RAG London Online 2020: Day 2

The sponsors of RAG London 2020
Thanks to the sponsors of RAG London Online 2020 for the free event

Today was the second and final day of the Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) London conference. Due to the ongoing global pandemic it was turned into a virtual online conference. The sessions began at 7:30 AM London time (2:30 AM in Waterloo) but I listened to the whole event from start to finish for the second day in a row.

Today there was a superb real-life session on assuring network assets from Optus, one on revenue protection and maximization for pay-TV providers, Rating Reconciliation, RAG Online Learning Courses and Risk Management in Other Industries (retail, utilities, financial services and charities). The bulk of the remaining sessions, though, were related to fraud management in various forms. These were the meat, the substance I was craving when I decided to attend the conference.

A lot of modern voice calls are now placed using the SIP protocol ; IP, 4G LTE, 5G, OTT apps and all modern PBX all rely on SIP. SIP calls are a combination of two elements, a signalling stream and an RTP stream. As part of the signalling, a log-in and password accompany every call. Hackers have latched on to this to hijack SIP calls and steal those credentials. This is now the main vector for PBX hacking to do IRSF. The TL/DR is if you are using SIP (and we all do) then no one is 100% safe and we need to be very vigilant.

There were two panels discussing various aspects of fraud management . One was about integrating Test Calls into an assurance strategy to find issues that might go unnoticed if we just focus on CDR reconciliation. The other panel looked at the rise in SIM swap fraud during the pandemic , OTT bypass fraud (or OTT hijack might be a better description) via Viber, Off-net bypass, Refile and SIM box detection.

Then there was a session on IRSF (International Simple Resale Fraud); Wangiri (one ring) is one form of it, hijacked PBX’s are another and is the one I see more commonly with my customers. Kenneth Mouton outlined three tactics to provide protections; i) setting traffic limits ii) Databases (of numbers to block) iii) Analytics (CDR vs Signalling, AI/ML vs rule based) . He also ran through five myths about IRSF and proceeded to debunk them

  • – “Subscriber pays” is a myth
  • – “You can fix problem 1” is a myth
  • – “IRSF is only about Premium Numbers” is a myth
  • – “IRSF/Wangiri is high volume in a short period” is a myth
  • – “RAFM Managers know IRSF” is a myth

There is enough substance here (and my notes are copious) that I plan on writing a few more detailed blog posts in the near future. For sure at least one just on SIP and another just on IRSF.

Those are just some of the over-arching themes from over ten hours of superb content. If you missed it and are interested , some of the videos will be posted on the RAG website here.

I would like to thank the hosts Eric Priezkalns, Rachel Goodin and Tony Sani for putting on a great virtual conference. I would like to thank all of the speakers and all of the sponsors. And I would like to thank RAG, for bringing together over 2,000 people in telecom revenue, risk and business assurance from around the world (93 countries !) in a free to attend event.

I so look forward to the next RAG event, hopefully it will be a live one. The content of the virtual event was superb but I miss the networking part of the conference and the chance to chat face-to-face with like minded professionals. Here is hoping we can meet in person again soon.

Cellphone Competition Coming ?

Left is MNO Rogers – right is the MVNO Ting – from Twitter user YOZZO

Last week the CRTC finished up two weeks of hearings as a Review of Mobile Wireless Services. The subject of the 9 days of hearings were whether to mandate (ie force) the current mobile network operators (ie Bell/Telus/Rogers, Big 3, Goliaths) to provide wholesale MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) access to their networks to smaller carriers (ie Davids). In short to open the market up to competition.

There were many parties giving evidence and opinions. The Big 3 are very against being forced to sell access to their networks. Very against. They cite that the market is already competitive, that mandating MVNO’s would curtail their ability to spend on network expansion (both to rural/remote areas and upgrading to 5G). And they point to a submission from the Competition Bureau that pro-MVNO regulation would harm smaller facilities based competitors like Videotron, Shaw, Eastlink and Xplornet. Telus CEO Darren Entwistle even threatened to cut $1 billion in network investment, 5,000 jobs and philanthropic giving if CRTC dared to mandate MVNOs.

Telus threatens to euthanize animals if CRTC approves mobile virtual network operators – from The Beaverton

Is the Canadian mobile market really competitive ? The reason this procedure was even going on was due to the outcry from Canadians about their cellphones! It seems self evident that Canadians view the current situation as unfair and that the Big 3 are acting as an oligopoly. They hate their current providers (see here) This came up more than once in various submissions, including co-ordinated rate plans (one moves they all move), the smoke-screen of flanker brands to confuse the market etc.

There were other parties like TekSavvy, Distributel, Tucows, CNOC, Ice Wireless (Iristel) and others arguing in favour of MVNO’s. They argued that as Full MVNO’s they would not own spectrum or operate their own radio access network, but purchase that from the Big 3 . Except for the operation of such a radio access network, they would be responsible for all other aspects of their operations such as sales, marketing, billing and the operation of a core network. From there they could increase competition in the marketplace to provide more services to Canadian consumers and businesses.

Twitter commentary on competition from MVNOs being more than “resale” or a free ride

We won’t know the outcome from these hearings for a while, maybe not until 2021. I am watching this process carefully; not because AurorA plans to become an MVNO. Almost my entire 35 year career has been on the competitive side of the industry, competing against the various incarnations of the Big 3. And they are formidable competitors indeed who do not cede an inch of any markets that they consider as theirs. My rooting interest naturally falls to the underdogs, the Davids competing against Goliaths.

If MVNO’s are mandated though, it could also open up a raft of new mobile competitors . Those competitors would need premium quality termination for their overseas calls. Mobile calls originate on cellphones and already undergo compression just to reach the core; from there you want to ensure premium quality so that the caller gets through perfectly. An LCR here makes zero sense; if the caller wanted a cheap call they would use a free app on their phone like Skype or WhatsApp. If they use the phone it has to be high quality. And I know just who has the best quality international voice termination !

How Cell Towers Work

I found this on YouTube and thought it was worth sharing. It is by Michael Fisher aka “Mr. Mobile”

“Come along as I scope out not one, but two cell sites: one hidden in the steeple of a church, the other perched high atop the tallest mountain in the Northeast. In the process we’ll learn about RF energy, what happens when the power goes out, and why the term “tower” isn’t always accurate. “

How Cell Towers Work :Hands-On ! Learn all about the Network

Enjoy !

Global Internet Phenomena

Sandvine produces the Global Internet Phenomena Report

It seems that each year that I went to the Canadian Telecom Summit, one of the highlights was Dave Caputo, the former CEO of Sandvine, giving a presentation with pearls of wisdom from their Global Internet Phenomena Report. That annual report was also then quoted in many other presentations as the authoritative source for what was happening on broadband networks around the world.

For example, back in 2012, Sandvine focussed on Social Networking and reported that Facebook was one of the top 4 applications on the Web and that over 50% of mobile devices communicated with Facebook each hour !

The 2019 Global Internet Phenomena Report was just released by Sandvine on Sept 10. Sandvine, a Waterloo company (forgive me some local cheerleading) has unparalleled visibility into the Internet industry with an installed base of over 2.5 billion subscribers worldwide across over 160 Tier 1 and Tier 2 fixed, mobile, WiFi and satellite operators. (note that China and India are not included in this data set)

So what is changing in how the world uses the Internet ? A lot !

Video is obviously king, but in ways that keep changing and evolving. Netflix led the way with streaming but now we are seeing more and more competitive streaming services; Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and new ones coming from Disney, Apple, CBS and others. The big traditional cable and telco companies have been fighting back, trying to stop cord cutting with their own streaming offerings and video on demand.

How many different services will a consumer buy to replace their cable ? What do they do if the content they want is not on the services they are buying ? Well, the answer may be in this report as Sandvine is seeing a resurgence in BitTorrent traffic. The release of the final season of Game of Thrones on HBO , or the blockbuster movie Avengers:Endgame could be seen in the increase in BitTorrent traffic.

The big players in Web 2.0, the ones whose shares currently dominate the global stock markets are the FAANG ; Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. Would it really be a surprise to find out that they also dominate the traffic on the Internet ?

Some other highlights from this edition of the report include:

  • Video is over 60% of the total downstream volume of traffic on the internet.
  • Netflix is 12.60% of the total downstream volume of traffic across the entire internet
  • Google is 12% of overall internet traffic, driven by YouTube, search, and the Android ecosystem.
  • Gaming traffic and gaming-related bandwidth consumption is increasing as gaming downloads, Twitch streaming, and eSports go mainstream.
  • BitTorrent is over 27% of total upstream volume of traffic
  • Facebook applications make up over 15% of the total internet traffic in APAC.

The report includes spotlights on the traffic share leaders for video, social networking, messaging, audio streaming, and gaming.

If you are interested, you can get a download of the report here

Exploring Canada’s North


I apologize for the lack of posts recently. Summer vacation and back to school and other events took my focus away from blogging. Now I am ready to dive back into it with renewed vim and vigour !

This year for our family vacation we decided to go North, really North. To the Spectacular Northwest Territories.

So in late August we packed our carry-ons and hopped on an early morning plane from Pearson (we were originally booked on a flight from Waterloo Airport but it was cancelled by WestJet) to Calgary and from there to Yellowknife. One note, at Calgary when we changed planes, on the tarmac you could smell the smoke and see the haze on the horizon from the forest fires. I hope those are all extinguished now. Very sobering to see.

Yellowknife was delightful. As soon as you enter the cosy airport you know you are in the North as you are greeted by a huge statue of a polar bear on the ice, chasing some seals. There are furs and antler prominantly displayed. And very down home, friendly people.

We stayed at an AirBNB condo right on Great Slave Lake that was maybe a seven minute drive from the airport. It was in Old Town, where some of the orginal cabins and shacks are still standing. A lot of things were in easy walking distance; great food at places like the Dancing Moose Cafe, Bullock’s Bistro, The Wildcat Cafe and the North’s only brewpub, the Woodyard Brewhouse where we also got a growler to bring back to our condo. A few streets away was the famous Ragged Ass Road; you can buy replicas of the street sign so please dont steal the real ones !

One of the highlights of that area is the Bush Pilots Monument. It is a local monument honouring the bush pilots of today and yesterday, who helped open up the North to the rest of Canada.The monument sits on top of “The Rock”, a six story rock hill in the centre of Old Town. Once you climb up the hundreds of steps, the view from there is fabulous. And you will usually see a float plane or two or three taking off or landing on Great Slave Lake.

We ventured into downtown a few times (including great meals at Coyote’s Bistro on Franklin, thanks again to the owner Ed But and his staff for taking great care of us) to get groceries and supplies for the room and also to explore. We were able to find the school that my wife attended as well as the house they lived in when they were stationed there. It struck me that there were only six traffic lights in total in the town, and at night they all just flashed yellow !

My youngest daughter is a geophysicist working exploration in the North so she flew in from Whitehosre to spend a day with us and show us around too. Her crew bunkhouse was only a few minutes walk from where we were staying. She brought us to Weaver and Devore,a trading post cum outfitters that has been there since 1936 where you can get true outdoor clothing and gear for working in the North. It was great to see the places she had told us about previously including the colourful houses and the houseboats on the lake.

We also did a lot of outdoor adventuring including some kayaking on the lake (trying to avoid a bush plane !) and drove out about 45 km on the Ingraham Trail to Hidden Lake Territorial Park. There we took about a half-hour hike to Cameron Falls (see the picture at the top of this post). We spent a lot of time exploring the falls, and then crossing over a foot-bridge upstream to the other side to explore there too. A lot of the scenery reminded me of Northern Ontario where I grew up. The old rocks of the Canadian Shield and the bush. The trees up in Yellowknife were much smaller though.

A week in Yellowknife is good for the soul. The pace is slower, the air is cleaner. There is no visual pollution from billboards. The locals are laid back and friendly. Late August was a little early to see the aurora borealis (I LOVE that name !) but if you went later in the fall, or definitely during the winter, the light show would be awe inspiring. I highly recommend making the trip North, especially if you are a fan of the outdoors.

Lastly, I promised I would review telecom. I had no problem getting a strong cellphone signal everywhere I went, including out on the Ingraham Trail. It wasnt always LTE, but the 3G was fine. Our AirBNB had satellite TV and great high speed WiFi internet. We did not stream any movies or Netflix (I brought some downloaded movies on my computer for family entertainment at night) rather than abuse my hosts data plan.

Finally, a big thanks to Curtis Shaw, the President of Northwestel, who I met at this year’s Canadian Telecom Summit who gave me some great tips and restaurant recommendations !

Do I need a Satphone ?


These days almost everyone in Canada has a smartphone. It seems that we can’t live our lives without one. But what do we do when we are out of range of a cell-tower signal ? How do we remain connected and not panic when we have zero bars on our phone and there is no WiFi available ? That is when a satphone becomes essential.

Satellite phones (Satphones) have been around for over two decades, since the early constellations like Iridium were put into orbit in the late 1990’s. Some people think that satphones are only for large corporations, the government or mountain climbing expeditions but that is not true. There are many important reasons for ordinary Canadians to have quick and efficient access to reliable communications. Here is why you should have communications anytime, anywhere.

First, and most importantly, satellite communications are critical during and after natural disasters. Canada is not immune to severe weather and emergencies that can knock infrastructure like cell towers out of commission. We have seen this with the ice storms in Quebec , fires such as the one in Fort McMurray, the floods in Calgary and Winnipeg, extensive power outages in Ontario, avalanches and tornados. During a disaster, often the only communications network that remains working is the satellite one and it is vital for relief work, search and rescue and letting loved ones know your status.

Additionally, satellite phones can be an important lifeline during recreational activities. We Canadians love our great outdoors and we revel in activities like back country skiing, hiking, sailing, mountain biking, and hunting. We know that adventurers trying to break world records in remote areas of the world such as Mount Everest or in the Antarctic or Arctic carry satphones. They are just as useful in Northern Ontario, or the Rocky Mountains or even at the cottage where you’re out of range of a cell signal.

What about your job site ? Many Canadians still work in resource extraction industries, whether it is mining, forestry or oil and gas. Staying connected via a satphone is essential to some industries, especially when driving down some remote highways where there are no gas stations or other traffic for long stretches.

So what kind of satphones are there ? The traditional ones like Inmarsat are based one geo-synchronous orbits (ie they look stationary from earth) and some (like Thureya) don’t cover North America. The GEO ones have a long delay as the signal has to travel up 22,236 miles to the bird and then back down. There is one network, Iridium, that covers the entire globe using LEO (low Earth orbit) satellites that have almost no delay and that is well suited for providing service in Canada. They have many solutions depending on how you want to stay connected using satellite communications. Two of the most popular are a standalone handheld satellite phone, or alternatively turning your own existing smartphone into a satellite phone.

The Iridium 9555 and Iridium Extreme are two of the most popular Iridium handheld products. Both phones feature up to 30 hours of standby and four hours of talk time, in a small and very durable structure. Through talk and text, the Iridium 9555 and Iridium Extreme can save lives. The Iridium Extreme also has e-mail messaging capability, Google Mapping services, and GPS-enabled location-based services.

Iridium GO! is the innovative product which transforms your smartphone into a satellite phone anywhere in the world. Compatible with Apple and Android, Iridium GO! extends the use of your smartphone and devices. The Iridium GO! app extends your connection, optimizing you for voice, SMS, e-mail, 100-foot radius of WiFi for up to five devices, weather monitoring and more.

Whether you are making a disaster prep plan, heading our on a wilderness trip, or like the ease-of-mind of being accessible during your adventures, having the right resources in place for any situation is crucial. That is why a satphone can be essential to living an active life outdoors in Canada.