|Crisis facing mobile operators|
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 13:30
Because of the global financial crisis, the growth of the subscriber base of many well-known telecoms operators is slowing down, their profits are decreasing, and the competition among them is becoming increasingly fierce.
To attract more subscribers, they offer low tariff, flat tariff and preferential packages (traffic-based flat rate, duration-based flat rate, etc.). Though the low tariff helps to expand the subscriber base, it reduces the ARPU.
Moreover, the flat tariff and preferential packages entice subscribers to use the high-bandwidth P2P services (like BitTorrent, eMule, etc) and VOIP services (like Skype) for a long time. The overuse of network resources may even result in network congestion, and the uncontrolled VOIP services can affect the profits of traditional voice services.
According to a forecast from Pyramid Research, global mobile penetration will climb to 84% by 2013 from the current 60%, adding 829 million mobile subscriptions, led by growth in emerging markets such as China, India, Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe.
To expand their subscriber base, operators have to explore these markets and they will face increasingly fierce competition in multinational operations. Due to the huge population, vast territory and diversified service requirements in such emerging markets, operators are facing new problems: How to store and manage huge subscriber data and enhance disaster tolerance on the most cost-effective basis? How to offer diversified services in the easiest and most convenient manner?
Operators` thoughts on core network
From the core network (CN) perspective, operators can take the following measures to cope with the crisis:
Equipment investment: Lower initial equipment investment and take into account the reusability during the evolution to the target network. The CN architecture must be access agnostic to meet the requirement of network convergence by introducing convergent gateways.
Network operation cost: Constantly lower OPEX by adopting smart power-saving technology and “green” energy-saving equipment.
Service convergence: Support subscriber profile convergence and unified charging.
Customer satisfaction: Improve user experience through the PCC-based refinement operation and reduce latency in deploying mobile broadband services through the SAE-based advanced CN architecture.
Operating revenue: Increase operating revenue through the data management convergence and PCC-based refinement operation.
How to build core network
In the “winter” of the telecoms industry, crises and opportunities coexist. Facing difficulties and challenges, operators must introduce new technologies, improve and optimise existing networks, and invest properly to increase operating revenue.
* Introduce future-proof Packet Switched (PS) network architecture to cater to the development of mobile broadband, ensure smooth network evolution and integration, and reduce TCO.
Future-proof PS network architecture
In the Beyond 3G (B3G) era, in addition to HSPA and HSPA+ that drive the technology advancement of mobile communications, the Long Term Evolution (LTE) and System Architecture Evolution (SAE) technologies are introduced to allow smooth transition to 4G. The LTE/SAE requires flat structure, high data rate, and low delay for core network.
* Upgrade the current all-IP universal platform to protect the operators` equipment investment: The current all-IP universal platform supports IP access and IP-based exchange of internal data. Based on this, high-performance multi-core network processors and large-capacity switching frames can be adopted to greatly increase data throughput of the network equipment and thus meet the future broadband access requirements. Through a software upgrade, both the SGSN and GGSN in a GSM/UMTS network and the PDSN and HA in a CDMA network can evolve into LTE/SAE Network Elements (NEs), which extend the equipment`s life cycle and protect the operators` investment.
* Integrate diversified NEs to support multiple access modes and ensure smooth network transition: ZTE`s PS CN equipment can integrate the functions of multiple NEs. For example, the uMAC at the control plane integrates the functions of Mobility Management Entity (MME) in the SAE network and those of SGSN in the traditional PS network; the xGW at the user plane integrates the functions of S-GW and P-GW in the SAE network, those of GGSN and PDSN in the traditional PS network, and those of AGW in the WiMax network. The CN equipment supports multiple access modes (GSM, UMTS, CDMA, WiMAX, etc), allowing the operators to make full use of the available resources and provide flexible functional combinations to meet the requirements for different scenarios.
With the rapid growth of mobile broadband services, the existing operation mode can no longer meet the need of industry development. There has been a tendency to conduct the refinement operation that involves user and service awareness, efficient service control, QOS control and charging policy. The refinement operation enables operators to make full use of their network resources, and helps them improve customer satisfaction and increase operating revenue.
ZTE`s refinement operation solution based on the Policy and Charging Control (PCC) architecture defined in 3GPP consists of Core Network Gateway equipment (xGW) that performs the Policy and Charging Enforcement Function (PCEF), Resource Control Platform (RCP) that performs the Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF), Subscriber Profiles Repository (SPR) that stores and manages subscriber information, Portal Server that provides self-help service subscription, and Online Charging System/Offline Charging System (OCS/OFCS).
With the Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) function, xGW can inspect and perceive services (including P2P services) and subscriber behaviour. Through the interfaces to PCRF and OCS, it can report subscriber services and behaviour, dynamically download service and charging policies, and implement online charging. At the control plane, xGW adopts a general-purpose processor for distributed processing that can meet the stringent signalling processing requirements in the online charging and PCC processes; at the user plane, the multi-core network processor is adopted to minimise the impact on performance caused by packet inspection.
ZTE`s RCP system can flexibly integrate different functional modules, including PCRF, Resource and Admission Control Subsystem (RACS), AAA, and AAA Proxy. Complying with 3GPP, 3GPP2 and TISPAN specifications, it can simultaneously support GSM, UMTS, CDMA, TD-SCDMA, fixed broadband, WiMax, and I-WLAN networks, thereby catering to the full-service operators` requirements for convergent core networks.
Due to the segmentation of NEs, subscriber profiles tend to be distributed in different NEs at different network layers, such as BOSS, HLR, SCP, and AAA. The distributed storage results in low data consistency and high OPEX, and it directly restricts the rapid and flexible service deployment.
Moreover, in the era of full-service operation, it is necessary to drive the convergence at the terminal, access, network and service layers; and full-service operators have also raised new requirements on convergence and unified management of subscriber profiles. Hence, the concept of Central Database (CDB) emerges, which has four main features:
* Unique setting: Set up one subscriber profile centre in the network with unified subscriber profile model, allowing multiple NEs to manage and access profile data in a unified manner.
ZTE`s USPP, the CDB-based NG HLR solution (see Figure 1), has the following attractions:
* Large capacity: It can store information of 100 million subscribers.
The USPP solution can be applied to different scenarios, such as network disaster recovery, multinational operation environment, network convergence, and network architecture optimisation. Especially, as some convergent and convenient services are introduced as a result of data mining and data convergence, operators can retake control of networks, subscribers and services from the convergent data applications, and generate more revenue from them.
Faced with the global financial crisis, telecoms operators can introduce all-IP based and flat SAE CN to deliver mobile broadband services; adopt PCC-based refinement operation to optimise network operation and management and improve user experience; utilise large-capacity, multi-service, and unified data management to facilitate fast service deployment; and lower equipment and operation costs.
Backed by long-term investment into R&D and the technology innovations based on years of experience, ZTE will definitely help operators survive the financial crisis and achieve excellence.
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