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Feature Article
March 2002


Streamlining Mobile Voice And Data Services


Innovative data services present mobile operators with unique opportunities to build stronger ties to subscribers that result in higher Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) levels. But mobile operators must efficiently grow their data offerings without impacting their abilities to deliver high-quality voice services. They need to simultaneously address the challenges of methodically migrating to 3G technologies while making this migration as smooth as possible for subscribers who need little excuse to change providers.

Mobile telephony infrastructure will eventually evolve to accommodate voice and data over IP, but over the short term, mobile operators will build overlay networks that leverage the Operational Support Systems (OSS) infrastructure developed for voice services to enable integrated voice and data services in a 2.5G environment. The ability to leverage voice infrastructure while adding IP data services is critical to the long-term evolution toward IP-based mobile telephony, data, and multimedia services.

Data services will become the key differentiators for mobile operators and they will also become the most profitable services. For many mobile voice operators, an important first step toward the successful deployment of data and voice services is to develop a single point of provisioning for voice and data services. In this new landscape, advanced subscriber management functionality is required to enable rapid creation and delivery of revenue-generating services while reducing the costs of network operations. Operators need a single point of provisioning using composite voice and data profiles so they can deploy integrated services that improve customer experience to build lasting bonds with subscribers and maximize new service sampling and cross-selling opportunities. This requires next-generation platforms with flexible interfaces to complement and enhance Signaling System 7 (SS7) network database infrastructure.

Real-time metering of IP data traffic is also needed to enable content-based billing and access to prepaid account information. Mobile operators require next-generation, purpose-built mobile data service systems so they can successfully build out data infrastructure, while integrating mobile data services with existing mobile voice services and leveraging existing infrastructure and OSS applications. 

Mass-market deployment of personalized mobile data services will require simplified service provisioning,  and operators need to ensure that network and OSS infrastructure can meet growth requirements that will occur in multiple dimensions. Customers will expect to be able to visit a retail store, select an appliance and services, and leave in minutes with voice and data  services fully operational. They will also want to be able to benefit from easy, over-the-air self-provisioning so they can add new services or gain access to additional content such as MP3 audio files or applications such as e-mail or Web browsing.

Automated provisioning will allow operators to support third-party partners and swiftly deliver higher-margin services by supporting the three-dimensional provisioning of subscribers, services, and mobile data sessions. Operators will need to be able to anticipate market trends and quickly create services that will allow them to maintain competitive advantages. Rapid, centralized, policy-based, single-point service provisioning is needed to support scaling requirements. The ability to automate subscriber management and offer subscriber self-care while leveraging existing back-office systems is required to drive the successful growth of new services. 

Current mobile network infrastructure solutions were developed based on the fundamental assumption that services would be vertically integrated and under the tight control of the mobile network operator. These solutions are incapable of handling the requirements of emerging data services because they consist of multiple point products deployed to meet legacy requirements. They have closed interfaces and lack support for emerging business models, and are focused on providing network transport instead of providing subscriber services. Mobile operators need a new solution that addresses these shortcomings. This requires next-generation mobile data service systems that integrate session management and transport. 

They can then build brand value, create multiple revenue streams, and charge premium pricing by taking new approaches to mobile data infrastructure based on real-time metering and the integration of session management with the transfer of data so that they can scale to support growth. Mobile data operators need detailed network visibility so they can monitor traffic flows and allow third-party providers access to content-based billing and prepaid account information. 

Real-time metering with the ability to provide stateful inspection of packet flows is the only way to deliver the content-sensitive billing that is essential for mobile operators so they can avoid becoming commoditized access providers. The mobile operator needs unprecedented visibility into the network to take advantage of the unique relationship with the subscriber. Unlike fixed networks, mobile networks have a unique linkage between the International Mobile Subscriber Index (IMSI) of the appliance and the temporary or permanent IP address assigned to that terminal. This linkage provides a stronger binding between the subscriber and the operator than possible in the wireline world. 

Operators can leverage this network visibility to successfully offer prepaid services while controlling fraud. Batch updates of Call Detail Records (CDRs) are insufficient to control fraud because operators need real-time access to the prepaid purse. The fundamental mechanism that can be used to unlock the potential of mobile data in this rapidly changing world is real-time metering that allows the operator to simultaneously view data services in perspective of sessions, subscribers, and services. With this granular visibility and control, the operator can participate in the value chain with confidence while creating innovative new services.

Contrary to the postpaid billing processes, prepaid time metering assures that the subscriber has deposited a prepayment amount into his/her account prior to placing a call. If the account has sufficient credit, the mobile voice call can be placed. For real-time metering, the credit in the account needs to be converted to a packet or transaction count that can be decremented during the duration of a session. As the prepaid amount approaches zero, the session can be proactively interrupted to either disconnect the session or offer the subscriber an ability to add value to the prepaid account (a top-up). This real-time metering function is compute-intensive and requires careful consideration as operators plan to scale to handle hundreds-of-thousands of simultaneous sessions.

But purpose-built mobile data service systems designed for the unique needs of mobile operators can provide the real-time metering that can serve as the foundation for the provisioning of mobile data services. For example, operators can support the creation of secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) between the subscriber and providers of content, services, and applications. Mobile operators need the flexibility to carefully meter traffic and thus avoid becoming mere access providers. They can enable value-based billing and deliver premium content and services by implementing powerful metering based on time, volume, location, Quality of Service (QoS), or content. They can implement and support creative business models by ensuring robust metering so that value can be successfully measured and shared among operators and their business partners.

The integration of highly available signaling management features with highly scalable bearer path features enables the independent scaling of sessions, services, and subscribers. Centralized, policy-based management of subscribers and network resources therefore enables efficient provisioning and provides a service development environment that allows third-party providers to rapidly deploy value-added services. 

New business models like Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), content partnerships, and wholesaling can be layered into traditional, vertically integrated service offerings by the operator directly. This capability allows the operator to rapidly deploy innovative new services, amortize capital investments over a larger group of service opportunities, and expand the channels to the customer. Only real-time metering and billing allows operators to drive the profitable deployment of advanced mobile data services that successfully leverage subscriber relationships. 

By capturing detailed utilization information and benefiting from open systems interfaces to legacy voice infrastructure, mobile data providers can create composite records of voice and data services to enable streamlined billing. Standards-based interfaces on next-generation mobile data service systems also allow integration with third-party customer care, provisioning, and billing systems. Operators can effectively build tollgates on the mobile commerce highway so that they can enhance their value proposition to subscribers while creating alternative revenue-generating opportunities and driving the global adoption of mobile data services.

Only next-generation mobile data service systems will allow operators to offer partners open interfaces to monitor the impact of services on network resources and the ability to streamline service provisioning. New solutions are needed that support emerging business models and allow operators to flexibly scale to support business model demands. By deploying purpose-built platforms designed for mobile data services, operators can support value-based billing and enable new business models.

Next-generation architectures are required so that operators can benefit from advanced real-time metering capabilities to support both subscriber-based and  content-based billing and provide unprecedented  visibility into the network. Access to voice prepaid accounts will enable real-time prepaid data services, which nurture new revenue opportunities while reducing the risk of fraud. Session-level virtual partitioning will eliminate the need for dedicated hardware for each  partner and allow operators to develop cost-effective wholesale opportunities for selling services to both MVNOs and WISPs. 

Operators can leverage their customer relationships with voice subscribers by offering innovative data services that can be personalized for each subscriber. By deploying next-generation mobile data service systems with extensible, standards-based APIs that facilitate partnering with content and application providers, operators will be able move beyond commoditized access revenue by providing highly differentiated services and supporting wholesale and partnering business models. They will be able to streamline service provisioning, integrate legacy infrastructure and OSS applications through open interfaces, and successfully scale the mobile network to accommodate increased demand for mobile data services. 

Mark Tubinis is a founder and vice president of development at WaterCove Networks, which is building next-generation mobile data service systems that will enable the mass-market deployment of personalized mobile data services. WaterCove Networks can be found online at www.watercove.com.

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