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An Old Idea Gains Currency

Apparently the latest rage in India is background tones.  The moral equivalent of the desktop wallpaper on your PC, these are background sounds played while you’re having a telephone conversation with another person.  They’re one of a whole class of new services which are implemented using media handling in the network. Other services like background tones might include:

  • whispered announcements of callers.  Instead of the call waiting tone, how about an announcement of who’s calling, which only you can hear?
  • in-call digit detection.  Many conference bridges allow you to use handset digits to control the call — mute channels, create sidebar conferences and the like.  New in-call services could also be created for consumers. How about a special key combination to query the switch, and ask how long the call has been in progress?

The problem with all of these is that they require the media portion of the call to pass through a media server.  SIP proxies are cheap and can handle many many callers because they do not handle media.  Like air traffic controllers, they simply tell the planes, or in this case the bits, where to go.  In comparison,  media servers are not cheap. Media servers are like the airports — processing the passengers, refueling the aircraft, handling border control and so on. This is where the expense in air travel is.  And, on a telecom network, the most expensive call handling component is the media server.

Passing every call through a media server, which is what happens with background tones, therefore drives the cost of the call up.  Hopefully, the revenue from the background tone service is enough to make up the difference.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Alec August 2, 2006, 3:12 am

    Very true Aswath. And, in fact, I understand that there are a number of telephones on the market which can do this already.

    Your point about the "stupid network" becoming "intelligent" is a good one. I think two things conspire to maintain the status quo: First, the telephone companies subsidize the handsets. So long as customers are willing to take handset freebies, the services locked to those handsets will be the ones we buy. Second, most of the handsets today are incapable of locally hosting the advanced media services. They will be able to do this, just not right now.

    In this specific case, my opinion is that the background tone service is not valuable enough to warrant a media server on it's own. IMO, it's more likely that this feature will not be widespread until implemented on the handset.

  • Aswath August 2, 2006, 5:01 am

    Can’t the “intelligent end-point” play the tune thereby negating another ARPU scheme? I guess the “stupid network” is slowly becoming “intelligent” because that is where the money is.

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