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Managing Subscriber Data

Light Reading
1/2/2007
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If network operators are serious about beating Web 2.0 companies at their own game, they need to understand subscribers much better than they do today. Operators will need to take a much broader view of subscriber profile information than standards bodies such as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) currently define it. They will also need a way to combine information sitting in the data warehouse behind their operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS) with information generated dynamically in the network, most of which is currently discarded.

It is this holistic approach to subscriber information management that will drive the successful creation and delivery of services in a next-generation network. Allowing subscribers to hop between fixed and mobile networks, to switch from being a business to a consumer on the same device, and to transfer services between terminals are all next-gen service goals. They depend on bringing together a wealth of knowledge about each subscriber, including his entitlements, permissions, device characteristics, connectivity, account, and value to the operator, that is now scattered across services, systems, and networks.

As the current edition of Light Reading’s Services Software Insider shows, some vendors are beginning to think about ways of collecting and using additional subscriber-related information, but the large scope of the problem is currently beyond any single supplier. TTI Team Telecom International Ltd. (Nasdaq: TTIL) is making use of information buried in call data records that usually is discarded on the way to the billing system, but its use of this information is limited to service assurance. FTS (London: FTS)’s vision of what an operator can do at the business and network level is more flexible than the network resource control specified in IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), but its scaleability in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 environment is unproven.

Scale is the key to this area. Operators want to be able to respond to subscriber behavior in the network in real time, but the volume of data they will eventually need to collect and manipulate in order to understand and control their subscribers in a next-generation environment is unprecedented. In fact, it is arguable that the solutions capable of dealing with the required volumes of subscriber information at the right speed don’t exist yet. Database and directory vendors are tweaking their products in this direction, but there are scaling, performance, and energy issues that haven’t yet been resolved to the satisfaction of the largest carriers.

The move to next-gen subscriber management will require innovation from a wide range of technology suppliers. One area not necessarily associated with telecom operations is the storage sector: Vendors will need to come up with new storage solutions to meet the specific needs of the telecom sector as it moves into this uncharted territory. BEA Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BEAS) suggests that "monolithic" database architectures will never cope with next-generation subscriber information management demands. As a result, it is working on a real-time data federation and caching strategy. LogicaCMG plc (London/Amsterdam: LOG) is also exploring radical new ways of storing telco data under the covers while retaining an SQL-based query interface.

Sun Microsystems Inc. ’s latest hardware is proving something of a catalyst here, particularly the ability of its new AMD-based servers to store 24 terabytes of data in a 7-inch-high blade with a fraction of the energy consumption of competitive solutions. Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL), HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) are expected to come out with similar products in the next 12 to 18 months. The availability of such PC-based solutions may encourage a rethinking of storage architectures and the development of new solutions capable of enabling operators’ next-gen service goals.

Are these goals overly ambitious where subscriber information management is concerned? At the moment, the goal of vendors to know everything about subscribers whenever they are connected to a network, to intelligently respond to subscriber actions, and to use a rich set of policies to drive admission control are difficult and expensive to achieve, not just because of the technology but also because organizational and cultural barriers stand in the way of bringing subscriber information held in different IT and network systems together. These will have to be overcome since the truly intelligent subscriber- and service-aware network is an operator’s key to revenue when the well of time-division multiplexing (TDM) revenues finally runs dry.

— Caroline Chappell, Analyst, Light Reading's Services Software Insider

Subscriber Information Management: Who's Doing What, a 27-page report in PDF format, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Light Reading's Services Software Insider, priced at $1,295. Individual reports are available for $1,250.

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