As Simwood Mobile nears release I wanted to recap on the why, how, and crucially what it is all about. It has been the single-hardest mission we’ve undertaken, for none of the reasons you might expect.
Some customers “got it” immediately and instantly saw the potential; others might wrongly dismiss it as “just another MVNO” or worse still a resold mobile service – I aim to clarify this.
If you’re the impatient sort, see below to order your Developer Pack today!
Most readers will remember the feeling of freedom and possibility that came from the first SIP call. You were part of this big impenetrable eco-system, but you’d done it yourself with technology you understood and could adapt. That was 15 years ago for me and in the time since, whilst the world itself is materially different, not a lot feels to have changed with voice mobility.
Back then if I wanted anything approaching mobility I could divert a DDI to a mobile number or, more scarily, ring a dial-in number from the mobile to make calls ‘from’ the office. It was ugly, it was slow and it was expensive. It still is!
We wanted to be able to treat a SIM as an endpoint on a VoIP network, just like a VoIP phone on somebody’s desk. That way anyone could leverage the fully integrated user experience of native on-mobile call handling (not some ugly non-integrated over the top app), whilst bringing the full commercial and technical benefits of VoIP to bear. The example we cite most often is call recording on mobile, or the ability to seamlessly use a mobile device as a PBX extension.
Commercially, despite fixed-line deregulation happening in 1991, and both Vodafone and Cellnet being well established by then, there has been no real progress. Fixed-mobile convergence commonly extends to the fixed line provider also billing the mobile, i.e. no actual convergence until the bill is printed. Amongst our customers we find they’ve disrupted the “fixed” side already with VoIP solutions but mobile remains a silo. That silo represents about 50% of end-user telecoms spend.
The world is far more mobile than ever and only getting more so. Mobile Broadband on connected devices such as iPads and cars, lead many of us to have multiple distinct services. M2M and the Internet of Things (IoT) are in themselves monstrous market opportunities limited only by imagination and economics. Those markets are served by niche (but large) resellers presently but are begging to go mainstream.
Any one of the opportunities presented by mobile are individually huge and exciting but none of them can be achieved in a turn-key controlled way. You can resell a solution and converge the billing, you cannot be a “service provider” or add value. We think mobile is ripe for its deregulation and our mission was to make that possible for you.
An MNO is what we all know as a Mobile Network Operator – those with spectrum, radio access network (RAN) and their own core. We all know who they are.
MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) are historically resale arrangements where a prominent brand offers mobile service, fulfilled by an MNO. They do the billing and little else historically. Nowadays MVNOs are much heavier and are multi-jurisdictional in their nature, but one basic truth remains: they are dependent on the parent MNO and afford that MNO a means to sell surplus capacity to a customer profile it cannot service efficiently directly. This is an important concept to grasp as the idea of an MVNO competing with its parent MNO in the mainstream market is misplaced. They have their own costs but also those imposed by the MNO, along with any other imposed restrictions.
MVNEs (MVNO Enablers) exist to take the hassle of MVNO enquiries away from MNOs. They usually have an exclusive relationship with an MNO and are referred leads by them, to potentially create MVNOs on the MNO’s network. The MNO will usually have to approve any branding.
So which is Simwood?
We can’t agree this internally as what we have created doesn’t sit neatly under any one acronym! We’re already a fixed-line operator by virtue of our SS7 interconnects and network; and we’re a network operator by virtue of our IP network. But in mobile?
Well, we’re not an MNO in the true sense. We do not have a radio access network nor, presently, spectrum. We’re not an MVNE in the sense that we’re not tied to an MNO and do not need brand approval for any MVNO’s we create.
Our MVNOs will be using a mobile core we control and thus only we need to approve branding, and our only dependence on or tie to a mainstream MNO is use of Three’s RAN. We’re somewhere between a roaming MNO and a completely unencumbered MVNE. Either way, what we are is pretty unique!
We have taken the main elements of a full mobile service, exploded them, then pulled them back together again with our own secret sauce. That means we’ve designed our own SIM cards (the electronic profile, not the printing!), we’ve worked closely with an international partner to build a mobile core of our specification, and we’ve leveraged relationships to get porting and SMS working for our mobile ranges (and those we host).
The result is that any Simwood mobile number, or ported in mobile number, can deliver calls into our customers by SIP and SMS by HTTP.
Similarly, any voice or SMS traffic generated by a SIM card is delivered by us to our customer as SIP or HTTP respectively. This includes numbers that don’t “work” in a public sense, such as short extension numbers. Our customers can also deliver SMS and voice onwards to a SIM, addressing it over SIP (or HTTP for SMS) by the SIMs unique reference: the ICCID.
With this alone our customers can put themselves right in the call flow and integrate the mobile fully. You can inject functionality such as call-recording or give mobility to PBXes. This can be done not only with Simwood mobile numbers but those ported in from other operators, and it works for both SMS and voice.
This is actually the holy grail of mobile convergence. Others have walked this path before and we truly salute them, but to make a geeky toy into a mainstream mobile service it has to work seamlessly in all core areas. You cannot have a mobile service without SMS. No matter how much you try to justify to yourself that SMS is being supplanted by over-the-top messaging apps such as iMessage and WhatsApp, somebody will want to send or receive an SMS to your user and it has to work. Similarly, to be their main mobile service your users will not want a new number – they’ll want the one they’ve had for 25 years – so porting is essential.
Of course, you don’t have to handle the voice and SMS, you can let us do it. That is something you can configure per SIM according to your needs. If you let us do it, calls still traverse the Simwood network so you have real-time CDRs and all our fraud protection tools at your disposal. This alone is eons ahead of an “Airtime Resale” proposition from an MNO.
Oh, and because the SIM card is all ours, we, and in turn you, have full branding control. This includes the network name on iPhones without needing to jailbreak them! It is programmed at SIM configuration time but we’re working getting this over-the-air so you can modify it in an API call. Whilst on the face of it fun and vanity, don’t underestimate the value of your brand or your customer’s business name on their phones, or the cost of getting it done elsewhere.
What about data?
Let’s also look at data as there are even more options here. Like a normal mobile service, we can provide the internet access by NATing a shared IP. This will be a Simwood IP and thus benefit from our IP network, whilst avoiding any operator filtering. For predominantly voice SIMs this may be enough but there are also other modes.
Each SIM can have its own IPv4 (no IPv6 yet we’re sorry) public address, making it directly addressable without NAT.
SIMs can be assigned to groups and those groups each get an RFC1918 subnet. They can communicate between each other and you can optionally have non-mobile devices join. This is perfect for M2M applications.
All data works on our APN but that is intentionally loosely branded as “sim.uk”. We can of course also provide private APNs for those who want it completely customised but these require set-up.
Our data services presently work over 3G, i.e. no 4G. We’re unapologetic about this as the costs of an upgrade are immense and the benefits trivial. High speed into a congested filtered network is of little benefit. By contrast, we offer 3G speed, over a great 3G RAN, into our IP core without filtering. The results are very impressive.
All of the above is on voice SIMs which by definition require access to heavier voice infrastructure. We will be issuing both M2M and Mobile Broadband SIMs in due course which offer the data options alone, but with pricing that reflects the different usage and core infrastructure profiles.
Cool, so I can compete with <insert mainstream MNO>?
This depends. If you want to simply resell our service and compete with the mainstream “all you can eat” data and voice bundles then there’s a not a chance. A few have had this aspiration and grumbled about our pricing not enabling them to offer 50GB or more of mobile data. We’d refer them to the section above on MVNO/MVNE/MNOs.
Other customers have come up with amazingly innovative niche applications. Some are real genius. They will benefit most from what we’re offering and frankly, couldn’t be easily done without us.
That isn’t to say there isn’t some grey. Vodafone for example, charge my other half 14p per minute for calling a Freephone number and similarly ludicrous charges for other out of bundle calls. Out of bundle charges are actually quite easy to compete with. “In bundle” is the challenge given the massive amount of usage data the networks have and the lower cost base they operate them from. But the extent of the bundle itself is an opportunity, e.g. I pay £12 a month for an EE SIM for my sat nav. It has 100MB of data and very few minutes included. One of our customers could compete with that quite easily in isolation, but it makes even more sense if one considers several SIMs for multiple devices on one shared plan.
In short, this platform enables you to do great things where you add value. If you want to resell without adding value you’ll find it harder.
Haven’t others done this before?
Yes and no. Others have tried to reach the same goal as we have but in a different way. We salute them for trying and showing the potential at least. Their service failed because they didn’t offer a complete mobile service (with porting and SMS) and didn’t control their own core. We learned very quickly that no off-the-shelf solution to this problem existed and to create one through a conventional MNO/MVNE channel would be restrictive and insanely expensive.
Others have however demonstrated agile software-defined mobile networks, and we’ve provided infrastructure to some. There is however a big gap between a conference demonstration and a viable service you can buy. You can buy Simwood Mobile!
We think the combination of control we are offering, and the ease of access we’re offering are unprecedented. We view it as deregulation of mobile!
Speaking of regulation…
Developing anything in mobile is hugely hard. There are technical challenges and there are certainly commercial challenges. In fact, I’m sure we’ll be dealing with commercial challenges for some time to come. One surprise though is how hard it is from a regulatory point of view. By that, I don’t mean how many rules or regulations there are to comply with but rather how much the Regulator, who ironically exists to promote competition, appears to protect mobile resources.
Anybody can get ordinary UK numbering, with relatively little effort. But obtaining mobile numbers is very hard. Obtaining other resources essential to operating a mobile network seems nigh on impossible, with an apparent dynamic list of reasons for saying no, that don’t appear to have been applied to others.
We don’t know why this is but it has been the single biggest impediment to our progress and we’ve spent a huge amount of time and money engineering around the need for the resources we’re not allowed. It is deeply ironic that the main challenges to creating a fair and transparent market place in mobile come from the body responsible for there being a fair and transparent market place in mobile.
We’re committed to such a market, and will keep battling!
Developer packs available for Pre-Order
We hope you like where we’re heading with Mobile and would like to build services on our platform. We’re delighted to make Developer Packs available to pre-order.
A Developer Pack gives you five Simwood SIMs, access to our API and all the documentation and support you need to build your industry-changing mobile service. To order you’ll need to be logged into our new Portal where you will see a “Mobile” option in the left menu.
We’re anticipating getting the Developer Packs into your hands later this month and they will be shipped on a first-come first-served basis so place your order early.
For more information on our Unbundled Mobile service, together with pricing, inc Developer Packs, please see the Mobile section of the customer portal where you will find a brochure. If you do not already have a wholesale account, by all means create one.