article

Mediation Gets Active

Posted: 2/2004

Mediation Gets Active
Advanced Subscriber Services Require More Interactive OSS
By Rick Woods

A mediation system has been a
critical component of the OSS since the early 1980s. In its role as the funnel
for usage information from the network, mediation has always played a passive
role in the subscribers experience. Traditionally, mediation would collect
usage data after the subscriber had completed a session be it a voice call
or a data download and then pass the processed record on to a billing
application for final disposition.

Modern services and the requirements of modern service
delivery have changed the role of mediation. No longer is it sufficient for a
mediation system to be a passive player in session cycle. The business model of
the modern service provider has made it necessary for mediation systems to
interact with the subscriber, hence the term active mediation.
State-of-the-art mediation systems are expected to grant access, allow payment
options and permit service delivery. It now is necessary for mediation systems
to be aware of subscriber IDs and profiles, product catalogs, service offerings
and rating schemes.

Content delivery and broadband wireless services have brought
the business much closer to the network. Competition is forcing service providers to look for new ways
to attract and retain customers while at the same time maintaining average
revenue per user (ARPU). Prepaid services no longer are limited to the
credit-challenged and are becoming more attractive, making knowledge of consumer
behavior essential. Fortunately, hardware and software products are emerging
that provide critical granular data in real time for immediate action.

Some of these enablers include:

  • Data switches utilizing prepaid session management and hot
    accounting, including CDMA and GPRS/3G switches
  • Layer 7 packet inspection
    devices that can identify and control IP flows
  • Online, content billing
    systems
  • Advice-of-charge systems
  • Revenue-share systems

Active mediation
requires a protocol framework where any network element or application
server can exercise business functions during a subscribers session in real
time. RADIUS, Java, XML/SOAP, CORBA, GTP and Parlay are the primary protocols
supported by an active mediation system. The bidirectional exchange of data via
these protocols makes it possible to support MMS, SMS, gaming, video and audio
services.

Active mediation requires an agent framework as well,
where mediation agents and provisioning agents act on behalf of a real-time
service broker. Mediation agents accept data from external sources and interpret
its content so that the proper business functions can be executed. For example,
a gaming server via a Parlay gateway may ask if a particular subscriber has a
prepaid account. A mediation agent would receive this request from the protocol
framework and access the subscriber database. Prepay or postpay status would be identified and further
message brokering would be enabled. If the subscriber were a prepay customer,
his available balance would be determined and returned, via the mediation agent,
in a compatible form to the gaming server.

Provisioning agents act to provide further information to
network elements for various forms of service activation.

Active mediation also implies the ability to:

  • Discern commercial products/services
  • Review a
    subscribers account
  • Perform real-time rating
  • Provide balance
    management

When a subscriber requests a particular service interactive
gaming, for example the active mediation system must be able to recognize
the individual game and determine its commercial value. This requires a product
catalog and a rating scheme. The active mediation system then must determine if
the use of the game falls into a subscribed free period (10 games per month for
free) or if the game is a pay-per-use service. If it is payper- use,
then the active mediation system must determine if the subscriber has the
ability to pay (ewallet, prepaid card or credit card). After these decisions
have been made, the active mediation system must return the results, granting or
denying service, to the requesting system.

Active mediation plays another important role in mediating
content and broadband services revenue sharing. In the majority of cases,
the network provider will not be the entity that provides content. Rather, a
network provider will have many relationships/contracts with content providers,
whereby an agreement has been made as to the relative value each partner adds to
the subscribers experience. For example, an interactive gaming content provider may
realize 80 percent of the revenue generated from the use of the game while the
network provider realizes 20 percent. The active mediation system is the focal
point where the usage information resides. At the end of a subscribers
session, active mediation will create records that describe the services used,
the providers of the various services (transport and content) and the contracted
settlement parameters required to share the revenue.

Indeed the role of mediation has changed. A mediation system
can no longer play a passive role in the modern OSS. Instead, an active
mediation system must bring business functions close to the network and make
those functions available to any entity, smart network elements, or application
servers, so that content can be delivered on-demand, in a safe, secure, prepaid
environment.

Rick Woods is vice president of product management and
business development for Intec Telecom Systems, a global provider of OSS for
fixed, mobile and next-generation networks.

Enabling Convergent Content

Implementing new content billing systems without disrupting
existing voice services and voice billing operations is one of the greatest
challenges of prospective GPRS wireless service providers. SONOFON, a mobile and
broadband operator in Denmark, sought to implement an adjunct service management
and rating system to handle content transactions without disturbing the existing
infrastructure, which competently handled voice billing.

Working with an active mediation solution provider, SONOFON
created the Content Provider Access module. The active mediation solution and
the CPA module provide a platform from which SONOFON creates, manages, and bills
innovative content services using a single interface. Using an active mediation
solution, SONOFON launched the Content Provider Access (CPA) Program. SONOFONs
CPAs are satisfying the publics appetite for news, sports and entertainment
services, while SONOFON profits from everincreasing subscriber services and
revenue-sharing agreements are managed by its active mediation solution.

Initial subscribers enjoyed the SMS-based ringtone and logo
services and the attractive price point, creating a strong new revenue stream.
While strong growth is forecast for these services, SONOFON has more innovative
offerings ready. New services include a Big Brother themed diary as well
as sports highlights delivered via streaming video. Whether content is delivered
to their PCs (for example, streaming video) or their mobile phones (for example,
the diary via SMS), subscribers are billed on a single account.

The Evolution of Mediation

Birth of Mediation. Prior to 1983,
true mediation, as we understand it today, did not exist. Most voice switches
created 9-track tapes that were manually delivered to a billing system. With
divestiture in 1984 and the subsequent formation of the seven regional Bell
operating companies, the need for a generalized mediation system was born. The
RBOCs had their own customers now and a mediation system became an absolute
requirement to capture and process mission-critical billing data.

Some vendors took a strictly hardware approach, offering
automated message accounting transmitters (AMATs) located next to a switch and
emulated a tape drive. Other mediation vendors wrote software systems that
collected data from the switch or AMAT, but the purpose of the mediation
software was merely to condition the data in preparation for uploading to the
billing system.

Modern Mediation. With the
introduction of digital switches into the PSTN in the late 80s and early 90s,
usage data collection became more standard. AMATs were still popular because of
legacy network elements, but X.25 networks were the pack mules for data
delivery. Standardization on the X.25 transport became the focal point of usage
collection. This resulted in the maturation of AMA, as well as the proliferation
of proprietary CDR formats from major network vendors.

By the late 90s, functionality within mediation software
applications had increased in sophistication. Error detection became error
detection and correction.
Distribution of data to non-billing entities such as network management, traffic
management and force management became common.

By the mid-90s transportation of data using IP over a
packet network was widely accepted. Using the Internet was free and network
vendors who built equipment gave very little thought to creating a carrier-grade
usage recording mechanism. When it became apparent that the Internet was becoming a
ubiquitous transport, network providers needed a way to measure individual usage
so that consumers could potentially be charged. This began the short-lived era
of IP Mediation.

IP Mediation. IP network elements
(routers, gateways, gatekeepers, etc.) were never built as efficient usage
recording devices. As such, in the period from 1997-1999, mediation vendors
attempted to fix this void. However, the quality of the information gathered was
severely less than that collected for voice networks. In June 1999, an effort
was made to rectify this situation by the formation of the Internet Protocol
Detail Record Organization (IPDR.org). Hundreds of vendors participated in
activities that would result in the design of a standard Internet protocol
detail record.

By 2000, mediation continued to grow for voice, but data
mediation was still in its infancy. The projected market for IP mediation didnt
mature until the acceptance of broadband wireless communications. Convergence
became the focal point of mediation system developments from 2000 to 2003. Convergence dictated the ability to process data from any
network, collate disparate data sources, and create rich billing events that
described the complete user experience.

Active Mediation. During 2003, the
next evolution of mediation occurred. Usage mediation now takes two approaches:
post-event and pre-event mediation. Post-event mediation is the act of
collecting, processing, and distributing usage data after a user experience has
been completed. It can be batch or real-time, but it is still post-event.

New mediation systems must be actively involved in the user
experience during session startup, for the duration of the session and at
session teardown. Pre-event mediation is required to provide subscriber profiles
and financial information to the network elements (e.g. how much money is in a
prepaid account).

Mediation systems will continue to evolve to meet market
needs, but active mediation systems will be the prominent platforms through 2005
because of the continuing trend in convergent networks and the prepaid service
imperative.

Source: Author

Links
Intec Telecom Systems www.intec-telecom-systems.com
SONOFON www.sonofon.dk

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