This post is by Houck Reed, vice president of product management and operations, Tekelec

There has been so much discussion about data traffic surges that mobile operators are missing the bigger picture of network signalling traffic surges; and what they mean for monetising services.

The Opportunity

Operators have to figure out how to open up their unique resources to those who covet them, such as Over-the-Top (OTT) players, mobile advertisers and content providers. Indeed, operators have the contextually rich subscriber data that others desire; not to mention the policy, QoS/SLA, billing relationships and management systems that can enrich OTT apps and services with differentiating capabilities, such as speed boosts during gaming or video downloads.

Currently, operators manage every part of the service delivery process – from devices, to networks, to subscriber databases. They also sit on a cache of contextual data about subscribers – preferences, devices, location, subscription and billing information and interests. All of this knowledge can generate revenue through personalised or location-based advertising (with the appropriate privacy provisions, of course) and zero-rated services paid for by third parties.

But in order to play the role of ‘enabler’ in a digital ecosystem, operators must have mitigation strategies and mechanisms to manage the tsunami of not only data traffic, but also signalling traffic that will imminently flood networks. LTE-enabled devices host sophisticated apps that constantly communicate with cell towers and various types of network equipment.

The Challenge

The type of monetisation and personalisation operators can enable will be challenged by the surges in data and signalling traffic generated by the sheer number of devices and the domino effect of mushrooming Machine to Machine (M2M) connections.

For example:

IDC predicts smartphone shipments will exceed 1.16 billion by 2016

  • Forrester Research forecasts that approximately 375 million tablets will be sold globally in 2016 (compared to around 56 million in 2011)
  • Berg Insights predicts the number of cellular M2M connections will reach 359 million by 2016

Following this rise in connections will come explosions in data and signalling traffic. Enough has been written about the migration to LTE and Wi-Fi offloads, and other mechanisms for dealing with data surges, but little is written about managing the number of Diameter messages supporting tens of millions of subscribers and up to hundreds of millions of devices – each of which can produce multiple concurrent sessions.

The Solution: A multi-pronged approach

Operators can use a combination of cloud, Diameter signalling and policy infrastructure to manage the surges of data and signalling traffic that will be triggered by new devices and their services.

By abstracting the complexity of managing specific platforms, devices or locations, the cloud enables operators to monetise anywhere, anytime applications without the management headaches. For that reason, mobile cloud traffic is expected to grow 28-fold between 2011 and 2016, a compound annual growth rate of 95 per cent, according to Cisco. Even more striking, cloud applications will drive 71 per cent of the total mobile data traffic by 2016 in Cisco’s forecast.

But cloud infrastructure has to be complemented by signalling infrastructure, as cloud computing can unleash huge volumes of signalling traffic. Sophisticated cloud services require authentication, authorisation, and accounting (AAA), policy, charging, QoS and mobility management – all of which Diameter directs.

It is absolutely essential that operators have a Diameter signalling layer (founded on a Diameter Signalling Router) in the network core for routing, traffic management, load balancing and protocol interworking – all necessary for accommodating the signalling that inevitably is triggered by new services.

They should also have a sophisticated Policy Server (PCRF) to define business rules for new service plans, not to mention subscriber data management (SDM) to personalise services, and Analytics to evolve services according to consumer and enterprise requirements.

This combination will help operators facilitate communication among service and network control elements, including policy servers, gateways, charging systems, mobility and session management, as well as subscriber databases – all of which communicate using the Diameter protocol.

If mobile operators embrace the full extent to which Diameter can generate revenue for 3G and LTE services, as well as manage explosions of data and signalling on their networks, they will be well on their way to successfully delivering and enabling personalised mobile data services capable of scaling with subscriber, application and data growth.

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