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July 2010 | Volume 2/Number 4
Feature Story

The New Provisioning Model in Store

WiMAX Forum Introduces Open Retail Certification Initiative

By Torobjorn Ward 

WiMAX user and device provisioning is a critically important activity for operators, which they have to get right, and get right the first time. Identifying and authenticating users, and then provisioning the correct service, the appropriate level of service and managing service changes is a complex process.

There are several methods available for configuration and provisioning of users and devices in a WiMAX network. In recognition of the importance and potential complexity of this issue, the WiMAX Forum has introduced a set of best practices for an Open Retail Certification model that allows users to buy any device from any store, and then select their preferred service from any local WiMAX service provider.

The WiMAX Forum Open Retail Certification Initiative defines a set of processes, features and test cases to ensure that end user devices can be sold to consumers via any retail store and allows these consumers to activate services without any help from service providers.

Over-the-air support is critical in an open retail model because it allows remote configuration of devices with the necessary operator-specific parameters and enables complete lifecycle management for the device.

Another key element of the Open Retail Initiative is certification version signaling, which permits operators to identify the subscriber device automatically and review its feature-by-feature certification test records during the network entry request. This process empowers operators to enforce automatically policies to prevent uncertified devices from disrupting efficient network operation. It also makes it possible to display only the subset of available services that are supported by the specific device in the user online activation process.

Open Mobile Alliance Device Management
The OMA-DM system has minimal impact on the user and the operator in the daily operation as it provisions the device over the air, allowing devices to be used off the shelf with no need to pre-provision different settings in the device. Software clients and upgrades can be delivered over the air as well. This has significant positive supply chain implications, of course, as WiMAX moves to a mass-market phenomenon.

Since an OMA-DM system traditionally requires a significant financial investment, we expect there will be vendors offering this as a cost-effective managed service for small- to mid-sized operators in the near future. Interoperability and flexibility are key, so OMA-DM solutions should support many different device vendors and a AAA solution that can be seamlessly integrated with the OMA-DM system.

Provisioning with Open Online Activation
A simplified alternative to OMA-DM is something Aptilo is calling open online activation. This method also does not require pre-provisioning of devices. It does require a client certificate for mutual authentication with the AAA server. When the device is switched on for the first time it will log in via transport layer security normally using the device’s MAC address as the user ID.

Advanced AAA servers recognize that this is an unprovisioned device and will apply hotline profiles so that the user is hotlined and forwarded by the ASN gateway to a sign-up portal where self-activation and selection of services can be made online.

One disadvantage has been the use of MAC addresses for log in; users are traditionally unable to log in from another connection to top-up or manage the account. Hierarchical accounts, available with some advanced AAA servers, solve this problem. A master account is created with a username password selected by the end user for managing the account from any Internet connection while the user continues to log in to the WiMAX service with a MAC-based sub-account, one account for each device.

Open online activation is an attractive alternative to OMA-DM as it is available today and offers all the benefits of using off-the-shelf devices for a lower investment. However, continuous management of device upgrades cannot be done over-the-air, and the method is currently not included in the WiMAX Forum Open Retail Certification Initiative.

Manual Provisioning
Manual provisioning should be avoided. However, there might be situations where the operator chooses to pre-provision its devices with unique IDs and passwords prior to sale. This method could be used if the operator cannot use either OMA-DM or unique device certificates. One option here is to let the end user do the provisioning manually via device-specific instructions online. This method may drive a high volume of end user support.

Operators clearly have a number of factors to consider when selecting a provisioning method. The WiMAX Forum Open Retail Certification Initiative is a solid effort to help operators make the best choices to support their networks now and in the future.

Torbjorn Ward is CEO for Aptilo Networks (www.aptilo.com).

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