|Topic:||Feeding the data-hungry subscriber|
Vince Lesch is CTO of Tekelec, a session and mobile data management company. Mr Lesch has more than 20 years of experience in the telecom and communications software industries, ranging from large communications services providers such as AT&T to early stage software startups engaged in interactive advertising. He previously held positions with Bell Laboratories, Lucent, and General Electric in engineering, product management and marketing, and has served on the board of the NGN IMS Forum. Vince Lesch received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Exponential mobile data traffic growth, driven by video and data-enabled mobile devices – smartphones, data cards and mobile Internet devices – is choking networks and degrading service. Worse, data traffic is growing much faster than revenue. Operators desperately need ways to better manage costs and create revenues – while simultaneously improving the subscriber experience. Policy management, subscriber data management and performance management software provides ways not only to address the capacity crunch, but also to bring new, differentiated revenue-boosting services.
The mobile industry’s extraordinary data deluge is driving operators to invest in more capacity, network backhaul upgrades and a host of network management and operations support systems (OSS) software. While all of these will help address the short-term problems and reduce costs, the long-term mobile data management opportunity is using innovative software solutions to better understand subscribers and improve the customer experience. In order to meet immediate networks’ needs and lay the foundation for differentiated high-value services, operators can manage their networks based on dynamic policy control, unified subscriber profiles and key performance indicators. The results can include lowered network costs and new revenue generation through personalized services, applications and bandwidth optimization. In addition, network operations, marketing and customer service teams will be able to transition subscribers to next-generation networks, identify new service needs, improve the quality of service (QoS) and reduce churn. Capacity crunch Bandwidth resources have become especially pressing due to the rapid increase in the use of video and data-enabled mobile devices. Smartphones, data cards and mobile Internet devices can consume exponentially more bandwidth than voice-centric handsets. These increases in data traffic can choke networks to the point where a substantial number of users may encounter poor service experiences, especially during peak-usage hours. Operators’ profit margins are also at risk due to the divergent paths of mobile data traffic and revenue. From 2009 to 2014, Informa Telecoms & Media forecasts that mobile data traffic will grow to more than five times the rate of mobile data revenue. According to Informa Telecoms & Media, contributors to the traffic and revenue tension include… (see below the table): Clearly, operators cannot afford to scale network infrastructure at the pace of traffic. Also, service providers need several solutions to both maintain a high quality of experience and minimize costs. Improving quality of service Policy management, subscriber data management and performance management give operators several options to improve mobile traffic congestion. Policy control through a policy and charging rules function (PCRF) gives new tools to manage high-bandwidth applications and implement dynamic controls for peak traffic periods and to manage heavy users that exceed certain thresholds. Even a handful of changes can dramatically lower the costs of network operations. The PCRF communicates with core network systems, applications and the operational support systems/business support systems’ (OSS/BSS) platforms to manage subscriber and network information according to operator-created business rules. These rules define how broadband network resources are allocated to subscribers and applications and under what conditions. Policy control helps implement tiered billing and traffic throttling, a win for customers and operators. Subscribers get new choices to pay for set amounts of data usage, enabling monthly flexibility and consumer choice. Operators can also offer plans based on guaranteed levels of service and bandwidth availability. This is attractive for both high-data, high-revenue users and for low-usage subscribers who would not otherwise pay for an unlimited plan. Subscribers who opt for a lower tier of service, for example, receive maximum bandwidth defined by their service tier as often as possible and may get slower download speeds during peak traffic hours. One example is Vodafone Hungary, which deployed Camiant’s PCRF solution to enable dynamic bandwidth control for users that exceed their monthly limits. Instead of charging overage fees or stopping subscribers from further using the network when they exceed a monthly usage cap, Vodafone Hungary instead enforces a moderated bandwidth level only during peak hours for subscribers who have surpassed their monthly allotment. This allows Vodafone Hungary’s 3G users to get maximum value from their service, but not at the expense of other users on the network – a win for high-use subscribers, all other 3G subscribers and Vodafone Hungary. A future-proofed subscriber data management (SDM) solution gives operators a consolidated view of each subscriber, regardless of device or access type (2G, 3G, LTE, etc.), integrating the shared and centralized subscriber data under a single, central, subscriber identity. SDM combines with policy management, for example, to automatically move 3G smartphone traffic to an available WiFi network – without disrupting voice or data activity – saving network resources without affecting the customer experience. A unified view of subscriber profiles enables increased revenue through the rapid deployment of personalized services. Simply put, the more operators know about subscriber usage, the better they can create and deploy relevant services, such as new data plans or multimedia messaging service options. With centralized network and subscriber profile data, operators can support enhanced multimedia applications across 2G, 3G and all-Internet protocol (IP) networks. In addition, they can create a platform for hosting next-generation services and new vendor-agnostic applications and services. Performance management monitors network traffic for troubleshooting and quality of service evaluation. As mobile data traffic surges, traditional strategies of monitoring 100 per cent of traffic and adding equipment to match traffic growth are proving to be impractical and prohibitively costly. A more intelligent and flexible approach enables operators to monitor the specific types and levels of data they deem critical to their businesses. Known as intelligent data management (IDM), this approach allows operators to monitor a far greater amount of data with the same amount of equipment, saving capital and operational expense without sacrificing QoS. IDM provides operators with the ability to capture 100 per cent of the control-plane traffic along with configurable options for collecting user-plane data. By adopting IDM, operators can focus on the user-plane data specific to given applications, devices or subscribers to identify the source of any problems encountered on the network. In addition, operators can implement ‘on-demand’ troubleshooting, by setting up filters and examining call/transaction/session detail records associated with subscriber groups, individual subscribers, specific handsets or service areas. By analyzing granular data, operators can determine configuration problems, reset devices, and resolve performance issues quickly. As more subscribers convert to smartphones, connectivity and the performance of mobile broadband and data services will become increasingly critical components of the end-user experience. With IDM, the operator is able to, for example, quickly identify and resolve problems that smartphone users may encounter while connecting to the Internet. An operator might choose to direct the majority of monitoring to an urban area, or focus on high-value enterprise customers – whichever group or individuals are most important to the service provider. What’s next? The synergies between policy control and performance management, SDM and operators’ core services present many opportunities to differentiate services, strengthen customer loyalty and increase revenues. Infonetics Research “[sees] policy expanding beyond its traditional role of managing bandwidth consumption, with operators using policy control to enhance an increasing number of applications, including the enabling of bandwidth guarantees for specific services and branded content, over the air provisioning, more on-demand services, and targeted advertising campaigns and offers”.1 Examples include: • Integrated policy controls and performance management – Operators will be able to evaluate network performance in real time to automatically adjust policies on the fly. This ‘feedback loop’ can improve subscribers’ experience by providing an ongoing, multi-faceted examination of network usage and performance. This integration would also be able to verify that policies from the PCRF were properly enforced in the network, while measuring the success of the action. • Customized text-messaging plans for groups of individual users – Enterprises could, for example, enable text messages only during business hours and parents could restrict children from receiving text messages during school hours. • On-demand bandwidth increases for subscribers streaming mobile videos, depending on their device types (e.g. smartphone vs. tablet), location and network usage demands. Operators could give subscribers the choice to pay an incremental amount to accelerate video downloads over 3G or LTE networks depending on a number of factors. Or, if service providers can identify a pattern of high video-on-demand use on multiple devices, they could offer an increase to the monthly fee to guarantee download speeds. Service providers’ networks continue to get more complex as traffic increases and operators require more solutions to better manage costs and create revenues – while simultaneously improving the subscriber experience. Policy management, subscriber data management and performance management provide value, not only to help address today’s capacity crunch, but also to bring new services that boost revenue and provide market differentiators.