By Tue From Hermansen, Director, Mobile Data and Advanced Networks
The evolution from 3G to LTE (or for that matter from CDMA via EV-DO towards LTE) is accompanied by changes in the wholesale value chain and indeed in the way that wholesale connectivity is managed. If LTE is designed to both secure and help monetize data services across wireless networks, then it is important to understand the accompanying evolution in inter-operator relationships and what is required to manage this evolution.
The development of mobile broadband continues to be driven by a number of factors: the arrival of LTE; enhancements to existing 3G network technology, including HSPA; and the availability of a range of smartphone and tablet devices as well as interesting and useful applications to run on these devices. Between 2010 and 2015, analyst firm Gartner[i] expects mobile broadband connections to grow at CAGR of 36%. This growth results from increasing demand for wireless connectivity from Laptop users, as well as Smartphone and Tablet device shipments.
A discussion of LTE and wholesale also requires some discussion of the GSMA’s Internet Packet Exchange (IPX) mechanism. As with LTE itself, IPX is designed to help secure and monetize multimedia interactions across wireless (as well as wireline) networks. IPX is used to manage both roaming relationships as well as interconnection. It supports traditional bi-lateral billing models, but the involvement of IPX providers for multi-lateral settlement, creates new connection models, requiring just one contract and one technical connection. This creates an interconnection hubbing type model similar to that which already exists in the roaming world. This possibility reinforces the growing alignment and commonality between roaming and interconnect billing processes.
If LTE is all about data monetization, then it makes sense to extend the wholesale process scope from a focus on network interconnection and roaming processes to encompass the processing and handling of financial obligations between all parties. This means the alignment of interconnect and roaming with 3rd party content settlement, and moves these processes towards a much more dynamic hub based exchange model, closer to existing roaming hub models. A hub based model for interconnect billing, roaming and content settlement presents a powerful concept. Along with the integration of processes within a hub environment, new data consolidation opportunities provide for new levels of analysis, margin management and control. Aggregated business intelligence opens up new opportunities for data correlation and information usage, which a more silo based approach to wholesale management does not easily support.
Undeniably, LTE opens up new opportunities for CSPs to monetize content and data services and provide a media rich service environment for their subscribers. The vision of CSPs being supported by an IPX wholesale hub enables additional CSP responsiveness and commercial agility. The cloud based nature of an IPX enabled wholesale management hub clearly supports the lean operator concept, helping to identify the core essence of a CSPs business.
Wholesale management is moving in the direction of a combined Interconnect, Roaming and Content Settlement hub model, with options for dynamic traffic trading and routing decisions that combine steering of roaming with optimal routing strategies. As the industry evolves towards an LTE future, the additional requirements associated with roaming, interconnection and content settlement services will form an integral part of the new commercial landscape
[i] Gartner ‘What 4G/LTE Has to Offer and How to Embrace It’ – Published: 22 June 2012 ID:G00230287