|Issue:||Europe II 2012|
|Topic:||Deliver shared data plans with the New Diameter Network|
|Title:||CTO and Vice President of Engineering|
Doug Suriano, CTO and Vice President of Engineering at Tekelec, has more than 20 years of telecommunications and technology experience. He is responsible for product innovation, leadership in standards bodies and industry forums, and advocacy for innovative mobile data solutions.
Doug Surianoearned his Master of Science in Information Technology at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and a Bachelor of Science at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Allowing multiple devices and multiple users to share data plans enables mobility and flexibility that attracts subscribers. To facilitate this, operators need to install the New Diameter network that can distribute and consolidate signalling of policy and accounting information. Sharing plans must still deliver consistent policies and track usage per user, per device. Sharing data plans calls for more complex techniques, such as pooling quota, quota roll-over, top-ups, concurrent limits and comprehensive notifications.
Mobile data is the greatest opportunity that operators have ever seen. The number of connected devices on networks reached six billion in 2011, and this figure is expected to double to 12 billion by 2020. To capture this growing opportunity, operators need to become service and content enablers and intelligently control their networks to create, personalize and launch new services faster.
Shared data plans are one innovative way for operators to respond to subscribers’ needs and their many devices. For example, last September, StarHub became the first operator in Singapore to offer a post-paid plan offering subscribers the ability to share data, minutes and SMS messages with other users. Several Orange subsidiaries in Europe also offer a shared iPhone/iPad plan. While shared voice and SMS message plans have been common for many years, the introduction of shared data plans is a new – and rapidly growing – development.
Tekelec, the mobile broadband solutions company, sponsored a study from the analyst firm Infonetics Research on the forecasted rise of devices with shared data plans from 2011 to 2015. The top finding was that devices sold globally with shared data plans will grow at an average of 89 percent per year, reaching nearly 187 million in 2015. The analysts linked the most rapid adoption to markets with advanced 3G competition, including North America, Western Europe and Asia Pacific countries like Japan and South Korea.
Infonetics identified two forms of shared data plans:
• One user, multiple devices:this allows a mobile broadband subscriber to apply a volume of data to more than one device, such as a smartphone and tablet. The consumer eliminates separate plans per device, consolidating data into one bucket. The only additional cost is a minimal monthly fee to provision multiple devices to one user.
• Multiple users, multiple devices: thisincludes more than one device and more than one user. A family or small business receives a pool of data to share across any number of devices – smartphones, tablets, USB dongles, etc. – allowing individuals to select their preferred devices and making adoption of multiple devices more desirable.
Combined, these plans will increase the proportion of mobile broadband devices sold on shared data plans from just over two percent in 2011 to more than 15 percent in 2015. Smartphones, tablets and USB cards will comprise 89 percent of the shared data devices in 2015.
Network requirements for shared data plans
This growth in shared data plans provides exciting opportunities for new revenue models and service innovation. Rolling out new services quickly is a must in the battle to capture customers and generate revenues from over-the-top, cloud, and machine-to-machine services. Operators need to create new services in weeks, not months.
However, operators often lack the full range of network equipment to best support this pricing plan option. The challenge is that legacy charging systems have been slow to adapt and are overburdened by new service plans. The delivery of new services such as shared data plans requires programmable rules engines with easy-to-use, service-creation tools, advanced quota management features such as quota pooling, integrated analytics, standards-based interfaces, and a wide variety of preconfigured use cases. It also requires a unified database with open application interfaces that can manage unpredictable, event-based, dynamic and distributed subscriber data and allow operators to personalise services.
To scale shared data plans across a range of 3G and LTE devices, service providers need to deploy the critical elements of a New Diameter Network.
The New Diameter Network defined
The New Diameter Network is the foundation for a successful mobile data business model. As one Tier 1 operator put it: “100 per cent of revenue-generating mobile data services will run on it”. The New Diameter Network is comprised of control elements – policy servers, charging systems, subscriber databases, gateways, and session and mobility management – that rely on the Diameter protocol to exchange network, subscriber and charging information. Unlike old Diameter solutions that provide point-to-point transport of Diameter signalling traffic, such as load balancers and protocol converters, the new Diameter network is an enduring framework providing the scalability, reliability and flexibility for mobile data and signalling growth.
The New Diameter Network has three critical elements:
A Diameter signalling infrastructure at the network core facilitates signalling between network elements such as online and offline charging systems (OCSs/OFCSs), mobility management entities (MMEs), policy and charging rules functions (PCRFs) and home subscriber servers (HSSs). Like the central nervous system which relays messages back and forth from the brain to different parts of the body, a Diameter signalling router integrates with all Diameter-based control elements and relays messages among them. It balances message loads across these Diameter elements to ensure scalability, manage congestion, and translate messages that are in different languages. It also binds subscriber information transmitted in Diameter messages to a single policy server, ensuring that all messages associated with the same subscriber or device are routed to the same policy server. This helps operators maintain consistent policies by grouping all relevant data together.
Even a common activity, such as downloading a YouTube video to a smartphone, creates several Diameter messages to validate subscriber permissions, check the available data quota, verify the user’s device and ensure that there are no parental control violations. An increase in shared data plans will only drive up the number of Diameter messages. Infonetics anticipates “that this rapid ramp-up in Diameter transactions will drive demand for Diameter Routing Agents (DRAs), a functional element first introduced in 3GPP Release 8 to better manage the onslaught of Diameter messages exchanged among network elements.”
A Policy server, defined as a 3GPP-compliant policy and charging rules function (PCRF), manages rules across subscribers, device and networks using Diameter messages. The policy server also controls policy enforcement points like access devices. Service providers can easily create and edit policies to manage subscribers’ quality of service (QoS), charging rules, quotas, optimisation and admission control. In shared data plans, policy control equipment uses performance analytics to track and analyse customer and group usage with advanced techniques that include:
• Quota pooling to share one quota across multiple devices based on time, bandwidth, or application usage. For example, a family of five members can share a ten GB quota per month regardless of the device used;
• Multiple concurrent quotas across different devices such as 20 videos, unlimited social networking and web browsing, and 200 hours of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls per month;
• Quota top-ups and monthly roll-overs for a group or family plan; and
• Enhanced notifications to the customer on multiple device usage.
Infonetics notes that operators need to implement rules associated with dynamic criteria, such as: time of day, usage, subscriber profile, and real-time network conditions, across network types, service types, devices, etc. For example, a parent would likely want content restrictions to be applied consistently regardless of whether a child is accessing a service from a laptop over a home WiFi network or from a tablet over the 3G network. This necessitates a high performance rules engine flexible enough to allow the operator to implement a wide range of policies that can span devices, services, etc., without sacrificing performance. It also requires an intuitive user interface that enables the operator to easily create rules on a per-service and per-subscriber basis without needing to go back to its PCRF supplier.”
A unified data repository (UDR) contains the essential profile, state, and usage information for subscribers and their associated devices. It is the key data repository for policy servers and Diameter signalling routers that need to correlate rules with individual subscribers and groups of users.
According to Infonetics, “that contextual information becomes even more important—and complex—in shared data plans. When there is a one-to-one relationship between a subscription and a customer, it is relatively easy for the operator to understand who the customer is and what device he or she is using. However, with a shared data plan, the operator must be able to segment which user or which device is actually consuming the bandwidth, and must also be able to make that information available to the subscriber, who may want to track how the bucket of data is being consumed and who is consuming it within the shared plan”. Additionally, operators may need to dive deeper “to correlate a specific user with access to specific applications and services that are resident on the device”.
Shared data plans give service providers the opportunity to evolve from device-centric to customer-centric mobile broadband services. Providing customers with one plan that spans many devices allows for greater service and tariff personalization and more knowledge on device and application usage. To realise the full benefits, however, operators need the core elements of the New Diameter Network: Diameter signalling routers, policy servers and subscriber data management solutions.