Linux in Telecommunications

If you think the computer industry moves fast, try keeping pace with the telecommunications business. Markets change swiftly and dramatically. Technology alters the economics. Competition is cutthroat. What’s a Penguin to do in such a hazardous world? As it turns out, a lot. Learn why Linux is enjoying remarkable success keeping the world connected.

If you think the computer business is fast-paced, spend some
time in the telecommunications industry. New technology, the demand
for mobility, the collapse of the former fiefdoms of voice, data,
and video, reduced margins, and cutthroat competition are just a
few of the challenges “telcos” are currently confronted
with. Worse, none of these issues can be tackled in isolation. For
example, telcos must deliver new products and services faster than
ever before, even while profits erode. Hence, for more and more
companies in the industry, it’s no longer feasible to build
and maintain entirely proprietary solutions.

But rapid change is nothing new to telcos, and increasingly,
vendors are moving to Linux and open source to maintain tactical
and strategic advantages. From embedded solutions, to Web
applications, Linux is rapidly replacing
generations and legions of special-purpose hardware and software.
Telcos have found the Linux religion. "i">Hallejulah!

In the 1990s, Voice over IP (VoIP), the convergence of voice,
data, and video, downward price pressures, and the entrance of new
competitors such as cable companies forever altered the competitive
landscape for telecommunications products and services. Indeed,
many of the market and technology forces triggered a decade ago
still affect the industry:

*The need for IP-based
communications that can handle converged voice and data;

*Time to market pressures for
new products and services desired by consumers and businesses;

*The need for telcos to
continuously reduce costs while simultaneously speeding products to

“The market drivers on telcos are the rapid innovation and
introduction of new technologies and services, time to market
issues and costs,” said Tom Wunderlich, Director of Telecom
Marketing for Linux vendor Red Hat ( class="story_link">http://www.redhat.com). “With VoIP,
they are reinventing themselves. At the same time, they must manage
costs very carefully to stay competitive. This invites a natural
opportunity for Linux, because companies can use commodity hardware
to deploy applications at far less cost than their own proprietary
solutions. Red Hat’s focus has been to supply a
commercial-grade Linux that delivers all of the capabilities of
other well-known operating systems at less cost.” Wunderlich
said that Red Hat sales have been brisk in the telecom market,
where the overall trend is the convergence of multiple hardware and
software platforms onto a single platform.

“It is very expensive to maintain separate platforms to
support multiple applications,” said Christy Wyatt, Vice
President of Ecosystems and Market Development for Motorola
( "story_link">http://www.motorola.com), “One of our ISVs
supports over 500 platforms, and we don’t want this dynamic.
Instead, there is developer convergence around Linux for mobile

Bill Weinberg, founder and senior analyst at Linux Pundit
( "story_link">http://www.linuxpundit.com), agrees. “The
trend is definitely to convergence and IP,” said Weinberg.
“After the telecom crash of the 1990s, companies discovered
that convergence was a reality and that the old proprietary designs
they used to roll out would no longer work. Prior to that, the
industry had been slow to change away from proprietary designs with
specific protocols that vendors used to keep telcos ‘locked

“However, during the five to seven year meltdown period of
the 1990s, many of these vendors had to lay off staff, and they
lost in-house expertise. They were no longer in a position to
implement old solutions, and the market wasn’t affording them
the opportunity either. Network equipment providers (NEPs) and
telecom equipment manufacturers (TEMs) in particular had to go
‘off the shelf’ to survive, and commercial
off-the-shelf solutions enabled them to do this.”

Telecom suppliers began using generic layers of hardware and
software to build solutions, and Linux and open source was a major
facilitator. The end result is expanded presence of Linux in
telecommunications, with a Linux “value line” that
began with enterprise computing, and extended itself into
enterprise core network and network edge applications.

Telecommunications technology can be divided into four

*Traditional telecom
infrastructure, such as networks and servers;

*The operator networks;

*Information technology,
including back office systems (such as billing), customer
relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource management
(ERP), etc.; and

*Devices for customers.


Telecom infrastructure is similar to IT in other industries.
Sites want to simplify management of hardware assets and
consolidate servers where possible. Linux servers are popular, as
many disparate servers can be consolidated on a single platform.
Another strategy for consolidation is virtualization on “Big
Iron” platforms like the IBM zSystem,
where multiple instances of Linux are supported under "i">IBM/VM.

Corporate IT is also adopting Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) for
telecommunications infrastructure. CGL’s availability,
scalability, and service response features are driving adoption,
because CGL provides redundancy and rapid failover for mission
critical systems. “Carrier Grade Linux is an option for the
network core and edge, where clusters have basic redundancy, but do
not have rapid failover or integration of hardware
monitoring,” said Bill Weinberg. “In these cases, the
additional redundancy and hardware features that CGL brings are
very attractive, especially if you’re looking at massive data
center applications with a lot of systems and throughput, in places
where you really do want five or six ‘nines’ of up

Operator Networks

Linux is also growing in operator networks, where major
manufacturers of network components continue to use proprietary
technologies, but new network applications, such as IP multimedia,
IPTV, network management, and IMS (integrated multi-media systems)
are candidates for Linux-based solutions. “This is a great
opportunity, and we’re going after these markets with our
ISVs,” said Red Hat’s Tom Wunderlich.

There are also many providers of embedded network components
that combine proprietary technologies to optimize network functions
with an outer layer of open source that allows sites to customize
the equipment to their internal operations. One such solution
provider is Sangoma ( "story_link">http://www.sangoma.com), a leading provider of
connectivity hardware and software products for Wide Area Network
(WAN) and voice infrastructure.

“We have a large part of our product intelligence built
into a proprietary system that runs on our boards, but our open
source interface allows end-users to customize our product to their
operations,” said Michael Feldman, a Sangoma hardware design

Another example of the hybrid of proprietary and open source is
Aspen Networks ( "story_link">http://www.aspen-networks.com), which provides
application and ISP-aware WAN switching technology, and uses
stripped down embedded Linux to measure the quality of links to
various service providers that a network is connected with.

“We picked Linux to allow our customers to make use of all
of these tools,” said Sajit Bhaskaran, Aspen’s Chief
Technology Officer. “A VoIP service provider can also work
with us as a partner and use our building tools to integrate this
performance measurement into their overall ‘dashboard’
of network management software.” Bhaskaran explained that
Aspen uses its own proprietary operating system to do real-time
packet processing. Data is then collected from all of the
proprietary processors and forwarded to a control processor that
makes the information available via a Linux-based application.

It is still too early to tell how many telcos and service
providers will actively employ customization strategies like this,
but most are looking at Carrier Grade Linux architectures to
provide expansion capability for IP-based media services,
telephony, and voice incorporation in multimedia. Virtualized Linux
servers can run content and telephony functions, whether they are
on separate physical servers or in multiple “instances”
of Linux on a single server or mainframe.

“As a load-balancing capability, Carrier Grade Linux
partnered with virtualization is important,” said Bill
Weinberg. “Frankly, virtualization is a performance enhancer.
One of the reasons today that it’s hard to provide quality
service is the huge variability of load on a network that
wasn’t designed for quality of service (QoS) but was designed
for store and forwarding. A way to get around that is through
virtualization coupled with Carrier Grade Linux. They’re a
natural fit for each other.”

On the network’s edge, Motorola recently demonstrated
communications servers based on Linux and other open standards.
Motorola believes that faster, advanced telecommunications
switching architecture (ATCA) switch fabrics and MicroTCA products
will help drive adoption of modular, off-the-shelf, open
standards-based systems into data plane and edge applications. The
AdvancedTCA products are being used in IMS applications, along with
10 Gbps switch-fabric ATCA platform products used in VoIP, IPTV,
and WiMAX applications.

Telco IT Applications

Moving upwards from the network and into business applications,
there is a fine line between the two that Linux crosses, and it is
often hard to distinguish where the line is. The Motorola, Sangoma,
and Aspen products are all examples of this — but these
products are not alone.

“We provide solutions that leading carriers and service
providers rely on for delivering revenue-generating services to
their business and residential customers,” said Tuval Biran,
Product Manager of Management Systems in ECI Telecom’s
Optical Network Division ( "story_link">http://www.ecitele.com). “We can deliver a
full complement of core-to-edge transport solutions, and also an
optical platform that combines instant provisioning with on-demand
network scalability.”

In another example, Iperia ( class="story_link">http://www.iperia.com) provides unified
communications for its customers’ mission-critical
applications in its Linux-based IperiaVX
product for service providers and enterprises. IperiaVX, the next
generation of Iperia’s ActivEdge
product, runs on Linux, is built around service-oriented
architecture (SOA), and incorporates all of the ActivEdge features
in addition to Web services, portlets, and SIP servlet

“The Linux-based offering is a response to the service
provider and enterprise markets, which wanted the option of being
hardware independent and able to take advantage of lower hardware
pricing,” said Art Leondires, Iperia’s Chief Operating
Officer and Executive Vice President of Products. “This
product runs on standard Linux platforms, and takes advantage of
SOA. Enterprises or telecommunications service providers have the
capability of rapid service creation through the use of
‘packaged’ Web services that come with the product and
that allow sites to customize provisioning and other calling
behavior. On the GUI end, we use portlet technology, which allows
Iperia’s customers to custom-brand their Web portals.
Leondires said the technology was helping service providers
increase average revenue per user (ARPU), reduce churn, and
generate new customers.

This combination of network capability and application execution
is a strong strategy, because applications themselves have been the
historical “slow movers” in telecom when it comes to
Linux adoption. Instead, larger telcos in particular have favored
proprietary applications on traditional Unix
systems that they have strong internal knowledge of.

Francisco Lopes, Technical Director of CPqD Technologies and
Systems, a U.S. subsidiary of CPqD Foundation in Brazil, observed,
“Telcos are moving to Linux because of its reliability and
performance, but we find that the larger telcos still prefer
Solaris, AIX, and "i">HPUX systems. Often, it is a question of cost. The
smaller telcos see the cost savings of implementing solutions that
use generic Intel-based servers, but the larger telcos do not see
generic equipment being a primary driver of their costs. Instead,
they look at the pain, the cost, and the risk of migration off
their proprietary platforms. When they add up all these migration
costs, the additional ongoing costs of their proprietary
applications are relatively minor.” Lopes adds that in one
case, he had a telco tell him, “If you don’t have a
product that supports Solaris, don’t even give your

Although there are pockets of resistance, everyone involved in
the telecommunications industry acknowledges that the “value
line” for Linux, which begins with the operating system and
extends into infrastructure, embedded solutions, and networks, is
also moving upward into applications. But no one knows how far
“upward” this value line will extend or at what

Customer Mobile Devices

On the other hand, embedded Linux in the devices that telcos,
service providers, and others sell to consumers and businesses is
being adopted quickly. Here, Linux probably has one of its greatest
market share advantages.

Motorola’s Christy Wyatt said, “Nearly two years
ago, we took a hard look at our mobile product platforms. There
were many platforms that we deployed on, and some of them were
mobile, but we needed to get more strategic. We recognized that
people wanted a rich experience on their mobile devices for
applications like gaming and video. There also was time to market
for new product to consider, as well as the cost of development.
So, while we continue to work with platforms like Microsoft and
Symbian to meet the unique needs of our operator customers, we
selected Linux for a bulk of our development work. Today,
we’ve shipped over seven million Linux phones, and we expect
50-60 percent of our portfolio will be based on Linux within the
next 2-3 years.”[ See the related story, “Linux Inside
Motorola,” beginning on page XX.]

Wyatt said that Motorola was working with different business
partners, and has experienced great acceptance of Linux-based
devices, particularly in the Chinese market. “We witnessed
almost immediate success for our Ming smart
phone, which today represents one percent of the Chinese smart
phone market. We have worked aggressively on this platform over the
past several years to make it even more applicable. We have also
broadened our role in the Linux community by joining ODSL (Open
Source Development Lab), working with the LiPS initiative, and
initiating a project within the Eclipse Foundation. Additionally,
we are one of the founding members of the LiMO Foundation, a
not-for-profit foundation aimed at creating the world’s first
globally competitive, Linux-based software platform for mobile

Motorola’s commitment is complemented by a growing
commercial community that is providing Linux and open source
mobility solutions. The flexibility of Linux, together with the
consolidation of software platforms, favors Linux/Open Source as
the platform of choice, one capable of supporting the rich features
and functions that mobile telecom device users want.

“We have noticed that the end-user rarely cares what
software platform his or her device runs on.” said Wyatt.
“All the consumer cares about is the entertainment, business
applications, and experience the device provides. People make
personal connections with their mobile devices, and as Linux allows
us to enrich the user experience, the market success of mobile
Linux grows.”

The Response of ISVs

The progress and success of Linux in telecommunications depends
on a broad selection of solutions that companies can choose from.
The Linux “value line” has concentrated in core and
embedded processes within servers and networks that telcos and
service providers may or may not be aware of. The challenge is to
expand this value line upward into applications.

Expansion therefore depends upon major players with ISV
influence that have the resources to create and foster a
development environment for Linux and Open Source application
developers. IBM, Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Red Hat are all
organizations with active ISV programs in telecom for Linux and
open source application development.

“We are very proactive, working with retailers and ISVs in
the mobile market,” said Motorola’s Christy Wyatt.
“There is an opportunity to brand different applications, and
we recognize that we need to come up with a platform to support
this activity. Strategically, we decided that we would provide the
mobile platform for Linux, and assist retailers and ISVs with the
pieces that are required for implementing an application. The goal
is to develop applications that cross platforms and
manufacturers.” The programs provide consulting resources,
testing facilities, best practices, and even customer
participation, to smaller ISVs. Such programs can save on research
and development expenses.

“The top ten to twelve telecommunications equipment
providers are all building mission critical, commercial-strength
products on Linux, and we are very active with them,” said
Red Hat’s Tom Wunderlich. “Linux meets all of the
telecommunications industry requirements and can provide a
carrier-grade infrastructure with all of the benefits of

Major industry players are also actively engaged in the Linux
and open source community. IBM, Intel, Nokia, Alcatel, and Cisco
have joined forces in the OSDL. This cooperation has been
instrumental in moving Carrier Grade Linux forward to meet the
demands of voice and data convergence with extreme reliability.
Hewlett Packard has also joined the OSDL with its "i">Debian carrier grade product.

The OSDL now projects that 30 percentof all telecom equipment
will run Linux by the end of this decade, based on data from
Venture Development Corporation. OSDL also says Linux use is
growing at 26 percent per year, compared to baseline operating
system growth of 19 percent overall.

The Linux Value Proposition for Product

Standards, open architecture, and the sponsorship of major
industry players speed more Linux into telecom and provide toolsets
and development assistance to hardware and software

“Internally, we have several product teams devoted to
Linux-based development in mobile, wireless, and enterprise
applications,” said Motorola’s Christy Wyatt. “We
feel that by continuing to build and deepen this program it is our
best path to telco operators and to enterprises in general. We have
MOTODEV FastTrack Center services that
assist our ISVs with testing applications and contact points within
our organization, and we also run application certification and
preload programs. Mobile Linux is about enabling the ecosystem, a
growth plan that we believe in. We are investing, and this in turn
will have an impact on consumers, telcos, and enterprise customers.
The real motivator for us with Linux is the rate of innovation that
is possible.”

Iperia, Sangoma, and CPqD USA are all examples of companies that
use Linux and add to open source infrastructure and routines to
build product and speed time to market. “Our company uses
open source infrastructure products in development, which allows us
to support many different platforms including Unix,” said
Francisco Lopes. “For tooling, we use "i">OpenOffice.org, JUnit, and the Eclipse
Integrated Developer Environment.
For architecture we use
the free J2EE application servers,
JBoss and Tomcat.

Sangoma’s CEO, David Mandelstam, concurs.
“Developing in an open source environment enhances our
development because we can use the operating system to debug our
work and also tweak it for error messages,” said Mandelstam.
“From there, we can also port product to Windows and Solaris.
You can’t really do this in a closed development

Sangoma leverages Linux in its product design and manufactures a
range of voice and data telecommunications cards that vary widely
in function, but are all PCI-based and built for the Linux
operating system. “The conventional design process would have
had each card design based on a preferred chipset and reference
design,” said Mandelstam. “We chose to physically
separate the PCI-Linux interface from the telephony interface. We
can literally change the “personality” on the telephony
end device interface with a customized card, but the Linux- based
baseboard card that fits into the slot in the server is always the
same. This modular product design allows us to respond to market
and produce new generations of our product quickly and without
major changes in product architecture.”

Large industry players will continue to invest in a support
system for Linux product manufacturers.

“Our strategy is to partner with telecommunications
vendors, and to provide an environment that will facilitate the
enablement of Linux platforms that can also be branded by these
companies,” said Tom Wunderlich of Red Hat. “Red Hat
will be selling through these partners into the application
environment, and the application providers will push the products
into the ecosystem.”

Wunderlich went on to say that Red Hat has over 1,000 ISV
targets, and that it is currently actively collaborating with 175
ISVs to bring value to telecom and other industries. “The
natural question that we hear from our applications and network
ISVs is, ‘How do we get to Linux from our current
platforms?’ If we work closely with the major OEMs, we can
build a matrix of our key ISVs within certain industry and market
segments,” said Wunderlich. “In telecom, we continue to
move up the stack, investing in middleware, applications and new
service delivery. We realize that if we can present a compelling
middleware offering, we can appeal directly to operators, and this
builds stronger business ties.”

Industry Acceptance

Today, Linux is the most rapidly growing operating system in the
telecommunications industry. The evidence is everywhere: from
Carrier Grade Linux to Linux-inspired components embedded in the
bowels of equipment, firmware, and software-to network servers,
hybrid PBXs, virtualized Linux on servers and proprietary
mainframes, end-user mobile devices, graphical user interfaces, and
user toolsets, to end business applications themselves. “Our
customers like the reliability of Linux,” said Iperia’s
Art Leondires. It is right up there with Solaris and other
proprietary systems.”

At the same time, there are substantial, successful
implementations throughout telecom of proprietary platforms and
operating systems like Windows and Unix that will continue to
flourish and offer value, especially in the area of business

“In the traditional telco environment, you have the
operation support system (OSS), CRM, billing, and so on,”
said Red Hat’s Wunderlich. “Many of these run on
proprietary systems. It is a challenge for a large telco to migrate
from a large-scale, proprietary system to Linux. The project
introduces incremental costs, work and risks, and it isn’t
always easy to transform existing applications so they run on the
new platform. Most telcos are considering projects like this as
they run to the end of their hardware and software asset cycles,
but not before.”

There is also uncertainty in telcos concerning the
“openness” of Linux, its maturity as an
industry-strength platform, and the overall approach to governance
that must occur internally with open source license management.
These are “new frontier” areas for many telcos that
they face directly in “buy” decisions for open source
business applications. “There are also individuals who have
made a career on a proprietary vendor platform,” said Bill
Weinberg. “The idea of anything challenging this platform is
a threat, and the fact is, there are some proprietary technologies
that are not inferior to Linux.”

It remains to be seen how far the “value line” for
Linux will extend itself from embedded and network-based systems to
end application solutions. Many telcos don’t even realize
that Linux is included as a part of an embedded technology in a
server or network component, yet they enjoy high reliability and
full functionality. These implementations have an advantage over
Linux business applications in their corporate introductions
because they don’t force the issues of
“openness,” maturity, governance, support and risky
conversion considerations in the “buy” decision that
business applications do.

On the other hand, Linux business applications for smaller
telcos, and in the longer term for large organizations, offer
freedom of choice in hardware that does not make a company captive
of any particular vendor. “We are seeing a strong market
response to our Linux-based product,” said Iperia’s Art
Leondires. “Our customers see that the reliability of Linux
is right up there with the reliability of other proprietary
systems, but Linux gives our customers freedom in their hardware
purchase decisions.”

Telcos, Can You Hear Me?

In many cases, Linux adoption in the telecommunications industry
has proceeded “unconsciously,” with the seamless
incorporation of network and embedded Linux that has performed
capably, reliably, and transparently to most telecommunications IT
decision makers. Uptake has been less dramatic in the area of end
business applications, but as the economics of Linux-based
development and industry-wide support structures are embraced by
more application solution providers, this is likely to change.

“The large telephony market is still well supported by
Microsoft, and it is understandable that people can be a bit
frightened of change when it comes to critical applications like
telephony,” said Sangoma’s David Mandelstam.
“Nevertheless, we are pleasantly surprised at how well Linux
has been accepted.”

Comments on "Linux in Telecommunications"


It’s no surprise that Linux does well in the telecommunications infrastructure because it designed and works like UNIX. UNIX has been there for over 30 years. UNIX was invented in a telecommunications company. Microsoft got a small foothold when marketing people directing telecommunications software development (who hadn’t yet heard of Linux) thought Windows NT would replace UNIX. Instead Linux is doing that.

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