I have been reading a lot of articles and analyst reviews looking at the trends in the mobile network environment and trying to predict what the ‘Next Big Thing’ will be. I see some people talking about location-based services or the increase in wireless speeds with the rollout of 4G LTE networks worldwide. Other people are talking about the explosion of hardware platforms and operating systems that are available. Then there are the smart devices being introduced, such as intelligent watches, health and fitness monitors, and tracking devices for pets.
All of these technologies depend on wireless networks but they do not encompass and embrace the true value of being wireless. 4G LTE networks enable subscribers to access content at unprecedented speeds that reach 100Mbps and beyond. This means that mobile data is finally reaching the speeds of fixed-line services such as DSL, cable, and even Ethernet to the premise. It is now possible to build applications that can access big data and deliver the services that mobile data has been envisioning for many years.
All of the mobile future predictions have a central concept in common. The future of mobility resides in the concept of Context Awareness and providing intelligence based on that context. Mobility offers the opportunity to gain awareness of the individual and their interactions with their ever changing surroundings. This context also includes situational awareness. That means location, biometrics, weather data, data about other individuals, and any other relative data based on mobile context will be used to deliver a fuller environmental awareness.
There are some interesting examples being developed. Layar is a company that specialises in augmented reality. It has produced an application that overlays a live camera image of one’s surroundings with relevant information. This could be an image of a store front on the street with overlaid information about current sales promotions. You could point your camera at an image in a fashion magazine and the application can suggest an online boutique to buy the outfit being worn. Another example is the company, myTaxi. It pairs customers with taxi cabs in various cities based on the relative location of the client to the taxi, time, desired destination, cost and other factors. While location is important, these other factors are leveraged to make an intelligent decision.
Within the communications service provider (CSP) network, the infrastructure needs to start becoming intelligent as well. The elements in the network that have visibility into the subscriber information and their data traffic need to start becoming context aware. The CSP can leverage the contextual awareness provided by this insight to deliver enhanced and premium services. Mobile bandwidth is becoming readily available with the delivery of 4G LTE.
The CSPs are discovering that their networks are becoming commoditised for the delivery of over-the-top (OTT) traffic provided by third-party vendors such as NetFlix, YouTube and Facebook. By understanding the context of the subscriber and the OTT traffic, the CSP can add value to their customer’s experience. Video optimisation, parental controls, on-demand bandwidth and QoS controls, and enhanced security through anti-virus/spam are only a few of the services that the CSP is able to offer.
The CSP can obtain the context of the subscriber from the information received through their subscriber management system’s Diameter infrastructure (PCRF, HSS, OCS) and IMS services using SIP architecture. The CSP combines this data with awareness of the subscriber’s data through the use of Traffic Detection Function (TDF) and PCEF components that can inspect the data and identify the subscriber’s sessions and the applications being used. It is now possible for the CSP to make intelligent decisions using policies that they define to manipulate the subscriber’s sessions using techniques, like QoS and rate limiting, or to steer that traffic to advanced Value Added Services (VAS) that can modify and enhance the content to deliver a richer customer experience.
Ultimately, context awareness for mobile applications in conjunction with context awareness and policy enforcement within the CSP network infrastructure will be key drivers to the growth and development of the mobile internet. These concepts will drive the development and enhancement of technologies such as big data, mobile cloud computing, wearable tech, and mobile commerce. The mobile CSPs that are able to take advantage of the contextual awareness and integrate it into their business model will be the ones that ultimately succeed in this rapidly evolving environment.