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Charging for Apps
Charging for Apps

Wireless operators around the globe are learning that success can bring its own problems. As operators develop and deploy an increasing number of wireless data applications, they are finding that developing and managing this growing number of applications is more complex than they initially expected.

A few of the more perceptive operators are already looking to the latest in Service Delivery Platforms (SDPs) and related applications to help them thrive in this new environment. These SDPs will have a significant impact on the bottom-line by managing the delivery and life cycle of wireless services to consumers and enterprise customers.

Increasing Revenue
Wireless operators everywhere are working to address the challenge of declining Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). This key metric has been falling steadily as airtime prices drop and operators sell to customers who use their phones less. The most viable option open to the operator is to stimulate increased customer use of wireless data. Offering Value-Added Services (VAS) to their existing subscribers allows operators to generate much-needed additional revenue.

Operators have spent the last decade looking for the elusive "killer app." Most recognize that there is no single application that will magically drive customers to use their handset's existing wireless data capabilities and generate additional revenue for the operator.

Instead, most operators are acknowledging the need for a "killer cocktail" of applications. They expect that each customer will have one or two major applications they're willing to pay for and probably several others, which will have some fleeting value. This mix of applications will likely be different for each customer.

Building Out New Wireless Applications
In order to address these customer needs, operators will need a constant flow of new applications. Some of these may click with their audience while the less successful ones can be withdrawn from the market, modified, and relaunched to increased success.

The challenge operators face is that current technical and business arrangements cannot easily support the complexity and sheer magnitude of this effort. Wireless operators' networks are increasingly complex and constantly evolving. Extensive effort is put into developing applications that will work with the diverse range of network and business systems that the operator has already deployed. Even existing applications developed for other operators must be heavily modified to work with an operator's existing network configurations and business systems.

The solution to this challenge is two-fold. The first step is to address the technical development and deployment issues by deploying an SDP that simplifies the interfaces that applications must deal with. The second step is to implement an application life cycle management system that customer-facing staff can use to manage the entire product life cycle.

The Concept of an OS for Operators
A Service Delivery Platform is the result of applying the concept of a PC operating system to a wireless network. The PC OS consists of standard interfaces that software developers can use, system management and security features, and drivers for hardware. The PC OS's software interfaces provide a stable and structured environment for applications. They are generally simpler than the underlying hardware environment and there are code libraries and tools that developers can call upon to speed their development efforts. The PC OS uses drivers to interface to various hardware elements. When new hardware is added, only a driver for applications is needed to make use of it. This is much the same way in which new word processing software is not needed when a color printer is purchased.

The PC OS also handles the complex tasks related to security, hardware, and application management. Memory management, passwords, authentication, permissions, and activity tracking are handled by the OS and not the individual applications.

The introduction of the PC OS resulted in a proliferation in the number and capabilities of applications. It is one of the crowning achievements that moved computing from the age of mainframes to the age of the personal computer.

The Benefits of an SDP
A Service Delivery Platform can do the same for a wireless network as an operating system does for a PC by isolating applications from the underlying complexity of the network. The SDP consists of standardized APIs for applications, interfaces to the underlying network and business systems, and security and internal management capabilities.

An SDP uses industry-standard APIs (Application Program Interface) to build a library of applications that can be easily deployed by any wireless operator who deploys that SDP. Various wireless and telecom industry associations are developing global standards for APIs.

The SDP also provides a capability for the operator to reuse common code blocks or service frameworks. This can result in considerably reduced development and testing time since the code or service frameworks have already been tested. There is no need to "reinvent the wheel" when multiple developers are working on similar applications. For example, a "voting engine" can be used by any application that requires customers to vote via SMS - the developer is free to focus his or her efforts on the application's user interface and other sophisticated features.

Adapters allow the operator to interface the SDP to their particular network and business systems. Wireless networks are particularly complex, and every operator has a unique mix of access networks (GSM, CDMA, etc.), enhanced network services (location, signaling, data routing), messaging engines (SMS versus MMS), and business/operating systems (billing, provisioning, data warehousing).

If every application were custom-interfaced directly to each element, the resulting jumble of connections would be unsupportable and would present a massive barrier to the application development process. Any change in a single network element would demand changes to every application that relies on it.

Finally, telecom network operators are very concerned with security, and the Service Delivery Platform can address this issue by providing secure access for third-party applications and applications located outside the trusted network environment. With the constant stream of new applications being developed, tested, and deployed, the security management demands of the process can quickly overcome an ad-hoc or manual system.

The Service Delivery Platform addresses all these needs in a structured and controllable manner, reducing development time and cost, and facilitating the development and deployment of a large number of applications.

Enterprise application developers will benefit from the reduced time and cost demands of developing to the standardized API provided by the SDP. They will also be able to deploy across multiple networks as well, if those networks have an SDP deployed that supports industry-standard APIs.

New Challenges
But with this capability comes a new challenge - most mobile network operators do not have the ability to manage this new process. As many technical developments can revolutionize what business can do, they also demand changes in how business does it.

The traditional operator management approach to the development and deployment of wireless applications involves large working groups with representatives from each of the technical and business areas. Regular meetings are held, communications are lengthy, and considerable effort is put into project management and change control.

Once an application is launched, the staff responsible for management has very little actual control, and relies on network and technical staff to monitor performance and carry out changes at their direction. The overall result of this management approach is massive cost, slow response, and lack of dissemination of information to those who really need it. As the number of applications grows, the complexity increases exponentially. Eventually, the whole system grinds to a halt as more time is spent managing the product process and less on the products themselves.

Enter the Application Lifecycle Management System
This revolutionary application leverages the control and monitoring capabilities of the Service Delivery Platform to give customer-facing staff the ability to directly manage the Value-Added Services for which they are responsible. The Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) system provides the tools that address the business issues that lead to product success.

A typical ALM will have a security management capability that lets line staff directly control what applications have security access and the type of access that they have. This lets line staff work directly with third-party developers without calling up IT staff for passwords and security permissions. Since each mobile operator will have to work with more and more third-party developers, providing quick and controlled security access is a key contributor to market success.

An ALM should also provide real-time, top-level revenue tracking and reporting. As the number of contractual relationships with third-party developers grows, line staff need the ability to measure and report Value Added Services revenue without going through their finance or data-mining groups. This easy access to revenue information also facilitates the rapid response to problems or opportunities that individual applications may face. This quick response will allow for a poorly performing application to be withdrawn from the market, while a popular one is given more prominence based on either automated or regular monitoring.

The finance or data-mining organizations still have a role to play in formal reporting or custom analysis, but key standardized reporting is performed at the ALM level by front-line staff.

The Application Lifecycle Management system can also automate the application development process itself. With prepackaged Software Development Kits (SDKs) provided by the operator and with structured test environments, third-party application developers can do much of their coding and testing without direct involvement by operator IT or network staff.

Rather than requesting an IT staff to promote an application from the test environment to the production system, front-line staff can "drag and drop" the application into the production system, place discrete limits on its capabilities, and directly monitor its performance. Once again, responsiveness and overall application development throughput is improved.

The objective of a Service Delivery Platform paired with an Application Lifecycle Management system is not to replace the current network and IT staff and organizations, but rather to complement them by placing key application monitoring and controls in the hands of front-line staff who need it and can exploit them best. The resulting time and cost savings will contribute directly to product success rates.

The challenge for a mobile operator is to acknowledge their need for such systems and to prepare their organizations for the deployment. Network and IT technical staff, who currently control the whole process, need to be reassured that they have a role in the new arrangement. Product management staff must be trained in their expanded role and management has to give them the ability, opportunity, and support to exploit these responsibilities.

Additionally, the operator has to rely on industry-wide standards that truly support the deployment of applications across networks. Some large operators are developing Service Delivery Platforms internally that are based on proprietary APIs. While this may speed development among the operator's current third-party application developers, it does not support easy deployment from other developers.

Deriving ROI
The benefits of an SDP paired with an ALM will accrue to both consumer and enterprise application developers. Consumer application developers need to deploy many relatively simple applications to large numbers of end users. Enterprise application developers typically have fewer applications, but each one is more complex.

Both consumer and enterprise application developers will benefit from the reduced development time and cost, rapid deployment, and the ability to deploy at multiple operators globally. Mobile network operators will benefit from the same time and cost savings, as well as the growing library of available applications. Everyone will benefit from the increased likelihood of product success facilitated by the sophisticated capabilities of a Service Delivery Platform paired with an Application Lifecycle Management system.

About Simi Grosman
Simi Grosman is senior vice president, office of the CEO, of Wysdom Inc. With over 25 years of industry experience, Simi drives the global marketing strategy and delivery of Wysdom's worldwide brand. He represents Wysdom within key industry telecom groups including OMA, GSMA, and CTIA, and serves as vice-chair of the Open Mobile Alliance.

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