With smartphones like the iPhone and Android continuing their domination over the mobile web world, the amount of data traffic (mainly browsing and video) going over mobile networks is expected to grow 40-fold over the next five years. This may sound like music to the ears of the smartphone vendors, Over-The-Top (OTT) players and application developers, but for carriers offering "unlimited data" plans, it spells doom because of the prospect of increased network congestion and worsened network performance. User adoption of next generation devices like the newly launched iPad and next generation operating systems like the soon-to-be-released iPhone OS 4.0, with multitasking support, may mean additional network traffic and may put further strains on carrier networks.
Notwithstanding the implications of the recent ruling in the U.S. against the FCC on net neutrality, carriers will have to gear up to handle this network traffic growth by adding more network spectrum, repositioning antennas to improve reception in tall buildings, connecting more cell towers with faster backhaul connections and increasing the overall capacity within their core networks. While this investment in massive network upgrades is necessary to stem the exodus of subscribers dissatisfied with the network quality to other providers, carriers will also have to make additional investments in new network architectures like IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) to be able to continue supporting voice in their upcoming 4G/LTE networks. Carriers will have to figure a way out to pay for these costly upgrades.
One of the ways carriers can monetize their investments is by implementing Subscriber Data Management (SDM) solutions that leverage the assets (networks, applications and B/OSS systems) created through these investments. These assets are a treasure trove of subscriber information, from basic identity information to information associated with the connectivity services, such as location, presence, and device, access network and resources used. SDM solutions enable carriers to aggregate, mine and understand this information. They allow carriers to open the mobile ecosystem and deliver a wide range of personalized services and applications to subscribers. They bring together rich, dynamic subscriber data along with the advanced tools to provide that data to third-party application providers to capitalize on new business models and revenue sources, such as mobile advertising. They also play a critical role in managing revenue leakage, reducing operational costs and simplifying subscriber provisioning while increasing the service velocity for new revenue-generating services.
Carriers need to act swiftly to put a strategy and architecture in place for deploying SDM solutions. This is a daunting task given the fact that subscriber information is dispersed across the organizations creating barriers to its consolidation. New technology architectures are required to release subscriber information from system, technology and operational silos. Interestingly, IMS can solve this conundrum for SDM because consolidation of subscriber information into a logical, distributed database is a key element of the IMS architecture. The Home Subscriber Server (HSS), or User Profile Server Function (UPSF) entity in IMS, is a master user database that supports other call handling entities within IMS.
From the architectural perspective, it is beneficial to decouple the master database from the call handling function. By making the database application-agnostic, it could be made available to any application--network-based (HSS, HLR, AAA, SIP, EIR, ENUM, etc.) or IT-based (B/OSS, SDP). This is the concept of Universal Data Convergence (UDC) and Universal Data Repository (UDR). Such a database should have carrier-grade features, like high availability, high performance for real time in-the-call-path access, scalability to handle millions of subscribers and transactions, support for data consolidation and federation, extensible schemas to adapt to any requirements, standardized interfaces and built-in data security. This will allow the creation of a standard user profile across multiple services (wireline, cable, mobile, VoIP, FMC and M2M), applications and policies. Carriers can then evolve from providing bundled services to providing multimodal, multiparty, multimedia services or truly converged services.
By synergizing the IMS and SDM strategies, carriers can quickly develop and launch innovative value-added services, compete and collaborate with other players in the ecosystem and thrive in the marketplace by improving subscriber loyalty and safeguarding profitability.
Suresh Bhandarkar is a Board Member of the NGN IMS Forum and the Director of Technology at Tech Mahindra.
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