We don’t normally go in for vapourware but on this occasion need to tell you about a development we have here that we think you’ll love and which is going to represent a major theme for our direction over coming years.
For some years we’ve wanted to offer a mobile solution. Others have tried and failed, more have settled for a technically sub-optimal solution; effectively reselling air-time. Neither of those sit well with us and we’ve therefore been battling behind the scenes to crack a very very tough nut. We’re at the point now where we have something that basically works and a road-map to get it where we want it to be. There’s a lot of hurdles and competitive battles between here and where we want to be, but the time feels right to tell you about it.
The Simwood SIMs
We have test SIMs working on staff mobiles but production Simwood SIMs will be with us hopefully this month. By default, they will log onto the O2 UK network. Some clever software directly on the SIM will cause it to switch identity if O2 UK is not available, enabling roaming both internationally and within the UK. This gives the best of both worlds in a UK SIM at domestic rates but with more complete coverage through the use of other domestic networks when O2 is not available. This has particular niche applications in itself such as emergency services, lone workers and looking closer to home: control-freaks who live remotely.
All calls, SMS and data from the SIM (MO) will pass via Simwood. The route back to the SIM (MT) will be via Simwood – you’ll address the ICCID (the long SIM card number) over SIP. Thus the SIM effectively is a trunk on our platform. This means all the goodness of our real-time billing and fraud-control will be available through the API, per SIM and, as we’re in the call path, we’re able to add additional functionality.
Billing and Commercials
Economically, calls from the mobiles will be possible at our standard A-Z termination rates, with a small uplift for the mobile leg which will vary according to whether the phone is roaming or not. Inbound calls either from your own platforms or Simwood numbering are simply delivered over SIP and they’ll be free or chargeable depending on where they come from (since there is an air-time charge to us in all scenarios). This is a phase one MVNO offer.
Billing is one of our strengths so we don’t envisage a scenario where something is technically possible but won’t be offered because it cannot be billed. In fact, we have some exciting developments whereby we’ll be maintaing the location of the SIM in RAM on our call routing stack so some of the anti-fraud cost filters we offer can be usefully applied to mobile, essentially offering conditional routing based on whether the SIM is domestic or roaming. Roaming billing is however a high-priority issue to be resolved as the current billing model doesn’t cater for our use case – we’re billed based on where the call goes to, even if we send it there ourselves.
We haven’t mentioned numbering yet though, and indeed the above will work with any existing numbering we or you may have, mobile or otherwise. However, after a long battle we have successfully been allocated an awesome mobile range: 07520 0xx xxx. We are in the process of having that data-filled presently. That is a more complicated and protected process with mobile numbers but all being well, will be complete in May. That leaves two further steps, one hard, one extremely hard: SMS and number portability. We’re already on the case with SMS and will tackle portability as soon as we can. We think these are critical to offering a rounded mobile service but, as our experience in obtaining a mobile allocation demonstrates, the difficulties here are overcoming artificial barriers to entry rather than technical challenges. We’re confident we will, but in the case of porting in particular we expect it to take a year or more and involve legal process!
Our range is being built to track the low MTRs of the big networks (fm5 specifically). There is no economic reason therefore why these cannot be in-bundle where other mobile networks are in-bundle. We think this is critical and that others who have claimed to offer an MVNO/E without even having a mobile service element, simply a mobile range built at a crazy out-of-bundle rate, are deluded. Mobile ranges are about mobile service and being as integrated as possible, specifically being in-bundle to call, not about being a high income personal number range by stealth as some have sought.
A new, more flexible, MVNE
Ultimately we want to divorce the linkage between the SIM and the mobile number, and enable our customers to treat SIMs as SIP end-points just as you would a SIP desk-phone. In this way not only can they be treated simply as extensions on the end-user PBX but all manner of functionality can be injected in the path, from call recording (another niche since it is a legal requirement in financial services) through to simple things such as one number ringing multiple SIMs, or a given SIM having multiple numbers associated with it. There are all manner of UC applications too such as calls to the mobile ringing on both the mobile handset and a desk-phone, call hand-off in between desk and mobile etc. Whilst technically trivial, where these involve the use of mobile numbers they’re commercially tricky. As we’ve had to demonstrate to even obtain our allocation, all MNOs and many other recipients of mobile ranges use them in this way but we do not wish to give anyone any excuse to say our mobile numbers are not being used in a mobile application. To avoid that end, we can categorically confirm there will be no allocation of Simwood mobile number ranges without SIMs, even though the relationship between the two will be operationally flexible to enable great and innovative services to be built.
This latter technical MVNE stage will follow the initial MVNO launch with us terminating traffic, and is the one we expect to appeal most to our customers. It will therefore take the form of a Virtual Interconnect offering, with us routing all traffic from a SIM to you, and optionally registering against your platform for individual SIMs. Similarly, L2TP passthrough for M2M applications are planned. The trade-off for more control and the ability to terminate traffic away from us will be more granular pricing – we cannot assume risk by making assumptions about the blend of traffic we’ll receive so will need to pass on pricing in the granularity we incur cost.
Your own mobile network, Your SIMs, Your Branding. Our API.
One question we expect to be asked immediately is about branding. By default, the network name on the phone will be “Simwood”. However, presently iPhones do not display this, instead showing the host network name. We’re working to overcome that so it appears on the iPhone too. We will be able to override it, either on a per-SIM order basis subject to quantity, or by a chargeable over-the-air update to an active SIM.
We envisage SIMs being custom-printed and fulfilled in single-unit orders however – you’ll provision a single SIM through our API, specify which of your pre-defined artwork is to be applied and we will print and despatch directly to your customers for you.
We’re incredibly excited about this and if we can get to where we want to be think it marks the beginning of some truly awesome integrated mobile solutions by you for your customers. The key word there though is ‘if’. It is all technically possible but commercially hard. Our experience with the impartial regulator alone demonstrates this space is very hard to penetrate, and whilst most of the above should and could be resolved in a phone call, we expect it will instead take time and conflict. We’re not going to release anything that isn’t sustainable and, like we said at the top, we loath vapourware. We did however want to share with you where we want to go and we’ll confirm with you along the way as we tick off individual challenges. Unfortunately, any internal time-scales are irrelevant when externalised in this space, so from here on in we’ll be confirming what is done and ask for your patience and understanding. We hope however that you’ll share our excitement and can see some exciting applications amongst your customer base.
We really welcome your feedback and most importantly should your priority for the above steps differ to ours, please let us know. If you have immediate business for any particular feature-set then we will prioritise accordingly. We expect this move to multiple the size of our own business and yours so are very receptive to conversations that get us all there soon. So do please drop us a mail!