|Device management for IP voice and data
|Chairman and CEO
Gene Wang is the Chairman and CEO of Bitfone. Gene Wang has over 21 years of experience leading high technology companies and has participated as the CEO in three startups. Prior to Bitfone, Mr Wang was CEO and Chairman of Photo Access, selling its hardware business unit to Agilent Technologies. Previously, he served as the CEO of Computer Motion, which he led through a successful IPO. He has also served as: Executive Vice President at Symantec, where he managed four divisions; Vice President and General Manager at Borland; and, early in his career, Vice President of Marketing at Gold Hill Computers. Gene Wang received a BS Degree in Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley.
Dual mode mobile handsets that access both mobile telephony and WiMAX for VoIP could soon be widely available. This will bring many benefits, including cheaper calling, but managing the devices that bring these services will complicate the operator’s job considerably. Managing the highly complex device hardware, software, roaming and problem resolution is a daunting chore. Specialised device management software that can handle these tasks over the air is coming to the operator’s rescue and facilitating the growth of the market.
As the wireless market matures and technology evolves, competition amongst operators has increased dramatically. In response to increased competition, and an eroding growth rate, many operators began diversifying their products by offering data services in addition to voice services. Operators are now dependent on services such as SMS, picture sharing, mobile gaming, instant messaging, and other data-centric services as the drivers for incremental growth. Among the wireless data services under consideration, Voice Over IP, VoIP, has caught the public’s eye enabling new options for communication, such as push-to-talk, and inexpensive phone calls to anywhere in the world. For the first time wireless users have the capability to bypass the traditional circuit-switched network and route their calls over a packet-switched network such as the Internet. VoIP is basically a set of protocols that convert an analog voice signal to Internet protocol, or ‘packetize’ your conversation and deliver them over an IP network versus a traditional public switched network, PSTN. Leading VoIP vendor Skype Technologies Inc., which is available around the world, has about 75 million users and Vonage has roughly 1.6 million paying users. The availability of ubiquitous broadband access through wireless technologies, such as 3G and WiMAX, further fuels the fire for VoIP. WiMAX, or 802.16e, is a broadband wireless solution similar to WiFi except that WiMAX is capable of coverage of miles versus feet and megabits versus kilobits per second compared to today’s cellular networks. 3G networks provide broadband data services using the cellular network and add the extra convenience of accessibility from just about anywhere a subscriber may roam. However, even with strong consumer demand, VoIP technology has its challenges for providing a compelling user experience. While Internet or PC-based adoption has proven desirable, a market for the service moving towards a fully mobile environment, via a dual-mode phone with fixed/mobile convergence, raises a host of management and support issues that have not been addressed previously. Today, the operators’ customer support centers costs are swelling trying to support smart devices, and their network operations teams are scrambling to support the most basic data services. The addition of a complex technology such as sophisticated VoIP devices, coupled with multiple management authorities to support them, introduces the potential for problems. Operators and solution providers need a comprehensive device management solution that provides the flexibility to provision and manage devices dynamically as they roam through cellular and broadband networks, update the core firmware of the device over-the-air, OTA, and automatically diagnose device issues OTA. A variety of features are needed to manage successfully a commercial VoIP solution. Automated device provisioning Today, most subscribers require settings for their primary network and Internet access. Power users such as ‘Pro-sumers’ and corporate users require further settings for more advanced services such as email, synchronization, and instant messaging. With a VoIP device an entirely new dimension of complexity is introduced. As devices roam between multiple networks and management authorities, a complex set of parameters are required on both the network and the device to make the wireless experience transparent to the user. The phone must be configured to handle an ever changing list of roaming partners and networks in order to maintain a reasonable service level. Without a seamless method of configuring and updating service parameters, operators face a significant risk of spiraling support costs and high customer churn. Device management solutions provide an ideal mechanism for dynamically managing the service configurations of mobile handsets, by over-the-air provisioning of device and network specific parameters. Furthermore, the parameter definition can be dynamically calculated based on device and location specific information gained by remotely interrogating the device. Firmware over-the-air According to an Arc group report, checking a 2G handset completely for software flaws and operational efficiency requires the testing of between 100,000 and 200,000 items. With 3G handsets, the list of items checked to assure complete operational normality totals between four and five times that of 2G handsets. The growth of the software residing on the device is driving dramatic increases in the complexity of the handset, not only in the number of lines of code but also in the interaction between various components. This increased complexity, coupled with a shrinking development window, substantially increases the risk of software related problems. In order to deliver a cost effective VoIP solution and high-quality user experience, a comprehensive device management solution must include the capability to update the core firmware and software over the air. The solution must be able to query remotely the device and retrieve the required device characteristics, such as manufacturer, model and firmware version to identify the correct update for the device. During an update, the user experience is crucial. The user experience may consist of allowing the user to schedule or defer updates, provide detailed information either before or during the update process, and provide the fastest update process possible. Another important feature is making the timing of the update convenient. For instance, the solution should provide numerous options to obtain an update, such as allowing the user to search through a menu item on the phone, update the phone when placed in a docking station, provide a web portal to trigger the update, or enable the management authority to initiate an update campaign and push an update to the user. Diagnostics According to research firm InStat/MDR, technical support calls for data-enabled phones occur three times more frequently than calls for help with basic voice phones. What is more, on average, the call length for data-related support calls is four times that of voice calls. The customer care groups of your operator and original equipment manufacturer, OEM, are inundated with calls and their costs are skyrocketing. Add new VoIP devices to the equation and you can imagine where we go from here. An automated remote diagnostic feature enables a management authority to ensure services are operational. This can be done in many different ways. The device may be profiled during a customer care call, automatically triggered by predefined traps and events on the device, or initiated by the user through a portal or menu item. During a profile, hundreds of device parameters are gathered such as email, network, or Internet settings, signal strength, call drops, applications resident, etc. over a TCP/IP connection. The solution then automatically detects inconsistencies or possible problems using an analytics tool or device template. An automated remote diagnostic solution makes it possible for manufacturers and management authorities to increase the productivity of device support for data and application-related issues. The result is better customer service, greater productivity, lower staffing requirements, fewer training requirements and happy customers. Policy management As in traditional cellular service, data services that utilize fixed/mobile convergence networks will also require roaming partners for both cellular and broadband access. The Preferred Roaming List parameter on a device tells the device which roaming partner to use, and is set up to ensure the operator can take advantage of negotiated roaming charges with preferred networks. These lists are constantly updated, and outdated lists may end up costing the operator millions of dollars in excess roaming charges for non-preferred networks. As VoIP drives usage of broadband data services, it will be even more critical that policies on the device are enforced to take advantage of network partners that optimize profitability and ensure the highest customer satisfaction. From a logical perspective, the solution must abstract the service logic from the network and be capable of dynamically authenticating the device based upon policies, the existing service contract, and enable a real-time billing functionality for various services and applications. A single, unified, device management solution will streamline the management process, accelerate adoption, and improve the user experience. Policy management considerations are of increasing importance, as well, for enterprises that wish to leverage the cost benefits of VoIP on mobile phones. Here, too, it is critical that enterprises are able to adjust remotely policy parameters on devices to ensure approved networks are used and that appropriate security measures are in effect to prevent sensitive information from being compromised when using the new VoIP technologies. Device management also provides the added benefits of remotely locking stolen or lost devices to protect usage of the device, and access to sensitive information stored on the device, such as contact telephone numbers and email addresses. VoIP is a complex technology interacting with numerous logical and physical entities. When developing the business case for adoption, the return-on-investment is significantly impacted by factors such as total cost of ownership including the hardware/software costs, customer care costs, device complexity, etc. The success of VoIP is dependent upon the quality of service, QoS, and transparency of these issues to the end user. A comprehensive device management solution augments traditional VoIP deployments and is the missing element in a successful VoIP go-to-market strategy.