Mobile roaming patterns are changing as customers demand better service and cheaper tariffs. At the same time operators also have to accommodate demands for more bandwidth, integrate LTE, handle roaming across multi-channel networks and manage the huge uptake in M2M services.
Since it was founded 12 years ago Zurich-based company Starhome has developed a suite of roaming products providing analytics, business management and decision making tools for mobile operators. The tools are designed to help operators manage roaming issues such as bill shock, customer segmentation, competition to traditional GSM services and multi-network environments.
Yuval Shani, Director, Product Management at Starhome, tells Wireless: ‘Everything centres around data now. Everyone is connecting to the network all day long and the operator needs to handle all this traffic and it is becoming very challenging to support and very expensive. We need to give the operator the ability to manage all these networks, including GSM, 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi, and provide the services people want.’
Starhome’s current offering comprises seven software suites designed to help operators maximise their revenue opportunities:
• Fearless Data Suite – increase data roaming usage and revenues
• Roam4LTE Suite – upgrades current roaming solutions to LTE
• MobilityPac Suite – encourage roaming usage and optimize profitability
• Wholesale Maximizer Suite – optimize traffic management and profitability
• M2M Suite – optimize and manage embedded mobile device traffic and costs
• Quality of User Experience Suite – proactive monitoring to ensure quality of user experience
• OMNYX Suite – support executive decision making in a multi-network environment
M2M is predicted to rise massively over the next few years and is expected to overtake the number of subscriber Sim cards in play in the near future. Embedded Sims are appearing in cars, trains, control rooms, utility meters, healthcare equipment, vending machines and the like.
Shani says that soon operators will have to manage millions of M2M Sims on their networks, but it is not the same as handling a subscriber where you can monitor and charge for voice, SMS and data.
‘You may have to manage a transport container on a train,’ he points out. ‘What is being monitored by the Sim card is whether the lock is closed, or been broken, is the door open or closed, what is the temperature inside the container and so on. But it could be transmitting only a micro kilobyte of data a few times a day to a server in an HQ. Operators need to know how to handle this kind of data and work out appropriate tariffs, be it a monthly or yearly fee, to monitor the container.’
He cites the example of automobiles where Mercedes will have an agreement with a local German operator for the vehicle telematics data transmission, but the cars could move anywhere in Europe or further afield and that means there are in a state of permanent roaming. But neither Mercedes nor the owner with a German operator’s Sim card will want to pay a roaming tariff if the car is in Italy for several months. Mobile operators in different countries need to agree a different model of tariff.
Starhome has a tool that ensures the Sim card in the car stays on the right partner networks when it moves to a different country and keeps to the local roaming agreements and prices. This ensures the business model is kept to and does not go out of kilter. That way, the operator who provided the Sim card is not deprived of revenues and Mercedes or the end user does not get bill shock incurred through high roaming charges.
Starhome’s products also provide analytics to the operator about what the Sim card is doing and which embedded devices are producing the best revenue streams, for example. The tool can warn the customer that more data than anticipated is being transmitted and that his costs may have to go up.
The Starhome steering tool also helps customers switch between operators. A customer may have deals with a number of mobile operators across the world, often with different tariffs depending on the nature of the business. ‘The steering tool allows you to manage the fact that customers may make different deals for different data. He can decide how much data to send to which operator using the steering tool,’ says Shani.
The tools are also designed to provide a high level of visibility as to what data is being transmitted by the embedded Sim cards. ‘To meet the service level agreements and provide the necessary quality of service, you need to know online the status of each Sim card – how much data is it sending, where it is, is it functioning properly and so on,’ he says.
‘We can detect and track all the machines and that allows you to manage the network resources. M2M is a very low ARPU business, but the network is expensive to build and operate, so you need large volumes to make money and you need a lot of intelligence in the system to make sure you optimise the way your M2M business is handled to maximise your revenue,’ says Shani.
Starhome software can detect if the Sim cards are not being used for the purpose they were set up for. Fraud is a big issue in the M2M world, according to Shani. The software enables the Sim card to be blocked if it has been hijacked and taken somewhere else.
One difficulty the M2M world faces at the moment is that the GSMA has not yet agreed a way to allocate a special ID to M2M Sim cards. ‘Each operator has tens of thousands of M2M Sim cards, but they don’t know how to recognise them. But we can help them identify the M2M Sim cards by analyzing what the Sims are doing on the network. We can tell if they are M2M Sim cards or not if they generate no voice or SMS traffic, for example. The operator can then isolate those Sim cards and monitor them,’ says Shani.
Shani believes that with voice and text revenues declining under pressure and free over the top services eating into revenues that operators will look to compensate by growing M2M revenues.
‘Most of them want to be big M2M players,’ says Shani, ‘as it will provide them with a way to claw back some revenue.’