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Ericsson digitising Spark's voice network

Spark's IP voice infrastructure will be upgraded by Ericsson to allow for voice and video calling over fibre, Wi-Fi, and LTE.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

New Zealand telecommunications carrier Spark has announced signing a multi-year deal with technology giant Ericsson to upgrade its voice network to be fully digital during a phased upgrade program.

The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) upgrade will modernise and unify Spark's core networks to allow for greater reliablity and scalability, according to the telco, towards an increasing uptake of voice over IP (VoIP) usage over both fixed-line and wireless broadband as the number of wireless and fibre connections grows across the country.

"IMS gives us the ability to keep up with the huge demand for voice-over-fibre connections, as well as giving us the ability to support services in the future, such as voice over LTE and Wi-Fi calling," general manager of Spark's Networks division Colin Brown said.

Voice over wireless broadband and voice over fibre will be the first services enabled, Ericsson said, before moving towards future voice technologies such as video over LTE (ViLTE).

"Implementation of our next-generation core network technology with Ericsson virtualised IMS, Ericsson Cloud Execution Environment, and Ericsson Cloud Manager will provide Spark with the ability to efficiently introduce higher-quality voice and enriched communication services," Ericsson ANZ head Emilio Romeo said.

"Other features the teams will be working to deliver for the future are voice and video calling over LTE and Wi-Fi calling, providing Spark customers with seamless voice services coverage when moving between different accesses."

Spark mapped out its network virtualisation plans back in 2015, when it told investors it would utilise software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV), saying that the use of networking software rather than physical switching and hardware configuration would provide more opportunities.

Spark undertook trials of the solution at the time, using software from Alcatel-Lucent's Nuage Networks -- now owned by Nokia -- in a focus on "voice over anything".

Similarly, Ericsson is currently working with Cisco on virtualising Vodafone Australia's core network in an effort to replace its fixed functionality systems with virtualised systems.

The Vodafone network architecture solution makes use of Ericsson's Hyperscale Datacenter System and such software as Ericsson Cloud Execution Environment, Ericsson Cloud Manager, and Cloud SDN controller, with Ericsson to build the infrastructure as well as take responsibility for end-to-end operations.

Telstra also renewed a deal at the end of 2014 to use Ericsson optical network equipment and services to build out its SDN and NFV offerings.

Intel last year emphasised how virtualised networks within telecommunications providers will also lead to consumers paying less for more data.

"The carriers are getting tremendous pressure to continue to build out that infrastructure to better support higher and higher data rates, [and] greater and greater demands," Diane Bryant, Intel executive vice president and general manager of its Data Center Group, told ZDNet in June.

"The network today is very expensive; demands far exceed their ability to support it in a cost-effective way, so they have got to start over and create a network infrastructure that is virtualised and can flux."

Increasing network capacity is faster under a virtualised network, Bryant added, because providers no longer need to physically build out a series of fixed function devices, whereas in a virtualised cloud environment, companies can procure more capacity instantly.

"Once they go to a virtualised environment, the vision is for customer services on demand," she said.

Virtualisation is also a step towards network slicing, Ericsson said, which is used with 5G for more personalisation across networks. Using the slicing technology, a physical network can be segmented into several virtual mobile networks.

Ericsson demonstrated 5G network slicing technology in partnership with South Korean telecommunications giant SK Telecom in October 2015, performing the demonstration at its R&D centre.

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