Guest post written by Michael Van Veen, Global Sales Director for IPX services at SAP Mobile Services

For those of us who are walking around with LTE devices and have experienced high-speed data services, there is no going back: we feel the need for speed.  And naturally, wherever we travel we expect to get the same service performance that we experience in our home network.  We will suffer low-speed 3G connectivity if we have to, but only to get to our email or to chat with friends.  If we cannot get access to LTE for heavy-duty things like content-rich social media services, we will start looking for WiFi connectivity.

Mobile operators have always worked hard to follow their subscribers wherever they travel.  Roaming agreements make sure that their subscribers can use their device on visited networks: they can make and receive phone calls and SMS, and use data services.  The operators can even “steer” roamers to networks which are guaranteed to deliver the most commercial or technical benefits.  Now that we have entered the era of LTE, all of these efforts need to be repeated.

Establishing LTE roaming turns out to be slow process.  Even though many mobile operators are ready to offer LTE roaming, still more operators are not.  One reason could be that the technology is not yet available in an operator’s network.  Another reason could be that the operator is not ready yet to deal with data clearing and financial settlement for LTE roaming traffic.  Whatever the reason, the reality is that despite the rapid growth of LTE availability, the availability of LTE roaming is lagging.

To a mobile operator, this lack of LTE roaming readiness boils down to two basic business challenges.  The first one obviously is: ”How can we make it possible for our subscribers abroad to enjoy LTE services, even where LTE roaming isn’t available yet?”.  This is all about customer satisfaction: when advertisement tells people about the availability of LTE networks at their destination then naturally, people will expect their LTE devices to connect to these networks. And if it doesn’t work they won’t understand why that is.

The other question is equally important: “How can I capture inbound roamers on my LTE network ?”.  In this case the questions is primarily motivated by revenue considerations: traffic could be lost to competing LTE networks or worse: to WiFi providers.

Both challenges can be overcome by the same basic technology: a translation function between LTE roaming signalling (Diameter protocol) and the equivalent 2G/3G signalling (MAP protocol).  The result: roaming subscribers can connect to LTE networks just as if full LTE roaming were available, but to the home network, it looks as if the roamer were connected to a 2G / 3G network.

A mobile operator could decide to invest in such a solution but there are some disadvantages: it is yet another investment, and yet another network function to set up and to manage.  Furthermore, there are some technical considerations like the need for KASME security vector information, required for connectivity with a pre-release 8 HLRs.

An excellent alternative to an in-network deployment of this technology is to purchase a service.  We view the MAP-Diameter interworking function as an important value-add of an IPX portfolio and in particular the Diameter hubbing solution. It helps operators add capabilities at low cost of ownership and achieve quick time to market.

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