Least Corrupt Routing

“Awake” by Vickie Vainionpaa, https://vickievainionpaa.com/

LCR is no longer about Least Cost. Least Corrupt Routing provides better long term value.

That was the theme of the presentaion that I made on Sept 16, 2020 at the Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) Americas Online Conference.

The video is available for your viewing pleasure at https://vimeo.com/462621895

RAG Americas Online – Day 2

Art by Vickie Vainionpää, “The Third Insight” – https://vickievainionpaa.com/

This spring I was invited to be a speaker at the next Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) Conference. It was to be held in Denver, CO at Century Link (now Lumen). Alas , the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled those plans so until we can meet-up again live, it was decided to move the conference online and RAG Americas Online virtual conference was launched. September 16, 2020 was Day 2.

The highlight of Day 2 was the panel discussion on “Moving Telcos to the Public Cloud”. The panelists were Clodagh Durkan an expert in the fields of security governance, data protection, cryptography and perimeter threat detection ; Patrick Donegan the founder and principal analyst of Hardenstance, a research business focused on telecom and IT security ; and Danielle Royston former CEO of Optiva and Evangelist for the Cloud.

Most industries have already made the move to the cloud, after dipping their toes in it they have gone all in with their whole businesses. Even former skeptics and holdouts such as JP Morgan Chase have become cloud advocates .

The premise was that telcos need to move their software and datasets from their own data centres to the public cloud; specifically the hyperscalers ; Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure and Google’s Google Cloud. The immediate benefits are dramatically reduced costs, increased flexibility and security and then abundant opportunities for growth and improvement by using the tools and software that the clouds provide. The clouds are not commodities nor necessarily competitors , they offer the opportunity for telcos to evolve and become better.

There were many questions from the audience and objections were raised on multiple fronts. The hyperscalers are all American companies (and we didnt include Alibaba from China and others on the list). It was noted that the public cloud companies have locations in almost every country and can contractually tailor the solutions to satisfy stringent government data localization requirements.

What about security ? The point was made that the hyperscalers are orders of magnitude more vigilant about security than even the largest telco would be. They have the staff, budget and experience to do it better. The telco can hand off that headache and hold the cloud companies feet to the fire via the contractual obligations.

Some large telcos have started to move towards the cloud. Examples such as Vodafone , Deutsche Telekom and Verizon were touted with specific projects. It may take time for telcos to fully relinquish their perceived investments in control, the desire to “hug their own servers”.

This is an area I will be watching with eager anticipation. I know if I was younger and just starting out again I would defiantly build AurorA 2.0 as a native cloud company and take advantage of the software tools such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that a company AurorA’s size wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. The cloud really tips the scales to level the playing field for smaller entrepreneurial companies to be able to compete with even global giants.

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the live stream, the videos of the presentations will be available to view at the RAG website;
https://riskandassurancegroup.org/

I highly recommend searching out this panel discussion to view and digest for anyone in telecom, anywhere in the world.

RAG Americas Online – Day 1

Matt hard at work getting RAG Americas Online ready to rock !

This spring I was invited to be a speaker at the next Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) Conference. It was to be held in Denver, CO at Century Link. Alas , the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled those plans so until we can meet-up again live, it was decided to move the conference online and RAG Americas Online virtual conference was launched. Today, September 15, 2020 was Day 1.

There was a mix of about a dozen presentations and panel discussions interspersed with commentary from the Wise Heads comperes; Eric Priezkalns, Rachel Goodin, Nixon Wampamba and Tony Sani . Canadians were well represented with 3 speakers today and 3 tomorrow (including me) from companies like Telus, Rogers and Xplorenet.

From my vantage the most relevant panel was the discussion on Trends in Fraud Management, especially during this pandemic. Which frauds are up, which are down and what is new ? The consensus was a large increase in social engineering and identity fraud (all manner of phishing schemes), as well as increases in CLID spoofing. Reinforcing that was an expert panel just on stopping the spoofing of calls !

A recurring theme through many of todays presentations was Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) and their application in Revenue Assurance and Business Assurance. It appeared as more than just a way to automate fraud management, more as a set of tools to be able to transform the entire discipline and provide better business results.

If the telcos manage to move their massive data sets (the industry with the biggest data sets apparently) into the public cloud and could use AI/ML tools along with the other benefits that cloud brings, we could really see a profound transformation of the telecom industry ! That will be the panel discussion on Day 2 that I am most looking forward to; Moving Telcos to the Public Cloud.

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the live stream today, the videos of the presentations will be available to view at the RAG website;
https://riskandassurancegroup.org/

I will post a summary of Day 2 later followed by a separate post of my own presentation on Least Corrupt Routing.

RAG Americas Online: Sep 15-16

Coronavirus may have prevented RAG’s North American conference from being held at the offices of CenturyLink in Denver CO, but it will not stop us from running the biggest conference for telecoms risk professionals. Over 2,000 people from 93 countries watched RAG London Online in May (see my posts here and here) and we intend to do even better with our online North American conference, which will stream live on September 15-16, 2020.

RAG was kind enough to ask me to be a speaker this go around. I will be exploring how telecom carriers can meet multiple goals such as increase revenues, reduce costs and improve their customer’s satisfaction via one action; their LCR. The new LCR is Least Corrupt Routing and it provides better long term value and business outcomes than traditional Least Cost Routing by prioritizing Quality over simple cost per minute.

Most of the RAG members come from large global carriers like Vodafone, MTN, Deutsche Telekom, etc so AurorA will provide a different perspective; one from a smaller, niche, nimble pure international carrier that has been serving its wholesale customers in Canada, the United States and overseas since 1994

Come watch and ask questions live from 8am to 5pm Eastern time each day; click here to save the event to your calendar. You can watch the entire conference at the RAG webpage, without needing to register in advance.

Civic Holiday Long Weekend

Its a long weekend, pull up your Muskoka chair and clink glasses ! Cheers !

Monday August third is the Civic Holiday ! If you are in Toronto, “Simcoe Day”; Ottawa “Colonel By Day”; “John Galt Day” in Guelph; “Terry Fox Day” in Manitoba. It has different names all across the country (except for Quebec cause they took Saint-Jean Baptiste Day off in June). What is the Civic Holiday for ? A day to relax and enjoy ! Cheers !

It is an unfortunate fact that the hackers of the world like to plan their attacks on public holidays when network supervision may not be at its highest. On top of that we are still in the fight against COVID-19, and the criminals have escalated their attacks. Furthermore, our friends south of the border will not be celebrating anything which means the hackers will be focussed on us !

Please remember to be vigilant this Civic Holiday and guard access to your switches.

AurorA has to deliver any traffic that is sent to it , so you are responsible for any unauthorized access to your network. AurorA will pass on any alerts that it gets of suspicious traffic patterns. AurorA has also implemented automatic blocking of B numbers once we detect a suspicious fraudulent traffic pattern in an attempt to minimize losses. Also we have also implemented blocking of entire routing destinations after a threshold is breached to further protect you, our customers, from these criminals and mitigate the damage.

Make no mistake, these frauds are perpetrated by criminals; sometimes organized crime, sometimes terrorist groups looking to raise funds for their causes.

Have a safe and happy holiday. Thank you for choosing AurorA and trusting us with your international traffic.
Timo Vainionpaa

Elon and Jeff are brilliant ! Surely THEY can solve our broadband issues.

Two dishes got married; the ceremony was meh but the reception was incredible.

Much has happened since we last visited the wacky world of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations and their use in providing improved broadband service to Canada’s rural and remote users. This past Tuesday, July 21, all of Iqaluit, the capital of the Territory of Nunavut was without communication services ; no Internet, no landline, no cell service, no cable TV – simply because it was raining ! In a first world country like Canada this is unacceptable. We need better broadband service in Canada’s North NOW.

There is a rash of breathless newspaper stories in the mainstream media touting LEO service as arriving soon to resolve our remote and rural broadband issues. I wrote about it before here, that Elon Musk is not coming to save us any time soon. I also wrote about the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the early leader to provide LEO service to the Arctic, OneWeb, here. So where do we stand now on July 27, 2020 ?

Well on July 10, the US bankruptcy court of the Southern District of New York (SDNY) approved a joint $1 billion bid for OneWeb by Britain and Bharti Airtel. The UK government and Bharti Global, an arm of Bharti Enterprises, which part owns India’s Airtel, will each have roughly 45 per cent of OneWeb. The existing secured creditors, including SoftBank of Japan, OneWeb’s former biggest shareholder, will own the balance.

But the landscape has changed from before OneWeb’s descent into Chapter 11 in the spring. OneWeb’s original mission was to “connect the unconnected “ ; ie it wanted to provide broadband service to the millions of people around the world that do not have access to the Internet. The UK has invested $500M into OneWeb for other strategic reasons, mainly to mitigate the effects of Brexit on British industry. I sure hope they realize that it is going to cost them more, much more and that $500M was just the table stakes to play in the LEO game.

After Brexit, the UK would have been locked out of the EU’s Galileo mission. Its aerospace industry would have lost work and technology to the EU and the USA and it would have fallen behind. Investing in OneWeb, and taking the “golden share” that lets it decide who gets access to the network will let it be a cornerstone of new industrial policy for Britain. Jolly good show.

But a $1 billion investment is just the starting point, OneWeb will need to raise at least $1B if not more to fully fund the company’s plans. So to mitigate, the mission will be changed from targeting unserved consumers to one targeting governments and commercial sectors to generate revenue quickly. These use cases are more in sync with what Telesat is proposing to do in selling wholesale connectivity to telcos and ISPs, starting with the Arctic. The UK also wants to develop other use cases such as a new navigation offering different from GPS or Galileo that it could then sell to its Five Eyes partners as an adjunct to GPS. That requires adapting and redesigning the satellites to the new missions.

The UK also wants to use this transaction bring more aerospace manufacturing back to Britain. The current OneWeb satellites were made in Florida in a joint venture with Airbus. Some or all of this manufacturing is expected to move to the UK.

The transaction to close the deal to buy OneWeb from Chapter 11 is expected to close in Q4 2020. Thus the former timeline of providing service in the Arctic by late 2020 is out of reach, 2021 will be too aggressive and 2022 is more realistic. All of the changes wrought by the new ownership and new mandates have created issues and decisions that need to be navigated; technical, financial as well as political which all bring delays to actually launching services.

Meanwhile, the other proposed LEO constellations have not been idle.

Amazon’s Project Kuiper has won the backing of Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC who is backing approval of the venture.

SpaceX’s StarLink venture has just begun to raise more funding to continue launching service. CNBC has reported that it is in talks to raise $500M to $1B funding at a valuation of $44B (July 23) . SpaceX has also been not so quietly signing up beta customers in Canada and the USA to test trial service of its direct-to-consumer internet service late this year.

That leaves Canada’s Telesat. Telesat was also a bidder for OneWeb during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That bid came out of the blue, and we still don’t know what motivated Telesat to launch the bid, nor who financed the deposit. Telesat has yet to choose a manufacturer for its satellites with apparently an announcement due any moment, perhaps at their Q2 results conference call on July 30. The biggest question mark remains around the financing of the project.

In July 2019, Telesat received $85M CDN from the Federal Government’s Strategic Innovation Fund. Once the constellation is in service, they have a commitment from the Feds to purchase $600M CDN in services over 10 years. That still leaves a huge question of how Telesat plans to finance the enormous capex to launch the LEO constellation before it sees any revenue. As we saw with OneWeb, there are not many investors around that are willing to sign the large cheques needed to finance such risky ventures. Even Softbank (funders of Uber and WeWork) balked at additional funding for OneWeb while they were the largest shareholder and creditor. Such investors need to be able to keep signing large cheques to keep funding capex. (are you paying attention Boris?)

Telesat’s current shareholders are Loral Space & Communications, a NY based holding company and Canada’s Public Sector Pension investment Boards (PSP). I am not sure either are up to the task of financing such a risky venture. Loral recently paid a special dividend of $5.50/share on May 28, 2020 distributing to shareholders funds it had received from Telesat. Not the kind of action you would expect to see from a party planning to underwrite billions of capex expenditures. The PSP is a pension fund that historically prefers ventures that provide stable cash flows at predictable rates, which is what Telesat’s legacy business provided. LEO constellations are highly speculative and very risky, the exact opposite of what the pension plan for Canada’s public sector workers want to see done with their retirement funds.

From my personal perspective (ie I am guessing) I can see a strategic buyer taking control of Telesat from its current owners and funding the LEO constellation. That buyer would be Amazon and its Project Kuiper.

Amazon’s strengths are its financial muscle and long term vision. Amazon can raise funds cheaper than most nation states. Amazon may covet some of Telesat’s strategic assets such as its protected spectrum rights from the ITU and its substantial base of satellite technology and experience. Both of those would give them a significant advantage over Starlink. Telesat and Amazon have a relationship already as Telesat signed a launch contract with Blue Origin, another of Jeff Bezos’s companies for multiple launch missions in January, 2019.

Amazon could also introduce another use case for the LEO sats that no other strategic buyer could. They could use the service internally to connect their global network of AWS data centres. In essence, it could be a part of the connectivity portion of their AWS cloud. Potentially at a lower latency than some sub-sea fiber cables. That use case may be appealing on its own.

It would give Loral and PSP gracious exits and Jeff Bezos a competitive advantage against OneWeb who will be be busy sorting out their new ownership and new mandates over the next two quarters and let Project Kuiper keep pace with Elon Musk’s Starlink as it beta trials consumer service this winter.

Never underestimate the power of bragging rights between billionaires.

We shall continue to watch this sector closely. My core message remains, do not expect LEO satellite constellations to be the saviour of Canada’s remote and rural broadband issues any time soon. We must continue to expand our network of fiber optic cables, including Arctic sub-sea cables.

AurorA guests on RAG-TV

Timo appearing on RAGTV S2E1
Timo on RAGTV S2E1 with hosts Eric Priezkalns and Lee Scargall

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020 I had the honour of appearing on the opening episode of Season 2 of RAG-TV, the online streaming show of the Risk and Assurance Group. Their virtual conference in May was seen by over 2,000 telecom industry pros in over 93 countries ! Read more about that here and here.

RAG ia an association for telco professionals involved in all aspects of Revenue Assurance; fraud management, enterprise risk management, law enforcement liaison, credit risk, market assurance, capex analysis and security. Actually, association sounds too stuffy, a club is a better description. A club of like minded telecom fraud and risk managers wanting to get better and improve.

Commsrisk described the episode like this
“Telcos come in all shapes and sizes, from the hundreds of millions of customers served by an Indian mobile network like Jio, and the extensive multi-country operations and carrier function of a group like Vodafone, to telcos that serve tiny island nations and small, focused international carriers like AurorA International Telecom, based in Waterloo, Canada. They all need to work together in order to connect phone users whilst fighting the rouge elements that plague our industry.”

“AurorA’s Timo Vainionpää and LATRO Services’ Donald Reinhart were the guests for the first episode of the new season of RAG Television, giving me the opportunity to ask them about the factors that encourage bypass fraud and what can be done to identify and compete with gray routing. Watch the replay of the show below.”

Watch here !

Stand on Guard this Canada Day

July 1st is Canada Day ! For me it will always remain Dominion Day but for you young’uns Happy Canada Day ! A day to celebrate this wonderful country of ours.

It is an unfortunate fact that the hackers of the world like to plan their attacks on public holidays when network supervision may not be at its highest. On top of that we are still in the fight against COVID-19, and the criminals have escalated their attacks. Furthermore, our friends south of the border will be celebrating their Independence Day on Saturday, July 4 which gives them even more incentive to be out in force.

Please remember to be vigilant this Canada Day and guard access to your switches.

AurorA has to deliver any traffic that is sent to it , so you are responsible for any unauthorized access to your network. AurorA will pass on any alerts that it gets of suspicious traffic patterns. AurorA has also implemented automatic blocking of B numbers once we detect a suspicious fraudulent traffic pattern in an attempt to minimize losses. Also we have also implemented blocking of entire routing destinations after a threshold is breached to further protect you, our customers, from these criminals and mitigate the damage.

Make no mistake, these frauds are perpetrated by criminals; sometimes organized crime, sometimes terrorist groups looking to raise funds for their causes.

Have a safe and happy holiday. Thank you for choosing AurorA and trusting us with your international traffic.
Timo Vainionpaa

Elon is not coming to rescue Canada’s remote broadband

Elon Musk and StarLink
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and the StarLink constellation

The telecom press in Canada has been gushing over the news that Elon Musk and his company SpaceX has visions of coming to Canada to provide super-fast Internet service to rural and remote Canadians via their StarLink LEO (low Earth orbit) satellite constellation.

Please take a step back. Pause. Take a deep breath. Just stop it.

This is not imminent, it may never happen. In fact it probably will never happen.

First off, SpaceX only applied for a BITS licence. BITS is Basic International Telecom Service. AurorA has a BITS licence (in fact I believe AurorA had the first BITS licence provided to a non-facilities based carrier). This does not provide StarLink the spectrum required to operate in Canada. OneWeb had licensed Canadian spectrum (through 1021823 B.C. Ltd.) and so does Telesat for their proposed LEO constellation. SpaceX hasn’t yet applied for a Canadian spectrum licence (as far as I know).

The model of “connecting the unconnected”, providing broadband Internet service to the 3.5 billion people in the world that don’t have it has been around for decades. I remember the old Teledesic and Skybridge proposals, ICO, Iridium and GlobalStar who all went bankrupt. Iridium emerged from Chapter 11 eventually after a huge amount of drama (see my review of a great book on Iridium). More recently OneWeb who had already launched 74 satellites went bankrupt in March (read here) and before that LEOSat last November. As an aside, even Intelsat went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.

Elon’s SpaceX has 362 satellites in orbit, but to actually provide service their plans call for 4,000 satellites just in the first phase deployment. To do this takes money; SpaceX need billions, and soon, to satisfy its high cash burn rate. It’s not making near enough revenue launching satellites (and astronauts) from others to cover the costs of it unpaid Starlink launches. This is also why they are desperately trying to be included in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction to get a piece of up to $16B in funding, even though they cant demonstrate that they can actually provide service (and may be fudging the latency numbers, hard to prove since you cant actually test it) !

There are very few investors that can write the cheques big enough to fund an LEO sat constellation. Even large investors like Softbank balked at committing additional risk capital to a single investment like OneWeb. The history of bankrupt constellations would bear that out. COVID-19 has made raising money for risky ventures even harder. Building the business case is difficult; it costs too much money to make money, even for a SpaceX that has re-invented rockets and dropped the price of launching satellites.

LEO satellite constellations, especially using small nano satellites can provide great services for many use cases; Earth observation, low data rate iOT or M2M, remote asset tracking, weather data and even imaging. GEO sats can provide great high throughput required for TV and telecommunications, but they provide poor connectivity at Northern latitudes like Canada’s Arctic. The use case of providing broadband Internet for the unconnected is just not suited for LEO.

To connect those 3.5 billion people to the Internet requires not only the huge investment in satellites and ground infrastructure (plus legal/regulatory, and non-trivial insurance costs) but also an inexpensive antenna/receiver for the consumer to be able to plug in themselves to access the service. Given that the terminals will be in remote areas they will need to be low power usage. By definition those places are off the grid. Since the LEO sats move quickly across the sky, the tracking antenna must be sophisticated, like a electronic phased array. No one has yet to produce such a low-cost, low power terminal device.

When the constellation is finally setup, the satellites would cover the entirety of the Earth’s surface. Ninety percent of the time this would be over open water, frozen tundra, wilderness and deserts devoid of people. So a business case dependent on a use case like consumer broadband would not generate revenue 90% of the time ! In areas like Africa or the Amazon, the surface is covered by jungle. The signal won’t penetrate through thick vegetation, limiting its usefulness. Finally, how much would people actually pay to use the service ? Has Elon gone out and talked to the people in emerging markets and asked them what they need and what they can afford ? What about when that area finally gets served via a cable or fixed wireless that can provide service for an order of magnitude less ? Eventually even Nunavut will get service by one or more sub-sea fiber optic cables.

So where exactly are the customers going to come from to justify the immense capital cost of building the constellation ?

The other problem that LEO sat constellations have to solve before we actually see this service launched is the one that they create themselves by launching thousands of satellites to do so. Space debris. Low Earth orbit is already crowded with dysfunctional satellites and space debris. What happens if, no when, a StarLink satellite malfunctions or becomes derelict or collides with other satellites or space debris. The attraction of low cost sats is that they are made with commercial off-the shelf components for a fraction of what traditional GEO sats cost. But given their disposability we are going to have a huge increase in space junk.

Without strict regulatory oversight (and who would be responsible for this in space ?) and the non-zero chance of failures and malfunctions, we could see a runaway feedback loop creating tons of space debris, called the Kessler syndrome. These concerns and liabilities have still not been fully addressed for the large volume LEO constellations.

Until StarLink (or any other LEO Sat constellation) actually builds and operates a constellation without going bankrupt, solves the physics of providing low cost-low power consumer terminal equipment and can guarantee they won’t destroy low Earth orbit with space debris for succeeding generations don’t hold your breath for cheap sat based broadband service in Canada’s rural and remote areas.

Instead of waiting for Elon, Canadians should take control of their own future and build more Arctic fiber optic cables.

Because we all Internet !

The logo of the Internet Society

In February, I took the step of joining the Internet Society – Canada Chapter. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet and learn from some fellow Canadians about this wonderful thing we call the Internet that we all (well not all, and that is one issue) use every day. If it wasn’t for the Internet you wouldn’t be reading this blog post !

The Internet Society globally works for an open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy Internet for everyone. The Canadian chapter advocates on behalf of Canadians for an affordable, accessible, fair, open internet. Bridging the digital divide to ensure all Canadians can reap the economic and social benefits the internet can provide.

AurorA has been operating since 1994, and I’ve seen the Internet evolve dramatically over that time. My initial Internet experiences involved dial up modems, a Netscape Navigator browser and an actual written book of interesting websites ! Now it seems that all of the services that AurorA offers are related to or use the Internet in some fashion. For example, the premium voice services we offer are carried over SIP trunks on the Internet.

One of my pet peeves is the mis-conception amongst the general public that the Internet is a service from their Big Telco service provider. Big Telco is fond of claiming that it is “their” network especially when others want to inter-connect. The Internet is far from that. The global Internet consists of tens of thousands of interconnected networks run by service providers, yes, but also individual companies, universities, governments, and others. Big Telco is, at best, just a minor access ramp to the glory of the Internet.

There is no central authority that governs the Internet. This makes it possible for anyone to create content, offer services, and sell products online without requiring permission. Extending this network to rural and remote regions on Canada is also a subject that I care deeply about, as all Canadians deserve the benefits that fast and reliable Internet access can provide. The pandemic has clearly shown this as even many of our own parlimentarians were unable to connect as their Internet service was not reliable or fast enough.

The Canadian Chapter of the Internet Society has a lot of resources that I am looking forward to exploring and learning from. They also sponsor Committees, Roundtable Discussions, Conferences and Meet-ups. The meet ups are in the Ottawa area so as much as I would like to go to one, it would involve a special trip from Waterloo. Once the COVID-19 isolation restrictions are lifted, I will make the effort to get to one so that I can meet people in person in a more informal setting.

To learn more about the Internet Society you can go here, and about the Internet Society – Canadian Chapter here.