Technical Overview

Switching Network

ECN has signed, certified and implemented bilateral interconnect agreements with all the Incumbent Operators. It is however worth noting that the further a call has to travel over Telkom’s network, the more ECN is required to pay to Telkom. The only way to avoid or minimize these charges is by greater integration with Telkom’s network. ECN has made a significant investment in interconnect simply as a result of the enhanced investment returns that this provides.

Telkom has a network of 16 DPSU’s in South Africa where VANS can interconnect. ECN has built out to Telkom’s DPSU’s in the major economic centres of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town and has plans to interconnect to all 16 DPSU’s over the next five years. For redundancy purposes ECN connects to Vodacom, MTN and Cell C at two STP’s in Johannesburg.

Core Network

ECN has POP’s in South Africa’s major metropolitan centres (Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban). These POPs are connected by a high capacity, redundant fibre ring. ECN’s core national network comprises fibre that is entirely leased from multiple providers, typically on five year contracts. ECN foresees a sharp increase in the availability of dark fibre in South Africa and believes that new technologies such as DWDM will significantly increase capacity and lead to a decline in prices over the next five years. ECN perceives no direct benefit from owning fibre and prefers to lease transmission lines as and when required.

Access Network

ECN’s current access network consists of copper wire, digital microwave and fibre circuits, which are leased primarily from Sentech, Telkom, Neotel and Vodacom respectively typically on two year contracts. This means that if ECN wishes to provide line rental services to its customers it does so as a reseller of Sentech, Telkom, Neotel and Vodacom wholesale services. Should ICASA grant ECN and ECNS license, the Company would then be able to self provide a portion of the access network using a range of technologies including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, digital microwave and short range fibre loops. Clearly LLU will make it economically viable for ECN to take wider control of its access network.

Network Operations Centre

ECN has developed a state-of-the-art NOC which is capable of monitoring ECN’s national voice and data network. The NOC enables ECN to be more proactive in anticipating, localizing and isolating problems. When problems occur, the activities of the frontline personnel are coordinated and dispatched from a single control point based in Midrand, Johannesburg. The NOC is also capable of providing an up to the minute, real-time visual summary of the status of the entire network.

Intelligent Switching Platform

The core switching platform is based on a Teles softswitch architecture, which consists of the following components:

  • An MGC which provides call control and signaling gateway control functionality. The MGC receives signaling information from the ECNS operators in the form of dialed digits or SIP commands from other NGN call devices (such as an ECN voice switch) and instructs the signaling gateway to alert the relevant called party. The MGC controls any number of media gateways and instructs them to transport voice from PSTN and mobile network channels to RTP streams:
  • Multiple MGW’s that act as translation units between disparate voice traffic networks. Media functions such as echo cancellation, DTMF detection and tone generation are controlled by the MGW’s. The MGC and the MGW communicate using MGCP;
  • Multiple SGW’s that are responsible for transporting signaling messages between the MGC and the PSTN. For Instance, a SGW might terminate MTP2 signaling and send it to the MGC in a protocol defined by SIGTRAN.

Customer Premises Equipment

ECN has together with Patton-Inalp, developed a low cost, high performance VoIP gateway. The gateway seamlessly integrates with the onsite customer PBX and converts traditional telephone calls to VoIP for transmission over ECN’s IP network. The co-branded ECN/Patton-lnalp CPE supports business class voice quality, reliable T.38 fax transmission and PSTN network fallback. The unit ships with one to four E1/PRI ports and 15 to 120 concurrent VoIP channels providing a wide deployment capability. Critically, the unit also includes an integrated xDSL or X.21 (Telkom Diginet) router interface providing a true single box converged voice and data solution. The CPE is backed by Patton-lnalp’s eight plus years of experience in digital gateway design, and a strong track record of live deployments in carrier environments.

Application Systems

ECN has developed a suite of enterprise grade applications using a combination of Linux open source and J2EE technology. The applications have been designed to operate in a carrier environment and are both scalable and highly available. High availability ensures uninterrupted service even in the event of a system malfunction. This is achieved by deploying two servers in a cluster configuration where one server is defined as ‘active’ and the other as ‘standby’. The two servers appear as one device to the outside world through the use of a ‘floating IP address’ which remains the same even in the event of a failover.

Customer Management System (CMS)

The CMS is a carrier grade billing and customer management system that was designed to cope with the specific requirements of an NGN. It provides seamless integration with various IP border elements such as VoIP gateways, SIP proxy’s and soft-switch platforms. As ¬†ECN owns the intellectual property for the CMS, various modules such as the telephone management system or billing hierarchy can be made available to customers and partners as a free value added service or as a billable managed service. In the future, as IP based voice becomes a commodity, this type of functionality will become a key competitive differentiator for ECN.

Key features include the ability to set wholesale, retail or customized pricing, prepaid and post-paid billing, residential and corporate billing, inbound/outbound voice, account capture and management, Radius AAA integration, CDR generation and rating, pricing and discounting, invoice generation and management, inter-carrier billing and settlement and telephone management system functionality. It shares the same database as ECN’s CRE, enabling unique dial plans to be configured down to the level of an individual user. This powerful feature is unique to the CMS and is not available in off the shelf billing systems.

Call Routing Engine (CRE)

ECN’s CRE is a carrier grade call routing system that enables ECN to efficiently control the flow of inbound and outbound voice traffic through its network. The CRE implements complex call routing rules and termination policies to meet with each customer’s unique requirements. It is able to adjust automatically to various network conditions. The CRE helps reduce operational expenses by simplifying and expediting the creation and adjustment of routing decisions across the network.

The CRE supports routing based on the following rules:

  • LCR – routing calls based on the most effective route. This module has been designed to automate SIM card management.
  • Customer – routing calls based on the unique requirements of an individual customer.
  • Prefix – routing calls based on the called or calling party number or a portion of the number.
  • Time – routing calls based on the date and time at which the calls are processed e.g. peak versus off peak etc.
  • Peering – routing calls based on termination partner peering agreements of traffic volume and call limits.
  • Locality – routing the call to the end-point that is geographically closest to the dialed number.
  • Origin – routing calls based on their origin.