Feature: Warehoused data- a gold mine for wireless carriers

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Subscriber data is like gold; it has to be mined and polished to be really valuable but when finished it's priceless for carriers. By warehousing multiple steams of subscriber data and analyzing that information, carriers can improve their overall system and network operations, and, more importantly in competitive markets and tough economic times, improve the end user experience.

"The trend is customer experience...going from understanding the network and what you're doing vs. the customer's experience on the network," said Robert Segat, senior director-global solutions in the communications, media and entertainment group at Teradata, a data warehousing vendor.

Actually, the customer experience is interlinked with everything. First, a carrier has to establish what it wants to warehouse among the tons of data being generated by consumers on advanced mobile networks, then determine who can benefit from that information and how.

"Our business, our sales force, our financial people, our marketing campaign people use the data. We've moved from it just being a data warehouse to being a mission critical application for our company," said Shelly Lazzaro, executive director of business intelligence at AT&T Mobility.

Originally, AT&T wasn't exactly sure what to do with the warehoused data.

"We were very rough around the edges. We knew it had the potential to be something truly magnificent and we just had to get there," she said.

Now the carrier's there, serving 73 million subscribers with data that is updated nightly sometimes throughout the day. "Our business had grown so complex that we really had to be there ahead of the game so that we'd be there when they came to us for business," Lazzaro said.

That's the advanced part of data warehousing that comes after it's been tweaked. The basis covers network performance management; using the very basic data tools to determine and maintain the quality of the end user experience.

"Companies like ours are very interested in what users are trying to do over the course of a particular day, a particular month, to make sure that network is directing its resources in the right direction to the right user," said Peter Young, strategic alliances director of Aircom International. "It's all about the subscriber. And what's that subscriber doing? He's accessing content."

By knowing what customers are accessing--and when and where they're doing it--carriers can properly prepare for traffic spikes where it's a reasonable assumption that usage will be high and bandwidth consumption will be higher. An example of this would be a sporting event where a concentrated number of cell phone users can be expected to use their devices to access data about the event and other related events.

"The cell sites around the area can be optimized so that when the chap or girl is accessing a particular website, the sites are set up correctly and optimize the right amount of bandwidth for that particular user," Young said. "The parameters on a particular site would be quite different from an area which is accessed only by users who want to make voice calls."

While only so much subscriber information can legally be mined thanks to privacy issues, there's enough data to clue operators to network performance and consumer preferences.

"You hear a lot in the industry today about trying to understand the customer behavior, customer experience," said Segat. "We can capture the URL that the customer enters, go to the Website and monitor how long it took to get to that website via the handset and how long the subscriber was on that particular website."

That's quite a bit of information without ever tapping into exactly what the consumer saw at the website. In fact, it's enough that Capgemini, among others, is developing ways to drive targeted advertising based on warehoused data. Capgemini's plan, with which it's working with Teradata, is still nascent and right now targeted at more traditional media companies such as cable, wireline and satellite providers and even broadcasters, but with fourth generation technology and increasing customer access to Web content via mobile devices, it's easy to see it migrating into the wireless space.

"The next big frontier is behavioral advertising," said James Rooke, head of strategy and transformation for the Capgemini Media and Entertainment Group. "The real benefit from the consumer standpoint is you can drive up increased relevancy of not just advertising but content, making it more personal to them."

That is the future. For now, improving the consumer experience means one thing: maintaining a quality connection for voice calls and Web access and that's not information that comes from billing because billing only records successful calls.

"I need to monitor the network to capture all the attempts and all the completions to understand if the caller had a good day or had five dropped calls and where they're happening. I need to make sure they're not going to leave me. I need to improve my network, improve the experience. Capturing data enables you to do that," said Segat.