Hybrid networks are driving sophistication in the back office: WiMAX is here, while Wi- Fi mesh deployments, broadband wireless access resale and MVNO plays are becoming increasingly common and many service providers are adding wireless networks to their existing fixed-line networks. CLECs, cablecos, ISPs and even ILECs may soon find themselves needing to consolidate data collection for fixed and mobile lines of business onto a single mediation platform that hums with harmony.
NIGHT AND DAY
Far from the mundane translation engine it started out as, mediation is becoming more elegant in its abilities more Cole Porter than vaudeville. As carriers add wireless to remain competitive, they need real-time mediation systems which can track and correlate multiple events being generated for the same call, act as the service control supervisor in 3G, and optimize traffic routes and network utilization. Also, carriers need near realtime creation of rated records to determine profitability of an underlying carrier or to support intercarrier settlements.
We believe the trend towards more sophisticated mediation will drive a modest uptick in the mediation software and services market, says Dan Baker, an analyst with Dittberner Associates Inc. Dittberner forecasts the worldwide market for mediation software and services will grow to $1.25 billion in 2009, from an estimated $824 million in 2004.
One obvious benefit of mediation innovations that address fixed and wireless hybrid environments is cost reduction. A key challenge that carriers face is the elimination of silo solutions that were originally created to support scattered and separate lines of businesses, says Mike Couture, vice president of marketing at Amdocs. Existing solutions, whether they are commercial packages or homegrown systems, cost the service provider a fortune to operate, and are unable to provide the flexibility needed to launch new services and manage the relationships with these third-party providers.
Offering those new services faster is a close second among drivers for consolidating mediation in a hybrid environment. Here the challenge is not so much to converge the mediation functions, as it is to have them meet the new requirements, says Couture. For example, can my system provide accurate accounting for the location-based services the operator is offering to roaming subscribers?
For incumbents looking to drive the quadruple play, mediation consolidation is a requirement. A single environment, one training profile and the ability to look at all usage in a unified way from a management and administrative point of view is critical to giving a unified view of the network to BSS, says Stephen Rickaby, director of product management at Intec Telecom Systems plc, maker of the Inter-mediatE platform.
That unified view is necessary for rolling out the creative service bundles at the heart of survival for many providers. For instance, 90-year-old Union Telephone Co., an independent ILEC serving areas of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, turned to Intec when it expanded its service offering and coverage area with wireless voice, cable and Internet access. Inter-mediatEs charging gateway functions let Union Telephone seamlessly support GPRS services over its GSM wireless network. The ILEC is automating and streamlining its service operations by using Inter-activatE for uniform delivery of bundled service packages, including POTS, TDMA, GSM/GPRS, voice mail and future services.
|Mediation Then & Now|
|Centralized infrastructure||Distributed infrastructure|
|Batch files||Batch and real-time events|
|Network dependent||Network independent|
|Home-grown in-house||Productized approach|
|Low volumes of data||Huge volumes of data|
|Low number of services||Huge number of potential services|
|Simple business logic||Complex business logic|
|Known formats||Many formats|
|Holistic events||Jigsaw puzzle of events|
|Circuit-based||Circuit- and packet-based|
|Few network equipment vendors||Many network equipment vendors|
|Relatively static environment||Volatile market environment|
|Single network solution||Hybrid network solution|
|Few protocols for transmitting usage data from network elements||Large number of protocols|
|Source: Openet Telecom and Dittberner Associates Inc.|
Mediation will continue to have new parts to sing, ranging from customer analytics to service component brokering. The next big push for mediation is to collect the information and roll it up to the carrier in a business intelligence environment, says Chris Couch, CMO at mediation vendor ACE*COMM Corp., which offers the Convergent Mediation service-delivery platform.
The service provider wants to know who is buying what, how much they are buying and who else might buy. They want to compete on delivering services to customers not connections.
This in turn dictates the need to have an integrated view of the data concerning those services. In order to understand how [their businesses are operating], they need to have a set of integrated data from all of the services being used by the customer, says Couch. Mediation solutions must be able to provide a central platform that can collect and integrate data into a usable form, not only for billing but for decision-making.
Mediation systems also are becoming the interface between different service elements, enabling real-time, back-andforth passing of information. It is becoming the two-way interface between service components, says Couch.
[We will see] a mediation extension lets call it a component which intelligently queries the back-end and peripheral systems for balance updates, remaining quota and replenishments, says Amdocs Couture. Having obtained a response, the mediation component returns a response to the network, allowing or banning the access of the subscriber to the information. The component should be intelligent enough to know what to query, which system maintains the answer, and do it all in a fraction of a second.
As lines of business continue to converge and core networks move to IP, mediation could become a service-delivery platform. In the traditional switching market, you have one focal point for data collection the switch, says analyst Baker. In an IP network, many more kinds of network elements are generating usage data, even for a single call or transaction. Now there are routers and servers and firewalls and game servers and content partners generating usage. Furthermore, these systems have no widely accepted standard format to generate usage records. Mediation, with its two-way translation abilities, could fulfill that need.
Further down the playlist, the transformation of core networks to an IP plane agnostic to applications and access types also will drive mediations evolution, resulting in products as early as next year. Whether its a 3G, Wi-Fi, WiMAX or a DSL connection, it will be mediations job to manage a host of connectivity concerns such as network availability, bandwidth, subscriber authorizations, credit limits and group lists, says Baker.
While todays networks provide transport plus services, IMS-built multipurpose networks will produce less relevant information about service usage. In the new environment you have a general purpose network with services and applications that use the network for transport, says ACE*COMMs Couch. So the mediation platform must be a generic platform that can collect and integrate data about service usage, and not just network usage.
|ACE*COMM Corp. www.acecomm.com
Dittberner Associates Inc. www.dittberner.com
Intec Telecom Systems plc www.intec-telecom-systems.com
Openet Telecom www.openet-telecom.com
Union Telephone Co. www.union-tel.com