Call flow topologies

This article describes Azure Communication Services call flow topologies. This is a great article to review if you're an enterprise customer integrating Communication Services within a network that you manage. For an introduction to Communication Services call flows, visit the call flows conceptual documentation.

Background

Network concepts

Before reviewing call flow topologies, we'll define some terms that are referred to throughout the document.

A customer network contains any network segments that you manage. This might include wired and wireless networks within your office or between offices, data centers, and internet service providers.

A customer network usually has several network perimeters with firewalls and/or proxy servers that enforce your organization's security policies. We recommend performing a comprehensive network assessment to ensure optimal performance and quality of your communication solution.

The Communication Services network is the network segment that supports Azure Communication Services. This network is managed by Microsoft and is distributed worldwide with edges close to most customer networks. This network is responsible for transport relay, media processing for group calls, and other components that support rich real-time media communications.

Types of traffic

Communication Services is built primarily on two types of traffic: real-time media and signaling.

Real-time media is transmitted using the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP). This protocol supports audio, video, and screen sharing data transmission. This data is sensitive to network latency issues. While it's possible to transmit real-time media using TCP or HTTP, we recommend using UDP as the transport-layer protocol to support high-performance end-user experiences. Media payloads transmitted over RTP are secured using SRTP.

Users of your Communication Services solution will be connecting to your services from their client devices. Communication between these devices and your servers is handled with signaling. For example: call initiation and real-time chat are supported by signaling between devices and your service. Most signaling traffic uses HTTPS REST, though in some scenarios, SIP can be used as a signaling traffic protocol. While this type of traffic is less sensitive to latency, low-latency signaling will give the users of your solution a pleasant end-user experience.

Call flows in ACS are based on the Session Description Protocol (SDP) RFC 4566 offer and answer model over HTTPS. Once the callee accepts an incoming call, the caller and callee agree on the session parameters.

Media traffic is encrypted by, and flows between, the caller and callee using Secure RTP (SRTP), a profile of Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) that provides confidentiality, authentication, and replay attack protection to RTP traffic. SRTP uses a session key generated by a secure random number generator and exchanged using the signaling TLS channel.

ACS media traffic between two endpoints participating in ACS audio, video, and application sharing, utilizes SRTP to encrypt the media stream. Cryptographic keys are negotiated between the two endpoints over a signaling protocol which uses TLS 1.2 and AES-256 (in GCM mode) encrypted UDP/TCP channel.

Interoperability restrictions

Media flowing through Communication Services is restricted as follows:

Third-party media relays. Interoperability with a third-party media relays isn't supported. If one of your media endpoints is Communication Services, your media can only traverse Microsoft-native media relays, including those that support Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business.

A third-party Session Border Controller (SBC) on the boundary with PSTN should terminate the RTP/RTCP stream, secured using SRTP, and not relay it to the next hop. If you relay the flow to the next hop, it might not be understood.

Third-party SIP proxy servers. A Communication Services signaling SIP dialog with a third-party SBC and/or gateway may traverse Microsoft native SIP proxies (just like Teams). Interoperability with third-party SIP proxies is not supported.

Third-party B2BUA (or SBC). Communication Services media flow to and from the PSTN is terminated by a third-party SBC. Interoperability with a third-party SBC within the Communication Services network (where a third-party SBC mediates two Communication Services endpoints) is not supported.

Unsupported technologies

VPN network. Communication Services does not support media transmission over VPNs. If your users are using VPN clients, the client should split and route media traffic over a non-VPN connection as specified in Enabling Lync media to bypass a VPN tunnel.

Note. Although the title indicates Lync, it is applicable to Azure Communication Services and Teams.

Packet shapers. Packet snipping, packet inspection, or packet shaping devices are not supported and may degrade quality significantly.

Call flow principles

There are four general principles that underpin Communication Services call flows:

  • The first participant of a Communication Services group call determines the region in which the call is hosted. There are exceptions to this rule in some topologies, which are described below.
  • The media endpoint used to support a Communication Services call is selected based on media processing needs, and is not affected by the number of participants on a call. For example, a point-to-point call may use a media endpoint in the cloud to process media for transcription or recording, while a call with two participants may not use any media endpoints. Group calls will use a media endpoint for mixing and routing purposes. This endpoint is selected based on the region in which the call is hosted. Media traffic sent from a client to the media endpoint may be routed directly or it may use a transport relay in Azure if customer network firewall restrictions require it.
  • Media traffic for peer-to-peer calls takes the most direct route that's available, assuming the call doesn't need a media endpoint in the cloud. The preferred route is direct to the remote peer (client). If a direct route isn't available, one or more transport relays will relay traffic. Media traffic shouldn't transverse servers that act like packet shapers, VPN servers, or other functions that might delay processing and degrade the end-user experience.
  • Signaling traffic always goes to whatever server is closest to the user.

To learn more about the details on the media path that is chosen, refer to the call flows conceptual documentation.

Call flows in various topologies

Communication Services (internet)

This topology is used by customers that use Communication Services from the cloud without any on-premises deployment, such as Azure direct routing. In this topology, traffic to and from Communication Services flows over the Internet.

Azure Communication Services Topology.

Figure 1 - Communication Services topology

The direction of the arrows on the above diagram reflect the initiation direction of the communication that affects connectivity at the enterprise perimeters. In the case of UDP for media, the first packet(s) may flow in the reverse direction, but these packets may be blocked until packets in the other direction are flowing.

Flow descriptions:

  • Flow 2 – Represents a flow initiated by a user on the customer network to the Internet as a part of the user's Communication Services experience. Examples of these flows include DNS and peer-to-peer media transmission.
  • Flow 2` – Represents a flow initiated by a remote mobile Communication Services user, with VPN to the customer network.
  • Flow 3 – Represents a flow initiated by a remote mobile Communication Services user to Communication Services endpoints.
  • Flow 4 – Represents a flow initiated by a user on the customer network to Communication Services.
  • Flow 5 – Represents a peer-to-peer media flow between one Communication Services user and another within the customer network.
  • Flow 6 – Represents a peer-to-peer media flow between a remote mobile Communication Services user and another remote mobile Communication Services user over the Internet.

Use case: One-to-one

One-to-one calls use a common model in which the caller will obtain a set of candidates consisting of IP addresses/ports, including local, relay, and reflexive (public IP address of client as seen by the relay) candidates. The caller sends these candidates to the called party; the called party also obtains a similar set of candidates and sends them to the caller. STUN connectivity check messages are used to find which caller/called party media paths work, and the best working path is selected. Media (that is, RTP/RTCP packets secured using SRTP) are then sent using the selected candidate pair. The transport relay is deployed as part of Azure Communication Services.

If the local IP address/port candidates or the reflexive candidates have connectivity, then the direct path between the clients (or using a NAT) will be selected for media. If the clients are both on the customer network, then the direct path should be selected. This requires direct UDP connectivity within the customer network. If the clients are both nomadic cloud users, then depending on the NAT/firewall, media may use direct connectivity.

If one client is internal on the customer network and one client is external (for example, a mobile cloud user), then it's unlikely that direct connectivity between the local or reflexive candidates is working. In this case, an option is to use one of the transport relay candidates from either client (for example, the internal client obtained a relay candidate from the transport relay in Azure; the external client needs to be able to send STUN/RTP/RTCP packets to the transport relay). Another option is the internal client sends to the relay candidate obtained by the mobile cloud client. Although UDP connectivity for media is highly recommended, TCP is supported.

High-level steps:

  1. Communication Services User A resolves URL domain name (DNS) using Flow 2.
  2. User A allocates a media relay port on the Teams transport relay using Flow 4.
  3. Communication Services User A sends an "invite" with ICE candidates using Flow 4 to Communication Services.
  4. Communication Services notifies User B using Flow 4.
  5. User B allocates a media relay port on Teams transport relay using Flow 4.
  6. User B sends "answer" with ICE candidates using Flow 4, which is forwarded back to User A using Flow 4.
  7. User A and User B invoke ICE connectivity tests and the best available media path is selected (see diagrams below for various use cases).
  8. Both users send telemetry to Communication Services using Flow 4.

Customer network (intranet)

Traffic Flow within the Customer Network.

Figure 2 - Within customer network

In Step 7, peer-to-peer media Flow 5 is selected.

This media transmission is bidirectional. The direction of Flow 5 indicates that one side initiates the communication from a connectivity perspective. In this case, it doesn't matter which direction is used because both endpoints are within the customer network.

Customer network to external user (media relayed by Teams Transport Relay)

One to One Call Flow via a Relay.

Figure 3 - Customer network to external user (media relayed by Azure Transport Relay)

In Step 7, Flow 4 (from the customer network to Communication Services) and Flow 3 (from a remote mobile Communication Services user to Azure Communication Services) are selected.

These flows are relayed by Teams Transport Relay within Azure.

This media transmission is bidirectional. The direction indicates which side initiates the communication from a connectivity perspective. In this case, these flows are used for signaling and media, using different transport protocols and addresses.

Customer network to external user (direct media)

One to One Call Flow with an External User.

Figure 4 - Customer network to external user (direct media)

In step 7, Flow 2 (from customer network to the client's peer over the Internet) is selected.

Direct media with a remote mobile user (not relayed through Azure) is optional. In other words, you can block this path to enforce a media path through a transport relay in Azure.

This media transmission is bidirectional. The direction of Flow 2 to remote mobile user indicates that one side initiates the communication from a connectivity perspective.

VPN user to internal user (media relayed by Teams Transport Relay)

One to One Call Flow with a VPN user via Relay.

Figure 5 - VPN user to internal user (media relayed by Azure Relay

Signaling between the VPN to the customer network uses Flow 2*. Signaling between the customer network and Azure uses Flow 4. However, media bypasses the VPN and is routed using Flows 3 and 4 through Azure Media Relay.

VPN user to internal user (direct media)

One to One Call Flow (internal user) with a VPN with Direct Media

Figure 6 - VPN user to internal user (direct media)

Signaling between the VPN to the customer network uses Flow 2'. Signaling between the customer network and Azure is using flow 4. However, media bypasses the VPN and is routed using flow 2 from the customer network to the Internet.

This media transmission is bidirectional. The direction of Flow 2 to the remote mobile user indicates that one side initiates the communication from a connectivity perspective.

VPN user to external user (direct media)

One to One Call Flow (external user) with a VPN with Direct Media

Figure 7 - VPN user to external user (direct media)

Signaling between the VPN user to the customer network uses Flow 2* and Flow 4 to Azure. However, media bypasses VPN and is routed using Flow 6.

This media transmission is bidirectional. The direction of Flow 6 to the remote mobile user indicates that one side initiates the communication from a connectivity perspective.

Use Case: Communication Services client to PSTN through Communication Services Trunk

Communication Services allows placing and receiving calls from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). If the PSTN trunk is connected using phone numbers provided by Communication Services, there are no special connectivity requirements for this use case. If you want to connect your own on-premises PSTN trunk to Azure Communication Services, you can use Azure direct routing (available in CY2021).

One to One Call with a PSTN Participant

Figure 8 – Communication Services User to PSTN through Azure Trunk

In this case, signaling and media from the customer network to Azure use Flow 4.

Use case: Communication Services group calls

The audio/video/screen sharing (VBSS) service is part of Azure Communication Services. It has a public IP address that must be reachable from the customer network and must be reachable from a Nomadic Cloud client. Each client/endpoint needs to be able to connect to the service.

Internal clients will obtain local, reflexive, and relay candidates in the same manner as described for one-to-one calls. The clients will send these candidates to the service in an invite. The service does not use a relay since it has a publicly reachable IP address, so it responds with its local IP address candidate. The client and the service will check connectivity in the same manner described for one-to-one calls.

Azure Communication Services Group Call

Figure 9 – Communication Services Group Calls

Next steps

The following documents may be interesting to you: