How successful M2M support can be a ‘win-win’ for network operator and consumer subscriber
(Blog) — The dynamics of cellular consumer smartphone communications are drastically different to machine-to-machine (M2M) communications in a fundamental way. Despite this difference, says Dan McBride (pictured), by mastering support for M2M devices, both operators and consumer subscribers can benefit.
At a high level, having ‘bars’ showing (network signal) is the service for smartphone subscribers. Once connected, the consumer is free to do what they want – make a voice call, send an SMS message, share a Facebook status update or find directions to a local restaurant. For M2M however, a connection is only the means to an end.
Raw data from a device transformed by an application into actionable information is the value to an enterprise. Moreover, there is no ‘subscriber’ to take actions locally, another key consideration for M2M communications, to assist with service delivery like moving closer to a window or trying the call later. To add to the mix, data that M2M devices need to transmit can be mission-critical, even life sustaining, depending on the application. If the enterprise does not receive the data, they may lose revenue — or lose a life.
M2M customer technical support is anything but ‘business as usual’ for mobile operators
Similarities abound when comparing data services for consumer handsets and for M2M solution devices. A connection request is made over the radio, authorisation is granted after checking account status and permissions, a connection is established and user communication starts. Simple, right? If everything works, yes. The real differences surface when it doesn’t.
For handsets, operators typically need only to validate that their network is operational at the subscriber’s location. For M2M, operators need to ensure end-to-end communications — tracing both control plane and data plane communications — between a single device and a server to satisfy the enterprise.
M2M support operations to meet data delivery assurance demands
M2M solutions require a different approach to technical support. Unlike the macro level, roll-up service availability understanding, data delivery assurance requires an understanding of the complete communications path, including control plane and data plane, from the device through to the enterprise application data repository. Troubleshooting in this domain requires extending the operator’s “span of visibility” along two dimensions.
First, operators need visibility to troubleshoot beyond the borders of their network. Tracing communication attempts from the device to the customer data centre extends beyond the operator network and beyond current MNO operational processes, but it is critical to resolving issues.
The second dimension is the level of detail available to trace communications across their own network. Did the device module’s request for a connection to the HLR get acknowledged and processed properly? Was authorisation provided by the AuC and the appropriate entry made? Do operators have access to and track this information? At the other end of the solution, did the customer’s server respond to the SMS send request?
This low level detail is limited to a very few individuals within mobile operator support operations. This fact adds further time, pressure, and expense on typical operator support organisations.
For operators, customer support is just one of the myriad factors they must consider to maintain current operational standards while adding robust M2M services. The M2M industry is evolving daily. Applications are getting smarter and the next wave of M2M will likely involve the subscribers as well as devices.
Tooling up for this eventuality, operators could consider partnering with an experienced external agency. Along with the expertise, this approach can add service delivery flexibility and require less upfront capital, while giving the operator the ability to see the market evolve and develop a stronger long-term strategy.
By tackling the challenges of M2M support in advance, operators will be primed to deliver key services in the growing M2M marketplace. Operators can easily pivot this M2M support strategy to help ensure better service assurance for its consumer subscribers making it a win-win strategy for all.
The author is Dan McBride, head of carrier marketing at Aeris Communications
Dan’s more than 20 years in the networking industry spanning marketing, product marketing, product management, and business development roles. Today Dan heads up carrier marketing for machine-to-machine platform provider, Aeris Communications. Prior to Aeris, Dan was VP Marketing at LTE Gateway provider Stoke. Before Stoke Dan held a range of marketing and business development roles at tech start-ups, including for DPI vendor CloudShield (acquired by SAIC), enterprise IP PBX provider, Shoreline (Nasdaq: SHOR), and CPlane, developer of operator provisioning and traffic engineering tools. Dan also spent 12 years with 3Com in California and Europe.
M2M Now Jargon Buster
AuC = Authorisation Centre
HLR = Home Location Register
MNO = Mobile Network Operator
SMS = Short Message Service