Telecom’s typical three-to-five year research and development (R&D) cycle will no longer suffice in an LTE led world.
The “always-on” nature of LTE-enabled devices will require that networks support millions of subscribers and devices, and concurrent sessions, and thousands of Diameter signaling messages per second. As such, vendors’ R&D cycles around LTE technology, Diameter signaling and related charging, billing, and user authentication and authorization should hover around 18 to 24 months.
A key component of this is for vendors to interoperate among each others product sets and updates. Otherwise, operators will struggle to roll out new LTE tariff options at the pace the digital economy demands - and, frankly, at a pace that ensures sustainability on the supplier side of the equation. In addition, they will lack the network equipment to scale at the pace of LTE growth.
Right now, interoperability remains a major concern. As the TM Forum said in its Policy Everywhere: Acting on Network Intelligence report, “Leading the list [of policy implementation barriers], not surprisingly, are issues around integration. Policy control is anything but a standalone capability, and its strength comes from its potential position as the bridge between the BSS and OSS and the network, sourcing information from a variety of places and directing a way forward at tremendous scale.
“To play this role it must integrate with a variety of systems, databases, network elements and sometimes even devices. Since most service providers’ network and systems infrastructure is a collection of multi-vendor, both legacy and new and sometimes highly customized elements, and business and network data integrity is often found wanting, integration is bound to be a huge challenge.”
Today, the industry is often skirting real R&D efforts with “band-aids” such as adding incremental features to existing products - like Diameter routing functions in Mobility Management Entities (MMEs), or creating proprietary interfaces between policy and charging systems in lieu of standards-based interfaces. However, these strategies will ultimately prove impractical as the network traffic will grow enough to make them cost-prohibitive. For example, adding enough mobile packet core capacity to handle Diameter signaling will become impossible, and the large majority of operators will need to scale policy and charging systems at separate rates, limiting the capabilities of proprietary interfaces.
Behind the Scenes of New LTE Services
Operators’ biggest limitations in creating new LTE services will be their imaginations and their network equipment. The variety of services and range of partnerships LTE can unleash is simply staggering, as operators can offer virtually limitless variations to:
- Shared-data plans
- Loyalty programs
- Toll-free/sponsored usage
- Tiered tariffs
- Mobile advertising
- QoS-driven services
- Over-the-top (OTT) enhancements
With these new developments, however, operators will need policy, subscriber data management and charging solutions that overcome today’s clunky integration process so they can support new service creation on the fly. Analytics will also be necessary, to understand how subscribers adopt and use new tariff plans and prove their value to advertisers and other partners.
Operators will also need a scalable signaling infrastructure that interoperates with all elements using Diameter to manage unprecedented volumes of traffic behind the scenes. The biggest near-term example is the number of authentication messages that the LTE iPhone will generate as millions of subscribers migrate to their new device.
The evolution of Diameter-based standards will support a sustainable business model for service providers and vendors that can collectively help with critical goals, such as creating elastic and scalable 3G, IMS and LTE networks; dynamically managing data and Diameter signaling growth; personalizing services tailored to subscribers’ lifestyles and preferences; and generating new revenue through two-sided business models that highlight operators as “enablers” to OTT, cloud and machine-to-machine providers.
Vendors have to shorten their interoperability timelines and internal R&D cycles. By continuing to quickly adapt to new requirements and new services while working together on product integration, they enable operators to more easily adopt what they develop.
At the same time, operators will be forced to migrate toward vendors that priorities interoperability and flexibility so that they themselves can adapt more readily to new requirements in LTE services.
Doug Suriano is chief technology officer of Tekelec. For more information, visit www.tekelec.com