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WIRELESS BROADBAND - Preparing for the quad play

Sun, 05/31/2009 - 8:35pm
David Ginsburg, vice president of marketing at InnoPath Software

The 4G mobile broadband road is paved by Mobile Device Management.

The road to 4G has two branches: WiMAX and Long Term Evolution. For a number of years now, operators – mostly in emerging regions – have been trialing WiMAX. There have already been a few commercial deployments, notable among them the launch of Clearwire’s Clear WiMAX service in Baltimore and Portland, Ore., and this month in Atlanta. Comcast plans to resell Clear in Portland, and Time Warner Cable has plans to do likewise in an unidentified market later this year. With Verizon, AT&T, Cox Communications and other major providers choosing to pursue LTE, the imminent expansion of 4G is assured.The question is: How will operators transition their users to the new networks?

GROWING SUBSCRIBER EXPECTATIONS
With the growth of smartphones and other advanced mobile devices, mobile operators, both new and established, are looking to provide a premium customer experience across their mobile broadband offerings, while at the same time reducing operating expenses. Subscribers expect their services to work as advertised, and when they don’t, customers expect to have any problems resolved in short order.The burden placed on the mobile operator will come even more to the forefront with 4G adoption, when many previously tethered subscribers will cut the cord. They will depend on wireless connectivity for their very livelihood and will expect reliability and technical support responses equal to – or exceeding – those of their former landline offerings. They will run more applications on their devices, and these will change more rapidly. They will have more complex security and business relationships, with an assumption that the single device is used for both business and pleasure, and that the device must support protected applications such as banking. This is where Mobile Device Management (MDM) enters the picture.

Device provisioning / management across WiMAX /  LTE
Figure 1: Device provisioning and management across WiMAX and LTE.

WHAT MDM BRINGS TO THE TABLE
Briefly, MDM establishes an over-the-air connection between the subscriber’s phone and tech support, streamlining the tech support process, saving time in troubleshooting and reducing device returns. As such, established operators are deploying MDM for both cost reduction and customer satisfaction, the latter relating to customer retention – critical in the current economy.MDM consists of a server located within the care organization, at either a wireless operator or a handset vendor, and a client on the device. The over-the-air link uses protocols defined by the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA-DM) Working Group and supports a set of “enablers” that define capabilities, including updating, checking and changing configuration settings; loading applications; controlling hardware settings; and, if the device is lost or stolen, locking or wiping all data.With OMA-DM, once the client receives notification from the server, it creates a secure data connection over the air. Alternatively, the connection to the server may also be client-initiated, where the user wishes to perform some OTA action. In either case, the server receives feedback on device management commands sent to the device. This last point is critical and separates OMA-DM from earlier OTA technologies that were one-way, referred to by some as “fire-and-forget.” Through OMA-DM’s closed-loop connection, the server administrator can remotely conduct a number of critical care actions.

WHITHER WiMAX?
MDM plays a crucial, upfront role in WiMAX device provisioning and network registration. When a device first enters the network, MDM plays a role in initial provisioning of network settings and applications (see Figure 1). More recently, OMA-DM has begun to supplant those “fire-and-forget” methods for application configuration due to its flexibility and reliability.In 4G, MDM is used to send configuration settings of basic applications – including MMS, e-mail and Internet connectivity – to the device. However, within WiMAX, MDM also plays a role in network identification – the interaction between the device and the network operator in selecting a preferred network and then authenticating. In fact, WiMAX access in the presence of multiple operators is much like dial access. In most cases, a software client on the device makes first contact with the server for this provisioning. LTE device activation will more closely follow the GSM model, so this step is unnecessary. Once the subscriber is connected to the WiMAX network, OTA manageability ensures that any configuration or usability issues can be quickly addressed.Greenfield operators in regions competing with incumbents look to MDM to provide a positive, ‘out-of-the-box’ subscriber experience, critical when deploying a new technology. Finally, in some locations, incumbents have been issued licenses for WiMAX spectrum, providing them with a non-LTE path to 4G. Here, the advantages that MDM brings to the table echo those presented to greenfield operators, since in many cases these operators will compete with LTE.

Lifecycle device management
Figure 2: Lifecycle device management.

LTE LOVIN’
Despite wide adoption of WiMAX, LTE is expected to be the technology of choice for most operators due to cleaner migration from GSM, and even CDMA.

In February, the GSMA reported that more than 26 operators globally have made plans to deploy LTE in the 2009-2012 timeframe. These operators span all regions and include both GSM and CDMA. Over the next decade, as 4G deployment follows the earlier 3G deployment curve, hundreds of millions of subscribers are expected to be connected to the technology. In the U.S., Verizon Wireless, looking at an early migration from CDMA, is expected to deploy LTE in 2010, while AT&T, with HSPA at its disposal, will begin deployment in 2011.Globally, major operators announcing support include Vodafone, DoCoMo and China Mobile. All told, operators representing almost 2 billion subscribers have announced their plans. As with WiMAX, MDM will play a major role in provisioning, and in frontline customer support. Naturally, both CDMA and GSM operators that have already deployed MDM will leverage their investments by adding LTE to the list of supported network types.

MDM SAVES GREEN
Once the device is registered and operational on the network, the same set of lifecycle management capabilities are available under WiMAX or LTE (see Figure 2). If the user is experiencing difficulty with e-mail access, for example, they’ll call tech support. With MDM and its real-time OTA connection between the frontline CSR and the device, the problem can now be quickly identified and corrected, with the first step being a quick check of the device to determine current hardware, software and network settings. This information alone will go a long way in creating a more efficient troubleshooting call. If the device manufacturer issues a firmware update or the operator wishes to patch an application it controls, MDM will provide the conduit for pushing it to one device, or potentially hundreds of thousands of devices.And, if the device is lost, tech support agents will be able to quickly lock and/or wipe it. In fact, at a 3G operator of 20 million subscribers, MDM’s positive impact on the frontline could result in savings of more than $100 million each year. Savings for 4G operators, with their more modest initial deployments, will therefore be proportionate.

Device reachability over 3G and 4G
Figure 3: Device reachability over 3G and 4G.

MDM TECHNOLOGY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN 3G AND 4G
When deploying MDM in support of 4G devices, there are a few critical technology differences from today’s MDM deployment technology. The technical support agent’s experience, as well as that of the subscriber, will be pretty much the same. These users will have the same tools and the same client capabilities (except for the initial WiMAX provisioning described above). However, connectivity between the server and the device, be it handset, dongle or some other advanced device, will be exclusively conducted over an IP channel (with the exception of interim, dual-mode 3G/4G devices that may be reached over either network for both provisioning and management).With 4G networks, there is no SMS, and the network has finally transitioned to all-IP. So all communication between the server and the device, from initial activation through updating and troubleshooting, is via IP (see Figure 3). This implies some notable changes in the OMA-DM protocol, which in versions through 1.2 had relied on SMS for the initial notification to the device, with ensuing communication taking place over IP. With 4G, DM 1.3 and its support for HTTP Push for notification are key, replacing SMS.

In addition, the MDM server must be network-agnostic, communicating with any device – 3G or 4G – over the most appropriate network connection. The client must also be capable of utilizing the most suitable connection. Lastly, the MDM server must be capable of properly locating the device, associating a user with an IP or SIP address. No longer is there an absolute identifier in the form of a phone number (the MSISDN). For example, the user could be mobile, changing his or her IP address periodically. Here, the MDM server must be either notified of changes or must be capable of querying some database or proxy server in the network to locate the subscriber.

No matter the path to 4G, operators will need strong device care capability to smoothly transition their subscribers to the new network. Lessons learned in operator 3G MDM deployments will prove critical in enabling MDM’s quick deployment within 4G. This, in turn, will lead to faster, more error-free and lower-cost device deployments across both LTE and WiMAX. With MDM ensuring service reliability and new 4G networks offering high-speed connections, subscribers will be able to increasingly untether and adopt a truly mobile lifestyle.

E-mail: dginsburg@innopath.com

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