Hans Theler is ceo of Sicap, the Swiss company which is dedicated to developing mobile applications and network products for GSM operators. He talks to Keith Dyer about the solutions available to operators as they seek to introduce revenue-raising services in a manageable manner.
Mobile Europe: Hans, before we get into the specifics of how operators can launch and manage new services, can you give us some background on the challenges facing operators at the moment, and the needs of the market?
Well, mobile operators face a variety of challenges as they seek to boost subscriber revenues without similarly increasing their spend either on capital projects or on the cost of keeping, managing and attracting new customers.
Cutting costs, raising average revenues per user, communicating with customers and offering high value easy to use, and access, services are the typical challenges facing many operators. But operators do not have to invest in the latest bells and whistles, they can reduce costs and add value by maximising existing assets and exploiting current technologies.
Mobile Europe: Also, operators are faced with a low take up for many data services. Why do you think that is?
Hans Theler: I agree that in general operators face a relatively low take up of value added services. MMS is one example of this. A recent survey conducted by Sicap and NOP in the UK showed that 79% of 771 respondents had never sent or received a MMS. 45% said this was because they did not have a modern handset, 17% did not know how to do it and 15% were insecure about the cost. Very often this is also true for other value added services.
Supply of handsets, ease of use and information about cost are often areas that the industry misjudge when launching new services.
Mobile Europe: Given that handset supply and ease of use, certainly at the handset level, are often out of an operator’s control, what kind of things can an operator take control of to ease the process?
Customers want high service levels and easy access to attractive applications. They feel that contacting operators should be secure, reliable and above all as simple as point and click. But to take one example, given the nature of pre-paid services, it is historically difficult for mobile operators to communicate with pre-paid customers. All that has now changed thanks to UMB.
Mobile Europe: UMB is a Sicap solution, I am guessing!
Yes — of course! Developed by Sicap, UMB (USSD Menu Browsing) exploits the existing GSM standard network USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Services Data) technology to create a single, customer contact number into the operator. UMB opens up a two-way marketing channel between operators and their pre-paid customers, making self provisioning fast, easy and cost effective. On request subscribers get not only their account balance but also a menu of services through which they can browse — so accessing new applications does become as simple as point and click. Operators can now push product and marketing information to their entire base of subscribers.
Mobile Europe: And it makes use of existing technology?
That’s the beauty of it. Operators can inform and give customers access to services and new applications throughout their networks from one free call. By exploiting a technology already incorporated into all GSM phones, Sicap’s UMB gives access to all existing GSM customers wherever they may be.
Mobile Europe: Another existing technology that many feel is under-exploited is the SIM card. There seem to be a host of unexploited applications available to the operator through existing SIMs.
The (U)SIM card’s properties as a tamper-proof device and as a unified storage facility for secure information, as well as its ability to access functions in the mobile handset and the network in a standardised and future-proof way, makes it a key component. The (U)SIM is part of
the operator’s network and as such it holds vital information that must be managed and provisioned.
The (U)SIM is the only linkage point between the network operator and the subscriber, thus making it imperative for the operator to have control over which networks their subscribers roam onto and to manage the subscriber’s access to VAS via SIM based menus such as SIM Tool Kit.
We have seen the mobile devices themselves evolve from “dumb” terminals with basic telephony functionality into sophisticated smart phones with data, internet, and multimedia capabilities. In order to ensure usage of these advanced data-centric services, operators need to have the device settings automatically configured in order for subscribers to be able to use these advanced services. As (U)SIM cards continue to evolve with more memory capacity and functionality such as java applets for security, it will continue to be an important part of an operator’s network. Over-The-Air then becomes essential in managing content on the SIM such as Java applets, PLMN roaming lists, STK menus and the subscribers’ personal information.
For the subscriber, (U)SIM is a personal, portable gateway to new services; for the operator, it’s the key to security and differentiating ergonomics in the world of 3G mobile services.
Mobile Europe: Over the air configuration is not new, but there is a sense that the services it can enable are still under-appreciated.
Sure, the SIM holds the user identity number and authentication key and algorithm and has proved itself to be a potent weapon in network security. But this is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to SIM card potential. Since it’s the card rather than the terminal that enables network access, feature access and billing, the user is immediately on-line.
For mobile operators, the main challenge these days is to be able to manage and control the (U)SIMs that are out in the field, being used by subscribers.
Operators often need to update content on the SIM cards such as PLMN roaming lists whenever a new roaming agreement is made. Fixed Dialling Numbers (FDN) and Abbreviated Dialling Numbers (ADN) need to be updated whenever service numbers change. Java applets on SIM cards also have to be managed for secure m-commerce and m-banking applications. Updating and configuring Java based SIM Tool Kit menus is also essential whenever new value added services are introduced to subscribers.
Mobile Europe: And OTA is best for this?
As devices become more technologically advanced with various features such as internet browsing and multimedia capabilities, these settings become increasingly complex for users to configure, and in turn will discourage them from adopting these new services.
Operators will then lose revenues, customer care costs and churn rates will increase, causing serious delays in mobile services adoption.
With OTA device management, operators can help users to start using new services, as well as modify the configuration of existing ones with a minimum of effort. Settings such as GPRS, WAP, MMS, push-to-talk, email and internet browsing all need device-specific configuration settings, making it difficult to configure them manually. By simplifying configuration, device management offers substantial benefits for all members of the mobile value chain, from the handset manufacturer, to the service provider, all the way to the network operator. Most mobile users have limited technical interest or skill to configure an advance mobile device. Take MMS as an example; One of the reasons MMS has had difficulty in reaching mass market adoption is that the average mobile user is not aware that they need to configure their handsets in order to use the service. Mobile users expect services like MMS to be as readily available as making a call or sending an SMS.
But recalling SIM cards for content provisioning is not a viable option as it is a very time-consuming and expensive exercise to do.
So the OTA platform is a very effective logistical solution for the remote management of post-issued SIM cards. The secure management of GSM files and applets on the SIM is OTA’s greatest advantage, and due to the secure download aspect the network operator is the sole master of the SIM cards. OTA allows the operator to extend the SIM card life cycle and speed up the time to market: of new services. Operators no longer need to wait for the card’s renewal to update GSM files or to offer new services. As a result, new roaming agreements and new seasonal or events services can be always offered. In addition to new service delivery and content update, the OTA platform eases replacing stolen SIMs with subscriber’s details such as phonebook contacts, stored SMS, and applets.
Mobile Europe: You mentioned roaming management. Remote SIM configuration is very important in this area, I believe.
The PLMN list on the SIM card contains the parameters that control which network the subscriber will roam onto when they are outside of their home network. By being able to control which network your subscribers roam onto, roaming management allows operators to keep lucrative roaming revenues within the group or within a partner network alliance. Roaming Management also gives an operator more negotiating power when making roaming deals with foreign network operators.
Another benefit is that it can support special rates for particular customer segments such as corporate customers roaming in an international VPN environment. PLMN lists are usually embedded at the first stages before an operator receives their batch of SIM cards. New roaming agreements and international operator alliances are constantly changing; therefore operators need a tool to
update and manage their whole SIM card base efficiently and remotely without causing inconveniences to subscribers.
Mobile Europe: And what role do you see for SIM Tool Kit (STK) in managing applications, in alliance with OTA ?
Utilising STK helps operators save on high marketing costs; traditionally it takes a lot of effort educating subscribers about the various short numbers and keywords they need to know to use the different VAS. With STK, since all services become part of the handset menu, operators need less marketing effort to educate their subscribers on how to order services such as information, logos, ring tones, games and using mobile banking applications.
Furthermore since the VAS menu is part of the overall handset menu, the operator can reach the majority of its subscribers and not just the ones with a WAP-enabled handset and configured WAP settings. Again, an OTA system allows operators to update STK menus with new service offerings and also offers the possibility for subscribers to customise their menus to suit their particular needs via a Web interface.
Operators can remotely provision STK menus by sending binary SMS or using the GPRS bearer to download new content on the SIM card. Sicap’s OTA is future proof because it supports Bearer Independent Protocol (BIP) for data packet-based download, in 2.5 and 3G networks. With STK, operators could offer various revenue generating services such as: information, logos, ring tones, java games, customer self-care, and banking services. As a result of these offerings the operator benefits from; increased ARPU, reduced customer churn, increase customer loyalty and a differentiated service offering for their subscribers.
Mobile Europe: Thank you.
LTE has two versions; one for paired spectrum (FDD) and the other for unpaired spectrum (TDD). Designed for use in unpaired spectrum, TD-LTE is set to be deployed widely around the world, says the pair.
At an event hosted by China Mobile in Shanghai, Ericsson and ST-Ericsson demonstrated their complete TD-LTE solution for the first time. Using an USB dongle embedded with ST-Ericsson’s TD-LTE chipset, the companies showcased ‘super-fast’ mobile broadband applications, such as video-on-demand (VOD) and video streaming with a live camera.
Mats H Olsson, President of Ericsson China and North East Asia said: “The successful demonstration today reflects not only Ericsson’s undisputed technology leadership in the LTE domain, but also our unwavering commitment to the development of TD-LTE in China and elsewhere in the world. We will make every effort to support China Mobile in bringing revolutionary mobile broadband experiences to tens of millions of Chinese consumers in the near future.”
“Drawing on six years of LTE research and development, today’s demonstration underlines ST-Ericsson’s position as a frontrunner in the rollout of the next-generation of mobile broadband platforms,” said Magnus Hansson, Senior Vice President and head of LTE and 3G Modem Solutions at ST-Ericsson. “Through our cooperation with China Mobile and Ericsson, devices based on our chipsets will soon enable people to enjoy the many benefits of super-fast mobile broadband.”
ST-Ericsson is said to have been the first in the world to demonstrate a handheld LTE device and to achieve LTE and HSPA mobility with a multimode device. Available next year, ST-Ericsson’s next generation modem will support both versions of LTE, in addition to TD-SCDMA and HSPA+/EDGE.
ST-Ericsson and Ericsson’s combined offering is claimed to be the only complete end-to-end TD-LTE solution in the industry.