Protecting IP Communications - and Your Customer's Experience

By: Bryan Davies

Digital transformation and the customer experience

The term “digital transformation” has been hot for the past few years, appearing frequently in blogs and articles, but it’s not always defined the same way. Its true meaning is making business changes to take full advantage of new technologies – the web, mobility, the cloud, and more. These technologies offer enormous opportunities to improve customer experience, business agility, and operational efficiency for most enterprises.

Notice that the customer experience tops that list. This is because a business’s ability to create meaningful differentiation from its competitors depends heavily on customers' perceptions of their interactions with the company. Consistently great customer experiences lead to business growth, a key component of business success.

The impact of digital technology

No area has been more profoundly impacted by technology advances in the past decade than communications. The tools we use to interact with each other socially have changed fundamentally, and we expect to use those same tools in our work with businesses. As a result, the technology behind voice, video and messaging strongly affects customer satisfaction. Clear, high-quality connections for communications are critically important to achieving digital transformation goals.

There are three major disruptive technology events that have had the most influence on communications.

The first of these was the emergence of the internet and the web, which allowed consumers to browse and buy nearly everything online. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) also made its debut during this time, as consumers chose to start making ‘free’ phone calls over the internet. The second was the advent of smartphones and tablets, which really took off with Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2006. Mobility and the applications that run on smartphones quickly became a cornerstone of our daily interaction. The third disruptive event was the emergence of cloud-based services, for which communications is a natural fit.

Each of these disruptive events has something key in common: each heavily depends on delivering data over Internet Protocol (IP), which relies on ‘best effort’ packet delivery. This is a fundamental change in the way telephone voice has been transmitted for more than a hundred years.

Voice communications over IP can suffer from dropouts, stuttering and poor audio quality. Further, because of the nature of IP packet delivery, voice and video connections can be intercepted more easily and are more open to fraud and attack. For example, it is possible to launch a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) call with low bandwidth, and then change the bandwidth mid-call to a higher, more expensive value – this is called bandwidth hijacking. Plus, a single individual can launch a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack against a company and completely disable its communications, isolating it from the rest of the world.

Despite these issues, IP-based communications provide many benefits that strongly outweigh the drawbacks. For example, it’s much easier to create new converged capabilities where voice and video are embedded into an application as a native component – such as the ability to click on a button on your banking app on a tablet and have an immediate voice connection with a banker with no need to pick up a phone at all. IP communications lend themselves easily to delivery as cloud services, and they work well with unified communications approaches. Finally, IP-based communications make it easier to create new communication channels to customers that improve the customer experience – addressing the most important digital transformation goal.

In order to gain these advantages most effectively, there is a need for some software or technique to do ‘housekeeping’ around the IP communications interfaces. That’s typically the job of a session border controller (SBC).

Enter the session border controller

Session border controllers were originally created in the early 2000s as a way of protecting the IP-to-IP interface between two communication service providers in a peering arrangement. Today there are a large number of SBC products on the market from many vendors, for use both in communication service provider and enterprise networks.

Session border controllers provide several essential functions whenever a voice or video call carried over an IP-based protocol crosses the network boundary of an enterprise.

Security - The SBC protects the network against Denial of Services (DoS) or DDoS attacks and malicious or fraudulent access attempts. It also provides topology hiding. The SBC protects the IP interfaces for signaling and media that the communication service exposes to the public internet with an application-aware firewall.


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