|Preparing for Mobile Growth
|Tero Laaksonen and Marianne Tikkanen
|(Tero Laaksonen) President and CEO and (Marianne Tikkanen) Market Analyst
Tero Laaksonen is the President and CEO of Comptel. During Mr Laaksonen’s long career in IT and Telecommunications, he served as the Managing Director of Telia Finland Oy; Senior Vice-President Nokia Telecommunications Oy / Information Networks; Director of the Financial Services Business Division at ICL plc; Managing Director at ICL Data Oy; and Managing Director at Nokia Data Oy. Mr Laaksonen previously held various positions at Nokia Data Oy / Nokia Electronics and at Outokumpu Oyj. Mr Laaksonen has a MSc degree in mathematics.
Marianne Tikkanen is a Market Analyst at Comptel. Ms Tikkanen served previously as Comptel’s Business Programme Manager. Before joining Comptel, Ms Tikkanen worked for Ericsson in a series of managerial, sales and R&D positions. Ms Tikkanen has a Master of Science degree in telecommunications.
India’s three-digit mobile growth rate is a ‘happy problem’, but a problem nevertheless. Extraordinary growth requires the expansion of everything. Flexibility to grow is a prime reason for using mediation and service provisioning systems. These act as flexible rubber bands between the network and other back office systems such as billing, fraud and CRM. Provisioning lets the network provided the subscribed services and mediation registers what was used. During a system changeover, mediation is indispensable as it provides uninterrupted billing.
Digital India is emerging. Mobile phones are changing the way people communicate. Already 3.5 per cent of India’s population (06/2004 EMC) is using them. The percentage does not seem high, but in the vast country of India this means there are 37 million subscribers (06/2004) and the potential for growth is tremendous. The next billion, the slogan GSM Association is using, could come solely from India as the giant starts marching. Flexibility and growth A three-digit growth rate is a ‘happy problem’–a problem that operators willingly face, but nevertheless growth is a problem. Extraordinary growth rates require the expansion of everything–more masts for traffic capacity, more employees for call centres and more computers in the back-office. Expansion is planned, but unpredictable incidents may take planners by surprise and put flexibility to test. Flexibility is one of the two main reasons for having mediation and service provisioning systems, and growth is the other. In the beginning, before the first million subscribers, one switch combined with a location register is simple; it is simple to provision services and simple to collect service usage, even without mediation. Growth, though, means adding switches, upgrading software, splitting databases, changing over subscribers and migrating to new systems. Mediation and provisioning are the flexible rubber bands between the network and other back office systems like billing, fraud, OTA and CRM; provisioning makes the network cater the subscribed services and mediation knows, registers, what was used. These rubber bands do the typical growth tasks smoothly i.e. with less working hours, shorter lead-time and fewer nodes to change, than in a multifaceted network without a mediation/provisioning layer in-between. Thailand and India In 2000-2002 Thailand experienced extraordinarily high growth rates of over 100 per cent per year. The number of cellular subscribers grew from 2 million to 20 million in just 4 years. Now, a few years later digital India is marching at an even faster pace. The Indian subscriber base grew from 2 million to 20 million in just three years and it is not stopping there! In Thailand, five operators, the largest of them being AIS (Advanced Info Service Plc), shared the growth. AIS is a long time user of mediation and provisioning and has, as of today (6/2004), 14.6 million GSM subscribers. Their record years were 2001 with 121 per cent growth rate, 4.4M added subscribers, and 2002 with 9.5M added subscribers–a growth rate of 119 per cent. How to cope with growth “We did foresee and plan for expansion in time, but at some point the growth pace exceeded our expectations”, says Porntipa Rathanarak, Mediation Manager. She was at work long before the growth years, so she knows what she is talking about. “Now the speed has already slowed down, but during the growth phase we were expanding and adding [to] the network elements all the time. Expansion of mediation and provisioning systems is initiated by the network planners. In the beginning, network plans were reviewed yearly–until they had to be updated half-yearly to keep up with the growth rates. These plans and a lot of internal meetings were the starting point for my team”, she says. According to Ms Ratthanarak, the increased volumes required adding more hardware to the already existing mediation/provisioning systems. In addition, new mediation/provisioning systems were required. Every new switch, message centre, HLR (Home Location Register) required connections to mediation/provisioning and we added remote, local instances one by one to get the scalability in the right places. “This applied to adding network elements from the existing vendors. If it was a switch, HLR, or equipment from a new vendor interfacing protocols and business rules were also changed. It required more work and especially testing”, she adds. In addition to capacity and connectivity expansions, changes take place also in business rules, that is how usage records are processed and formatted, and to provisioning logic, what to execute for each order. Every time a new service is launched, the Mediation Team checks the business rules. Ms Ratthanarak continues, “new services come every month and most of them impact mediation and /or provisioning.Take for example the fashionable Ring Back Tones (RBT)–my team ensures that orders are implemented in the network by the provisioning system and billable RBT usage is mediated to the billing system.” In addition to network expansion, changes in the back-office BSS/OSS environment are needed. For example, recently a major change took place after careful planning billing was changed from an in-house system to a commercial package system. The mediation team had to see to it that all new businesses are implemented and that new interfaces function as specified. The actual changeover was done in small pieces–by moving billing of subscribers belonging to one billing cycle at a time from old to new system. “During the actual changeover, the mediation system is indispensable as it provides uninterrupted billing. The mediation system was configured to duplicate all records and to feed them in parallel to both the old and new billing systems. If there was no trouble, the new billing cycle was changed over”, comments Ratthanarak. What recommendations would Ms Ratthanarak, an experienced Mediation Manager, give to colleagues preparing for growth? “First, you have to know your current system and its capacity and scalability”, advises Ms Ratthanarak. “You should test with data simulating the situation after growth. We needed and got help from the vendors in testing and scaling the system for the anticipated volumes. Sometimes we wished they would have reacted faster, but in general, the co-operation was good. The co-operation internally is also vital. Sometimes requirements change rapidly: we may just have communicated a change to the system vendor, when we hear internally that it is no longer needed. The company–as well as Mediation Manager–would need to have a clear and communicated vision of where we are going with expansion in general. For some projects, the information I get is very fragmented and it is hard to see the whole picture.”