Warner despite objections from the Department of Justice. Now Comcast is looking to swoop in and buy Fox. The biggest service providers in the U.S.A. are bulking up with content to compete against Silicon Valley players like Amazon, Netflix, Apple and Google. They can now provide super bundles of connectivity (Internet and Phone) and their own content can be prioritized (zero rated so it doesn’t count against data caps). They are trying to keep all consumers tied to their offerings to avoid being just ‘dumb pipes” .Will we see that battle move into Canada where cord cutters are continuing to drop their telecom bundles ? Is that is what is truly behind Bell/Telus/Rogers “anti-piracy” crusade ?

It also never pays to under-estimate the giants of Silicon Valley. They all have deep, deep pockets and a desire to dominate all the markets they enter. To them telecom is existential, it is what lies between them and their customers which is why they fought strongly for Net Neutrality and continue to do so in Congress and at the State level. Their calling apps like Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Hangouts etc have taken the voice and messaging market from telcos worldwide. And each of them is quietly exploring Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and other unique systems to bring Internet access to anywhere on the globe; and conveniently bypass AT&T, Verizon, Bell etc totally from the equation.

India is a fascinating market, ever since the huge disruption brought about by Reliance Jio. In the space of one year, Jio has captured over 100 million customers in India. They brought in a modern network, leveraged new tech like 4G, VoLTE and fiber and brought in disruptive market offers that were consumer friendly like free voice calling and cheap data plans. India ranked 155th in the world for data consumption before the entry of Jio into the market; now it is the biggest consumer of data by volume in the world.

These tactics are being copied in other markets. TPG in Australia recently launched with a new state-of-art network and an offer of 1 Gb a day for free for the first 6 months. It is data only, no voice as they tell you to use WhatsApp or Skype etc if you want to make calls. Will we see the launch of such a consumer friendly competitor here in Canada to shake up the complacency of the incumbents ? Someone who’ll play a quick-strike counter attack ?

It promises to be an exciting month-long World Cup tournament featuring the best from around the globe. International Telecommunications also is in a very exciting phase and will continue to be long after this World Cup ends. So stay tuned, keep coming back to this blog (and my social media sites where I post other tidbits ) as we navigate this journey together.

Canadian Telecom Summit 2018


Monday, June 4 is the start of this year’s Canadian Telecom Summit to be held at the Toronto Congress Centre. This is the 17th Canadian Telecom Summit (CTS). I have been blessed to have attended each of these events, put on by two friends of mine Michael Sone and Mark Goldberg.

CTS was originally formed to replace the CBTA (Canadian Business Telecom Alliance) show that used to be held annually in Toronto. The first CTS coincided with the 10th anniversary of CRTC decision 92-12, which opened up Competition in the Canadian Long Distance industry. My own career in telecom was forged at competitive telecom providers like CNCP Telecommunications and ACC TeleEnterprises and Decision 92-12 was a milestone. Liberalization and deregulation of telecommunications around the world made the telecommunications sector an exciting place to work back in the ‘90s and 2000’s. (PS see my book reviews here for some books that chronicle those adventurous times)

CTS is a chance for the Canadian telecommunications industry to come together; for networking for sure, but also for thought provoking interaction. Over the years we have seen many announcements, both government policy and from industry, some discussions and heated arguments and some entertaining regulatory panel discussions (for us policy wonks).

This year the theme is “Innovation and Disruption in ICT: reinventing and securing our business and personal lives”. There has been much innovation and disruption in telecom throughout my career and the span of AurorA’s 24 years in business. Competition from Silicon Valley players like Google, Apple, Netflix and Microsoft have radically changed the industry. New technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the introduction of 5G networks and the continued rollout of the Internet of Things (IOT) promise even more innovation and disruption.

This year I will be trying something new by blogging from the conference. My goal is to post a summary each night of some of the more significant talks, discussions and events from the Summit that I feel would be relevant to you, my readers, specifically from an international telecom perspective .

Hopefully, I will see you live at the Summit. If not, then check in here next week for my updates from #CTS18 . If there is something specific you would like me to cover then leave a comment below of reach out to me on Twitter at @TimoVainionpaa.

Global Local Numbers

Your new Direct-to-Consumer luxury fashion business has taken off. From your home base in Montreal you’ve got the attention of discerning fashionistas in London, Milan , Hong Kong and Tokyo. Now how can you further serve your customers by making it easy for them to reach you when they have questions or concerns that just cant be answered in an email or text ?

That is where our Local Number Service (LNS) comes in.

Your business can look like a local player and gain global access with local numbers accessible from any network (mobile, landline or payphone) in the origin country. Those customers in Milan can make a local call that rings you in Montreal directly to ask about your supply chain or sourcing. LNS is ideal for customer service as overseas callers simply dial a local number and we deliver the call to you.

Local Number Service is easy and cost-effective. It is quick and reliable and can be provisioned with a short lead time.

So the next time your business needs city specific numbers accessible from worldwide locations , call us and let us help you serve the world.

Premium Numbers and Fraud

AurorA has been in the International Telecommunications space since 1994. Route guides for terminating traffic used to be simple; there was a rate per country to terminate a call to a landline telephone and maybe, maybe a second rate to terminate a call to the new cellphones. There were less than 300 lines on the spreadsheet.

Now, there are carriers whose A-to-Z rate sheet can offer thousands of pricing codes; still the landline rate with perhaps some other routes to major cities and a breakout now for each mobile carrier in the country but there are also an increased amount of expensive premium rates that are a potential risk for fraud.

In Canada and the U.S. in the 1990’s there was an explosion in the use of 900 or 976 numbers to offer premium services at a high per minute call rate that would be charged to the caller on their phone bill. Examples included weather reports, psychic hot lines and especially adult (phone sex) chat lines. The high per minute rates could lead to large phone bills very quickly and scammers would use all kinds of tactics to get people to call these numbers as they would get a split of the revenue from the phone company for each call. Consumers and businesses smartened up and blocked 900/976 number and eventually the Internet came and killed that particular market.

Overseas countries still have premium numbers and they live on through various names; Special Services, Non-Geographic Numbers, Universal Numbers, Telematic Services. etc. These numbers are premium in that usually they are at least ten times the rate of normal termination. They can have some legitimate applications; for example non-geographic numbers refers to a remote number, not tied to a physical destination such as if I wanted a Cyprus number to ring to my cellphone when I was elsewhere so my Cyprus customers could reach me.

They can be used for darker purposes though, through a scam called International Revenue Sharing Fraud (IRSF). In IRSF, the carrier in the far end country that owns the number ranges, leverage blocks of numbers they own by applying higher rates and assigning them to resellers outside of the country. Then hackers obtain these numbers, attack PBX’s and IP PBX’s and then machine generate calls. They then share the burst of revenue generated with the carrier in the country that owned these numbers providing a quick source of cash.

So how can you protect yourself ? It comes down to your own dial plan. You want to make sure that you don’t allow access to any premium numbers with such creative names like those listed above. Secondly , when choosing what international carrier to use to terminate your traffic with, beware of those whose own dial plans are riddled with such premium ranges, even if they seem to have low rates otherwise. It may be an arbitrage ambush. If they have many more premium pricing breakouts that do not exist on other carriers rate sheets you should avoid them. It doesn’t take many calls to the premium numbers to swamp any anticipated savings from using their “low” per-minute rates.

Choose to use a quality, reputable carrier for who you trust with your overseas calls.
Don’t be like those people in the photo when your bill comes in.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Also, thanks to Robert Benlolo of Tata whose expertise in this field provided me with guidance.

Satellite Phones

The most expensive destinations on any A-to-Z wholesale rate sheet are almost always satellite phone networks. Depending on the satellite network and its design, they can be used to provide voice, text and low bandwidth Internet access in specific regions or the entire Earth including Antarctica and the North Pole.

Satphones are ideal for certain applications; on board ships and airplanes, for remote resource industries such as mining, oil and gas exploration, natural disaster recovery scenarios and they are very popular on expeditions into wilderness areas where terrestrial cellular service is unavailable. Government agencies and militaries also find them quite useful.

Traditional satellite networks are based on satellites in geostationary orbit, which are meant to remain in a fixed position in the sky relative to an observer on Earth. Geostationary satellites are 35,786 km above sea level so there is a noticeable delay when talking over them as the signal has to go up to the satellite and then back down. Examples would include Inmarsat and Thuraya.

There are also satellite networks that rely on a constellation of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to provide worldwide coverage including the polar regions. The LEO satellites orbit the earth at altitudes of only 640 to 1120 km so their delay is negligible and goes unnoticed during a call. Examples would include Globalstar and Iridium.

These networks show up on wholesale A-to-Z rate sheets because satellite phone are issued with their own special country codes.

Inmarsat has been issued with codes +870 designated SNAC for Single Network Access Code. Prior to 2008 there were separate codes for geographic regions such as the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean East and West). Inmarsat was originally created to provide a communications network for the maritime community. Inmarsat now has a variety of services beyond the strictly maritime such as Aeronautical (for aircraft obviously), BGAN (IP based Broadband Global Area Network), M2M for machine to machine applications such as IoT. Other services such as B, M and Mini-M were closed Jan 2017.

LEO systems that provide global coverage are issued virtual country code +881. Iridium satphones have country codes +881 6 and +881 7. Globalstar is allocated +881 8 and +881 9. Calls to both networks can be very expensive, thus it is possible to call them with charges reversed (i.e. paid by the satphone customer) by first dialling a number in the USA. That way the receiver pays the standard rate for satellite to landline calls , but the caller only pays for the domestic USA call.

Smaller regional satellite phone networks are allocated numbers in the +882 code range designated for “international networks”.

Finally, the voice codecs used in satphones have very aggressive voice compression due to the limited bandwidth. The sound quality will exhibit a clipping effect. Satphones use far less bandwidth than a 3G cellphone or a G.729 IP call. Thus it is even more imperative to access these numbers with as high quality a connection as possible to maximize the intelligibility of the speech.

If your business or commercial customers require operating in remote regions of the globe, away from cellular networks (which would include most of Canada !) then have them consider satphones and then route their traffic via AurorA’s premium connections for maximum quality.

Six Sigma Telecom (or why Quality is paramount over cost)

Over the holidays I was able to catch up on some reading. The book I finished was “Eccentric Orbits – The Iridium Story” by John Bloom. In a future post I plan to give a short review of this book and a few other books on telecom that I have recently enjoyed.

Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story

One of the items that struck me in the book was the description of the Six Sigma management philosophy pioneered by Motorola (the builder of the Iridium constellation of satellites) in the 1980’s that was famously adopted by Jack Welch and General Electric in the 1990’s. The focus on Six Sigma is on eliminating defects and reducing variability. It takes its name from statistics, sigma being the term for a standard deviation from a normal distribution.

In layman’s terms Six Sigma can be summed up as “…if you build things that don’t break, you don’t have any costs of fixing them later…”.

This is the central philosophy we have at AurorA and it resonated strongly with me. In our view the concept of Least Cost Routing (LCR) for international voice traffic is outdated, ultimately more expensive and leads to substandard business outcomes. Choosing the highest quality termination, i.e. a direct route that passes true Calling Line ID (CLID), actually leads to better value and over a longer period of time, higher revenue and lower overall total costs.

Direct costs are lower if you choose premium quality over a cheaper but lower quality route. The LCR way will lead to call failures and trouble tickets. Customers will complain.The cost of chasing trouble tickets can be substantial as well as the re-routing necessary until the faulty route is fixed. Customer service staff to take the calls and service technician costs will increase. These costs can quickly eat up the lower rate per minute of the cheap route.

Secondly, only a small percentage of customers that experience poor quality or call failures will actually complain and take the time to put in trouble tickets. The silent majority will simply stop using your service and use an alternative. They will, however, complain internally to their management team about the poor experience.

Top-line revenue will then also decline over time, initially from customers not using your sub-quality voice service, but further once your organization develops a reputation for poor quality. The maxim “How you do one thing is how you do everything” describes that phenomenon. Customers will not renew, or would look more favourably on competitors offerings. One poor niche allows a competitor an advantage and an avenue to exploit.

This is especially true if your customers are enterprise or business customers. Commercial customers demand excellent quality from your entire service offering. International voice termination may be only a small fraction of your portfolio but if they cannot rely on the calls completing each time, every time with superb “pin drop” audio quality than it would reflect poorly on the rest of your service offering.

This is why at AurorA we insist upon serving you with the highest quality, premium international voice termination. The Six Sigma philosophy highlights that the penny pinching of using a LCR is not worth it, and over the long run higher revenues and lower costs accrue from providing superior quality service to your customers.

Start up week – Oct 5 to 10

Today marks the start of Start-up week in Ireland. Ireland has done an impressive job of attracting established Silicon Valley companies to establish their European headquarters in the Emerald Isle. They have now set their sights on establishing themselves as an innovation hub by 2020.

I flew into Dublin on Saturday to join my partner, Ben Maguire for Start-Up week. The week-end was for adjusting for jet lag, getting caught up, watching some football and WorldCup rugby. Here is Ben in front of the local Dundalk Enterprise Ireland office where we have started talks

.IMG_0924 IMG_0926

Sunday was a bright, warm sunny day and we toured around Dundalk, home of the FAI champion Lilywhites (who will be playing in the FAI Cup final again this year against Cork City !) and we finished up at the Spirit Store for some Guiness and traditional Irish music.

spirit store

It was wonderful and reminded me of the céilidh parties in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland back in Canada. All ages we are at the pub, players joined in the fun, adding their guitars, flutes, fiddles and accordians to the mix. The jovial atmosphere had us making new friends and reconnecting with old, including the former trombone player of the Benny Maguire All-Stars orchestra !

Today we are off to Dublin as we are booked in the Silcon Stroll. Looking forward to meeting some Irish start-ups and seeing how the entrepreneurial culture here compares and contrasts with Waterloo and the Bay Area. Follow us along on twitter @TimoVainionpaa

The Pros and Cons of Doing Business in Ireland

put-em-up

This was published on the IrishCentral website on April 16, 2015

Stephen Mullan, vice president of emerging business at the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) Ireland, outlined some of the advantages that Ireland offers to businesses.

“Ireland is an ideal entry point for businesses seeking access to the European Union and its population of more than 300 million people. Businesses with operations in Ireland benefit from barrier-free access to the EU’s 28 member countries and its four freedoms – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people,” Mullan said.

More than 1,000 multinational companies have chosen Ireland as their strategic European base. The Emerald Isle has one of the world’s lowest nominal corporate tax rates, 12.5 percent for active businesses.

Other advantages are its predominately young workforce, with a median population age of 35 – the lowest in the EU – and a higher percentage of post-secondary graduates than the U.S. or the U.K.

However, Mullan cautioned that there must be “a legitimate business reason” for wanting to locate in Ireland.

“The country’s low corporate tax rate should be among the considerations–but cannot be the sole reason,” he said. 
Business seeking to be considered for financial incentives must satisfy the IDA that the assistance is necessary to ensure the establishment or development of the operation and that it is both commercially viable and will provide new employment.

Read the full article here at
http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Pros-and-Cons-of-Doing-Business-in-Ireland.html