Rick Woods, Vice President Product Management, Intec Telecom Systems, has over twenty years of experience within the telecommunications sector where his background includes software design and development, project management, project implementations, and product management. Mr Woods is responsible for the mediation layer of Intec products and focuses on applying those products to innovations such as IMS. A published author, Mr Woods writes for industry publications, and has appeared as a featured speaker at many industry events. Rick Woods is a Computer Science graduate of Virginia Tech.
Telecom operating companies use mediation systems to process and control CDRs - call detail records. They mediate - serve as an interface - between a variety of network systems, handle roaming data between operators, forward information to a variety of billing and accounting related systems and are a crucial link in the roaming fraud detection process. Given their complexity, specialised systems handle specific functions but comprehensive mediation systems have common interfaces and databases to simplify and better control mediation processing.
The advent of converged networks and enhanced services has had a profound impact on mediation systems. Mediation is still critical in its role as a buffering layer between the network and other systems, but its role has expanded way beyond just collecting usage data for the billing system. The requirements demanded from a modern mediation system have changed the model for project implementation. In today’s world, the flow of data between the network and the business systems is continuous and multi-directional. Usage data must be collected, service requests must be responded to, and network devices must be provisioned, in batch and in real time, as files, as streams, and as transactions. No longer can a single application be relied upon to fulfil all mediation requirements. Modern mediation systems must take on additional functionality as well. For example, the GSMA (Global System for Mobile [GSM] Association) is recommending that its 700 operator members adopt a new and more efficient approach to exchanging roaming call records by October 1, 2008. Working with leading operators and vendors, the GSMA has specified the commercial and technical elements of a globally interoperable system that will enable operators to reduce the time taken to exchange roaming call data from 36 hours post-call to four hours or less. Operators in Latin America are in a unique position to leverage emerging technologies. LATAM subscribers have embraced mobility, and data is an important revenue growth area. Operators must move away from a silo approach to mediation and adopt a unified platform that forms a framework of mediation modules. Service management As business transformation has taken place - telecommunications companies have become media companies; their primary objective is to create and deliver a set of services for mass consumption. As a result, service management has become the most important process for success. Service management requires a well-orchestrated layer of functionality between the service delivery networks and the support systems. This layer of functionality must be: • Proactive - It must be able to grant access to a service based on financial consideration; • Reactive - It must be able to collect service usage events, correlate them into a charging data record (CDR), and deliver the CDR downstream for higher level processing; and • Constructive - It must be able to dynamically change network parameters for effective service delivery. Active mediation is proactive. It needs to be available 100 per cent of the time and respond to requests with less than 100ms of latency (delay). Active mediation systems are measured in terms of response time. Post-event mediation is reactive; it must be available 100 per cent of the time as well. It must manage event volumes that can total many billions of events per day. Post-event mediation systems are measured in terms of throughput. Service activation (reverse mediation) is constructive. It manages complex workflows and negotiates the actions between any customer-facing system and network devices. Reverse mediation systems are measured in terms of flexibility and adaptability. It is too much to ask of a single processing engine to provide Tier 1, world-class performance and simultaneously be proactive, reactive, and constructive. The design of a system that can process billions of events for one-way delivery to other systems is very different from the design of a system that provides millisecond response times. The same is true of a system designed to integrate two devices in the most effective and flexible way. Best of breed engines are required for ultimate performance results. Nevertheless, it is not too much to ask that common resources, common business logic, and a common user experience be available when implementing a project. In fact, the normal experience for a modern implementation is that post-event mediation and active mediation systems share a common subscriber database, and rate plans. It is also common that post-event business logic be used when processing real-time requests. Service providers today should expect their mediation systems to provide: • A common look and feel; • A common approach to project implementation; and • A common methodology for operational control. In response to these requirements, a comprehensive service mediation approach is recommended - a mediation framework that provides an integrated set of mediation functions executed in a common environment, providing a single user experience, where all forms of mediation share resources, software subsystems, and business logic. A comprehensive methodology for deploying mediation in its entirety contributes to quality service delivery by maximising efficiency and minimising cost. The benefits of a comprehensive approach are obvious. It is designed to meet the common needs of telco applications, including cost control and ease of implementation. Commonality across the mediation functions reduces training efforts and allows a single team of business analysts to manage the entire mediation business. All the mediation functions should execute on blade technology and low cost servers. Sharing resources and business logic provides operational efficiencies while also allowing faster deployment of new services. With a comprehensive approach, all control and monitoring tools are consistent across functions and service providers can utilize a single tool to deliver services and manage the revenue generated. NRTRDE The GSMA’s Near Real-Time Roaming Data Exchange (NRTRDE) initiative is a response to the rapid growth in international travel, which has led a steadily increasing number of people to use their mobile phones away from their home networks. By speeding up the transfer of call records between the operator in the visited country and the subscriber’s home operator, NRTRDE minimizes the opportunities for roaming fraud. NRTRDE will have two essential functions: • Reduce the required timeframe for delivery of fraud-related roaming information from 36 hours to a maximum of four hours; and • Provide individual CDR in a sufficiently timely and complete manner to allow operators to cost-effectively manage roaming fraud. Although proprietary NRTRDE systems already exist and are in use by some operators, the GSMA’s initiative will facilitate interoperability between these and new NRTRDE systems and bring benefits to the GSM community by encouraging a much wider deployment of NRTRDE. Leading mobile operators within the GSMA have endorsed the NRTRDE solution and are already beginning to deploy the required systems, demonstrating the momentum behind this approach. NRTRDE solutions are already in use at approximately 100 operators worldwide, providing the home network with access to the roaming subscriber’s activity within a few hours of the event. Deployed mostly in the Americas to date, NRTRDE solutions consistently reduce fraud losses and result in business cases that outperform expectations. In Latin America, carriers such as VIVO and Claro Chile are leading the way and are already operating with NRTRDE systems, using vendor-supplied roaming solutions to complement their clearinghouse relations and to: • Achieve greater business control over key roaming functions such as Tap/Rap; (Transferred Account Procedure/ Returned Account Procedure) processes, wholesale mark-ups, IOT (Inter-Operator Tariff) management, fraud and business reporting; • Reduce costs; and • React faster to industry changes such as NRTRDE. The pre-processing manager, a function of a robust mediation system, is key to effectively managing NRTRDE requirements. The ability to provide the conversion and control of the NRTRDE files enables operators to streamline the process and avoid clearinghouse conversion fees by allowing: • Conversion of roamer CDRs to NRTRDE format according to the GSMA TD.35 standard and making these available for electronic transmission; and • Receipt of incoming NRTRDE files, conversion and forwarding to a Fraud Management System. Instead of opting for one-off systems, operators are advised to take a more practical approach by investigating mediation solutions that can support NRTRDE requirements as well as the demands of emerging service and technology trends. The convergence of lifestyles and services gives service providers the potential to create and develop new revenue streams and, as well, reduce costs. To succeed, they will need to address the challenge of managing a multitude of services and partners using a diversity of business models. Adequate and effective service management is imperative. By adopting a comprehensive approach to mediation-service providers can maximize efficiency, improve the quality of service delivery, and minimize cost.