06 September 2022

The IN dilemma – readiness for the next generation

Innovation in IN is a bit of an oxymoron, given that the service principles were established more than 40 years ago. But, IN remains an elegant solution that supports a range of essential operator services. Despite this venerability, there’s plenty of life left in IN – which means innovation must happen around the core functionality.

IN service haven’t changed – the network has

One the one hand, IN – Intelligent Network – systems seem rather long in the tooth, a legacy technology for which there is little place in the shiny new world of 5G. On the other hand, they remain the primary means through which many core operator services are delivered.

The thing is, IN services haven’t really changed much in the last few decades. They are designed to enable advanced routing and processing options, by adding an overlay that allows references to external databases, requests for more information based on context, and so on, via a standardised model. These principles have remained valid, even while networks have evolved from pre-G to today’s 5G.

Substantial user bases; critical functionality

As most readers will know, they support unglamorous but essential services, such as emergency call handling, number translation, operator services and more. Some of these services generate revenue, such as mobile VPN, for example. This can have substantial markets, with penetration of anything from 1.5% to 10+% of the B2B subscriber base.

Others are designed to enable functionality that rarely gets attention, but which is, none-the-less, fundamental to the business of being a licensed, regulated operator. They don’t necessarily generate revenue, but they can generate significant call volumes. Regardless, they remain core propositions that operators need to maintain.

The end of IN – a surprisingly fast-moving target

And when we write maintain, this could be for a very long time indeed. At Gintel, we’re pretty confident that these services will persist until at least the end of this decade – and this has been reflected in recent discussions, in which the migration of core IN services to a (currently non-existent) full 5G Standalone network has been considered.

At present, we don’t know what that might look like (although we’ve already visited this topic in R&D discussions, so have a theoretical framework) – but that fact that this is already on the table is instructive. It shows very clearly that IN services are not going to disappear any time soon.

And, they are likely going to have to co-exist with other generations of mobile / fixed technology, such as 5G in both NSA and SA flavours. It’s unlikely that the progenitors of IN standards could have foreseen this 40+ year lifespan – but it’s tribute to the elegance of the basic design principles that they should remain fit for purpose.

Solving the dilemma – a way forward, evolving with your network

All of which means that operators face a dilemma. Many vendors of IN solutions have moved on – they’ve been bought, they’ve focused on different areas; whatever. Perhaps that’s because few expected this technology to prove to be as enduring as it has – and, despite many other service innovations, nothing has yet challenged IN in this regard. It does what it does very well and very efficiently. So, if the time horizon is not in the range of 5 – 10 years, what do you do?

Do you commission a new custom development for your specific situation, with all the cost that could entail? Or, do you take an existing solution and tailor that to fit your needs? The thing is that there are – quite literally – hundreds of operators that use this technology, mostly for the same mix of services. Naturally, most of them will need to replace their current assets – but will seek to minimise the cost of doing so. So, tailoring is more likely to meet these requirements than a full custom development from scratch.

And that’s what we’ve been doing in Gintel. IN has been a core element of our platforms for decades – it’s implicit in our name, after all (Gateway to IN….), and has always been a core enabler to access our other services, such as Cloud PBX. As a result, we’ve had to maintain and invest in our IN capabilities, so that we can connect to any infrastructure that’s active in the operator domain.

And, we’ve delivered a complete range of IN service replacement solutions to our operator customers – providing them with both continuity for core services, as well as a flexible foundation for future evolution. This is unlikely to be the services themselves – these are, largely speaking, what they are – but rather for the underlying network and OSS integration, and for the deployment models required.

Is there a future for IN service innovation? Probably not – we’ve achieved pretty much everything we meant to. Is there a future for IN services as they stand? Most definitely? Is there likely to be adaptations required to position for new networks? Absolutely.

So, if you are confronted with this dilemma, talk to our team – we can give you the foundation you need, tailored to your circumstances, but built on standardised, proven components, with the flexibility to adapt as your network evolves.

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