Please follow my blog to its new home!

As Sybase 365 has now become SAP Mobile Services, I hope you will continue to follow my blog at its new SAP home in the SAP Community Network (SCN).  

The new URL is:  http://scn.sap.com/people/william.dudley/content

I’ve posted all of my 2011 and 2012 entries here.  Pre-2011 will be posted as well, soon.  To view the most recent entry at the top, please sort by date created (descending), as many of my older entries were all migrated the same date; however, the entries still have their original post date on them.

Oh, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @wdudley2009.

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Overcoming Challenges of LTE Roaming – A Q&A Session

On November 6th, 2012, we broadcast a webinar via webinars.telecoms.com.  This was well attended and generated a large number of questions.  While I responded to the questions on the webinar site, I thought it would be useful to pull these questions and answers together in this blog entry. 

For readers that may not follow exactly what in the world I’m talking about, Sybase 365 (an SAP company) now offers an LTE Roaming  service as one of our IPX services.  LTE Roaming requires the usage of the Diameter protocol.  Earlier in 2012, I published a blog entry outlining the “plumbing” that goes into enabling subscribers to roam on LTE networks, as a bit of background.

So, without further ado, here are the actual questions and my answers about Diameter hubbing and LTE Roaming.

Question:  Could a Diameter Edge Agent be used in a CSFB configuration which would act as a SS7 / Diameter protocol translator without having to buy a IMS based equipment.

Answer:  Yes, it could… it could be offered on the Diameter hubbing service (e.g. DRA) — not necessarily the Edge Agent. Diameter hub providers offer or will be offering such interworking (MAP / Diameter).

 

Question:  Can any IPX provider be a diameter gateway? Or does it need other measures like the case of roaming hub?

Answer: Certainly, having an IPX network is a primary prerequisite. But to make the business model work, you should also be a reasonably sized GRX provider AND you must make the investment in Diameter hubbing technology

 

Question: Understanding that mobile roaming is both an IPX and handset/tablet requirement, when do you expect LTE mobile roaming to replace the end user from just switching SIM cards?

Answer:  LTE Roaming will certainly grow in the coming years; however, in the short term, due to frequency fragmentation, sometimes the only way would be to switch SIM cards. There will be some operators, especially in the early years that will be virtually unreachable from a roaming standpoint, due to their chosen frequency bands (or spectrum limitations of their country).

 

Question: How do you address the diameter security from IPX perspective? Also there have been some debates about whether the IPSEC should be optional or mandatory between the operator’s diameter edge agent and IPX. What is your view?

Answer: The security of the IPX does not make it necessary for traffic to be encrypted between the DEA and the operator — in fact, it reduces the overall QoS. But, if an operator or pair of operators requests it, it could certainly be configured. But we do not recommend it.

 

Question: How does a mobile operator compare and differentiate between existing GRX providers who claim to be an IPX provider and someone such as yourselves who say you are a complete IPX provider? Why would I not stay with my current GRX/IPX provider where community/ecosystem already exists?

Answer: That’s a good question.

I will say that not all GRX providers can provide a strong IPX capability. “True” IPX takes some investment in a high QoS backbone and commitment to growing that as more IP services come online. For example, a smaller GRX player may not find the necessary business case to grow and evolve their underlying network to IPX standards. And bandwidth and quality requirements will only grow. Consequently, it is our opinion that your safest bet is working with one or more of the larger IPX players.

 

Question: Is LTE roaming in EVDO Rev A or B possible?

Answer:  No, these are two different standards; HOWEVER, and let’s look at a large CDMA (EVDO Rev A) operator like Verizon Wireless, whose 3G is EVDO Rev A, but also supports LTE. An LTE subscriber roaming to another network might “fall-back” to EVDO in the visited network, if the visited network does not have compatible LTE frequencies or does not have LTE at all. Most EVDO devices that support LTE support both standards, depending on what network they can connect to.

 

Question:  Since the routing is done through the home network, does this not diminish the importance of the TAP file from the home operator’s perspective?

Answer: No, it does not do away with the necessity of TAP files. Regardless of whether the subscriber is home-routed or local-break-out on the visited network, the Diameter information is not enough to complete a full TAP record.

 

Question:  My question is related to steering of roaming (SoR) for LTE roaming. What would be the impact and how it should be done effectively?

Answer:  Steering of Roaming should “translate” to LTE roaming as well and it should be done though the Diameter hubbing provider. In fact, we are engaging with the appropriate partners who would work through our Diameter hub, based on the policies of the home network, to provide roaming steering to preferred networks. Of course, the concept is not different from what happens today in 3G; however, this would involve accessing the appropriate Diameter traffic to insure that the subscriber connects where the home networks desires them to.

Bottom line, we think SoR would definitely have its place in LTE roaming scenarios.

 

Question:  How realistic is it to expect devices to be able to support frequencies available in North America, Asia and Europe?

Answer:  Initially, as discussed, there will be devices that will try and support some frequencies more targeted for specific regions. For example, look at the iPhone 5 / new iPads. Two of the devices support the 1800 band which should support roaming in a lot of different networks as well as supporting the US bands (e.g. 700 MHz band). Overall, many networks will support at least one of the more “common” bands such as 800/1800/2600 in addition to AWS and some of the more off frequencies such as the 700 MHz bands. It’s early yet. But, I think you will see devices with 5, maybe even 6 band support.  More, I don’t know. Of course, there will always be some country or operator that deploys on some very odd frequency bands.

I expect that over time, we’ll see a strong roaming market— at least for the top 100 operators worldwide, but we are not quite there yet.

 

Question: How do you see the challenges posed by Voice over LTE networks when roaming?

Answer:  The roaming LTE subscriber that will be launching a VoLTE call will trigger some additional Diameter exchanges between the visited and home networks, EACH time a call is initiated — as well as the SIP call setup.

This certainly plays into the necessity for a very good network – e.g. an IPX — connecting the two networks — if not just for the additional Diameter traffic, but also the user data (e.g. the call itself).

 

Question: I would be interested especially on your view especially on the call handling in case of VoLTE roaming –especially in the context that in current Telco environment, the routing and charging is done primarily on E.164 numbers while in case of VoLTE roaming, the routing between the S- and P-CSCF is done based on domain names contained in SIP headers given in the registration procedure to the UE.

Can you comment whether the current IPX framework provides this functionality yet?

Answer: I am not aware that IPX framework – any IPX framework — provides this functionality – yet; however, once we start supporting VoLTE functionality (roaming or interworking), we will address the conversion between E.164 numbers, identifying the subscriber UE, and the domain names (or specifically the SIP URI). The SIP URI of the User Equipment should be unique and I’m sure we can find a way, if necessary to map that to the E.164 number.

 

Question: Do you see the need for IPsec over IPX/GRX?

Answer: Possibly; however, I would be concerned about quality of service with an IPSec. Besides, if you already have an IPX connection, then you can certainly leverage that, without needing an IPsec connection. Some operators are asking for different VREs to differentiate the type of traffic – for example, lower bandwidth for the Diameter traffic and either re-use their GRX channels for the “user data” for home routing.

 

Question: In exchanging Charging Control info’ is that practical when dealing with real-time balance management for pre-paid subs?

Answer: Yes, I think it would be. This exchange of information really happens when the subscriber firsts registers with the visited network — which, as you know, sometimes takes several minutes, even in 3G. It should only take a second or two to authenticate the subscriber. In some of our tests with live operators, that has been the case.

 

Question:  How are testing LTE connections and what are the challenges between operators?

Answer:  Testing is typically done in a two-stage process: Testing between the DRA and the DEA (of the operator) and then end-to-end testing. We must accurately define the desired outcomes for both phases. We have found that some operators do not necessarily follow the standards, which becomes quite evident during the testing process; however, through our function a Diameter hubbing provider, we can provide some interworking and/or mediation to resolve these capabilities.

A Diameter hubbing provider should also be able to simulate Diameter traffic before end-to-end testing with another or multiple operators begins. By that point, the DRA (Diameter hubbing provider) should expose a standard interface to all other operators.

 

Question: What is the last progress in Ir25 documents for LTE testing?   Also what about the agreements between operators? Do we [operators] need to sign new agreements?

Answer: I can’t really answer the IR 25 part yet. We do not play a role in that group.

In terms of agreements — that is up to the operators — there is no specific requirement. Many will amend existing agreements to cover LTE roaming.

 

NOTE TO ALL READERS:  My blog entries are the process of being moved to the SAP Community Network (SCN) – Mobile blog.  You will be able to find all my consolidated blog entries on my SCN Content page.  This entry will be posted both at the Sybase blog site and the SCN Mobile site as well. 

 

Please follow me on Twitter: @wdudley2009.

 

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iPhone 5: A Catalyst for LTE Roaming?

Like many of you, I watched a live blog of the iPhone 5 announcement.  I do like the improvements and for once, most of the rumors were true.  I won’t go into things like the larger display, camera, and docking connector changes.

At first, I was disappointed that there was not an NFC chip – something competitor Samsung has included in the Galaxy III.  Of course there are others as well.   But for lack of a ubiquitous Point of Sale capability, this is still likely a little used feature and a critical mass of consumers using a common NFC technology is still several years away. But, Apple will introduce Passbook in iOS 6.0 and this will help build that critical mass of consumers – first using it for tickets, boarding passes, coupons and probably other CRM-related materials. It will likely be a short jump to “mobile wallet” functionality – probably a decision that we’ll all look back upon and recall about how Apple was right to wait.  I for one, am excited about this iOS 6.0 feature; however, there is a growing debate on Passbook and the lack of NFC.

Otherwise, I am quite excited to see LTE support in the new iPhone 5 and global LTE support, at that.  Currently there are actually three versions that are launching:

  • Model A1428 (GSM) — Supports AWS and 700b LTE Bands for AT&T as well as Bell, Rogers, and Telus in Canada
  • Model A1429 (CDMA) — Supports 2100, 1800, 850, 700c and 1900 MHz LTE Bands.  For the US — that’s Sprint and Verizon as well as KDDI in Japan. (that’s 5 bands — impressive !)
  • Model A1429 (GSM) – Supports 2100, 1800, 850 LTE Bands.  Operators include Deutsche Telecom (T-Mobile) Germany; Everything Everywhere in the UK; Optus and Telstra in Australia; Softbank in Japan, SK Telecom, and KT in Korea; SmarTone in Hong Kong and M1 and SingTel in Singapore.

Note that there are overlaps between Model A1429 CDMA and Model A1429 GSM across 850, 1800, and 2100 frequencies — meaning it would be likely that, once LTE Roaming is operational, that a Verizon or Sprint subscriber could theoretically connect to Everything Everywhere in the UK or roam to Optus or Telsta; however, it also depends on the bands that each operator supports.   For example, right now, Verizon really only supports the 700c band.   That means an Optus subscriber might not be able to roam to Verizon’s network in the US, using their iPhone 5; however, the Verizon subscriber’s iPhone 5 does support 5 LTE bands and would be able to roam.

The Global mobile Suppliers Association notes that 32 commercial LTE1800 systems around the world have been launched, with another 20 in deployment.  It is likely that the A1429 (CDMA and GSM) models may actually roam on quite a few networks; however, I’m quite worried about the Model A1428 (GSM) – the US AT&T version, as it does not support the LTE1800 band.  This could ultimately influence AT&T’s uptake of the iPhone 5 among world travelers.  I don’t understand why LTE1800 was not supported.  For that matter, the LTE 2600 band is also missing from these models – another common worldwide LTE frequency band.

Confused yet? Certainly, some work will need to be done to map out all of the roaming compatibilities and something that I expect we will be doing in the coming weeks as well.  Because it does depend on operator supported bands as well as, bands supported on the handset.  LTE is highly fragmented across the world when it comes to frequencies.

Still this device will help sow the seeds for LTE roaming and, as it has done for many features, will act as a catalyst for operators to move ahead with their LTE roaming plans – especially those that support the most popular, worldwide LTE frequency band.

Another area that is not really addressed with iPhone 5 is Voice over LTE (or VoLTE).  VoLTE needs network support, and today only a couple of Korean operators and metroPCS in the US support VoLTE.  Others, such as Verizon are talking about deploying it soon.  So, next week, when iPhone 5 hits the street,  LTE will not be used for voice – at least until there is more widespread network support.   But, VoLTE support might be something that could be updated in a software revision, later on.  For now, the iPhone 5 will likely use circuit-switch fallback for voice.

Like other iPhone generations before, iPhone 5′s features are implemented exceptionally well, and I believe their conservative approach to LTE integration will be likely the best way forward.

 

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SMS Still Reigns Supreme in the London Olympics Opening Ceremonies

If Ofcom (“the Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries”) needed any more evidence of the texting behaviors of UK consumers, the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies provided a perfect forum for texting, before, during and especially after the fantastic Danny Boyle directed extravaganza.

Since Sybase 365 has a unique role in delivering inter-carrier traffic between mobile operators, around the world, we can use statistics from that data to provide very accurate estimates of texting (or SMS) traffic around the world.  For the Olympics, we were and are watching.  For the record, my SAP DB colleagues would note that I would be amiss if I did not mention that all SMS traffic data is powered by SAP Sybase IQ.  That said; let’s take a look at some macro, hourly data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The graph shows the SMS traffic departure from “normal” based on UK subscribers sending Mobile Originated messages.  As you can clearly see, SMS traffic grows steeply as the ceremony begins, peaks, and then the departure from normal AFTER the event tops 80% between midnight and 1am!  These are times when normal SMS traffic begins to decline to much lower nighttime volumes.  However, in the early morning hours of the 28th, there was a lot of reaction throughout the wee hours until 5-6AM when things leveled off.  The Olympics kickoff was quite the exciting event and the residual SMS traffic clearly shows that reaction. I should note at this point, we reviewed SMS traffic from other countries as well, but none were even close in terms of overall statistical significance as a result of the opening ceremonies.

We also looked more detailed 10-minute intervals of UK MO traffic over the three days:  Friday, Saturday and Sunday (July 27th-29th).   In this graphic, you can clearly see “normal” traffic on Saturday and Sunday, contrasted with Friday’s build up to the opening ceremonies.  As we are looking at the 28th and 29th, it is evident that none of the athletic events generated enough overall interest to cause a statistically relevant up-tick in the SMS traffic, but the Opening Ceremonies generated significant traffic surges.

As you can see from the key events on the graphic, the SMS traffic is either very reactionary or anticipatory to certain events.  For example, there was a significant text boost in the 10-20 minutes prior to the British team’s arrival in the stadium.

SMS, as a Person-to-Person communications method is clearly still an extremely popular medium.  Despite significant impacts from OTT players as well as iMessage (which is really not measured here), I expected some SMS-based reaction, but not as much as was seen.  Certainly Twitter is today’s medium to comment, post, and discuss events such as this; however, SMS remains the preferred, personal communications medium between individuals.

 

 

 

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Overcoming Showroom Syndrome

We, as a consumer society, are increasingly becoming “mail-order,” or more precisely, online patrons.  Online (and Mobile Friendly) mega-sites such as Amazon, Ebay, Overstock.com, and many more specialty retailers are putting increasing pressure on traditional brick and mortar shops.  Certainly as all of the successful online retail sites offer mobile-friendly websites all the way to advanced apps and mobile-based customer outreach, using multiple channels, mobile shopping is quickly gaining as the preferred method to buy online.

However, as many big-box retailers have discovered, their brick & mortar locations are becoming mere showrooms for shoppers who come to look at their inventory, then buy it online for less.   Retailer Best Buy, has begun to take steps to attempt to remedy this situation.  In fact, their efforts have been chronicled by numerous outlets:

There are many other issues regarding Best Buy and similar stores.  But, in today’s society, there is lesser of a need to visit brick & mortar stores, as virtually anything can be acquired online.  Nevertheless, can mobile help traditional retail fight back against showroom syndorm?  Can it help get consumers back in stores?   I certainly think so.  As we are so fond of saying these days: “There’s an app for that!”

We all have heard of location-enabled apps such as Foursquare, Groupon, and Yelp.  Checking in, reviewing businesses, earning badges, points, and discounts are all common mobile-centric ways to bring people into brick and mortar retailers (or at least near them).  And it is a start.  But businesses have to offer more incentives and service to get consumers into the stores and buying.

A more recent entry to the mobile incentive field, Shopkick has come to the scene and enables you to “treat yourself while shopping” by visiting stores, scanning barcodes and buying items from participating retailers.  And Shopkick is amassing quite a cache of retail partners: Macy’s, Target, Exxon,  Old Navy, and yes, Best Buy too, as well as many more including entire malls and retail centers.  Shopkick uses innovative technology to get you inside the store.  You just can’t “check-in” outside the store.

Shopkick states: “The shopkick app detects a signal (My note: this is actually an ultrasound beacon that we can’t hear, but our mobile devices can via the microphone) emitted from a small device about the size of a brick located in each participating store; the signal is picked up by a shopper’s smartphone when the app is open. Shopkick then delivers kicks to the consumer’s account, rewards points that can be collected and redeemed at all participating locations or for gift cards, movie tickets and other items.

In addition to getting kicks for walking in to a store, consumers can get rewards for doing such things as scanning bar codes on posters in dressing rooms or on items, and now, for paying with a linked credit card (including their most recent partner MasterCard). ”

Technology-wise, Shopkick makes good use of both Push notifications to alert Shopkick app users of new features and specials and A2P SMS to communicate with its users and, as well as P2P SMS to help acquire more users.

Well-informed brick & mortar retailers would do well to leverage as many Foursquare/Yelp/Shopkick capabilities as possible, as this will bring consumers to their locations.  Moreover, as we all know, if we can get them in the store, we can also overwhelm them with great customer service.

 

When speaking of customer service, let’s talk about what one of the pinnacles of customer service – Neiman Marcus — has done.  First off, Neiman Marcus is famous for their high level of personalized one-on-one customer service.   Yes, they are a luxury retailer, but their customers demand it.  There are many famous stories about how Neiman Marcus has come through in extremely unusual situations for both big-spending and small-spending customers alike.

Earlier this year, Neimans gave all of their on-floor sales associates iPhones and made sure they all learned to use them.  Now your Neimans shopper will send you a picture of those newly arrived Manolo Blahniks or that Armani suit directly to your mobile device (e.g. via MMS) – in addition to the less-obtrusive text messages (P2P SMS).  In fact, Neimans recently reported that its associates sent or received over 200,000 messages in April of 2012 — and that’s all P2P messaging as each associate has his/her individual phone number.  Further meaning, that is one to one communications – something Neimans excels in.

In addition to innovating usages of P2P message, Neimans has also launched their mobile CRM app from Signature Labs.   The app provides capabilities for both the consumer and the sales associate.  Currently, this is only deployed with a handful of stores, but it is expected to roll-out nationwide, sometime this year.

Among significant functionality, along with a modern, engaging look and feel, the sales associate version of the app capability will notify your personal shopper as you are walking in the store.

If you have “favorited” specific items, she might already have them available for you in your size, ready for you, when you walk in.  Neiman Marcus has made a very strong investment in mobile and is using it in very engaging ways to enhance the customer engagement experience.

ShopKick points and the uber-customer-service methods from Neiman Marcus are both divergent, but very good examples of how retailers can learn to attract and keep consumers coming to their locations by leveraging “mobile” technology and channels.  Some of these are simple.  Equip salespeople with smartphones; train and encourage sales associates to use these tools to reach out to their customers using simple, reliable channels such as P2P SMS and MMS.  Shopkick on the other hand, offers technology and incentives (e.g. kicks – a virtual currency) to get consumers into the store and further rewards for shopping and buying.

These methods can be applied for businesses large and small.  You don’t have to be a big-box retailer or luxury flagship to offer mobile-enhanced customer service or at minimum,  work with popular “check-in” apps to bring consumers to your business.

All of this, then prompts me to ask the question: “How is asking someone to ‘Like us on Facebook’ going to get them in the door?”  Certainly consumers can comment and interact with a retailer – but will retailer’s Social Media outreach prompt consumers spend money in the store?  I think if Facebook can further enhance the in-store shopping experience, then they themselves would benefit, as the highly popular Facebook would be another tool in the chest for brick & mortar retailers to fight back against the online world.  On the other hand, if retailers offer consumers incentives, using popular apps, and then wow them with engaging mCRM, further enhancing good-ole-fashion personal service, then the traditional retailers will have a winning combination, in an increasingly mobile-centric society.

Back to our original example of Best Buy – having to fight that showroom syndrome.  One of the remedies that Best Buy is trying to do is to become more like the Apple stores.    They’ve picked a very good example to follow.  Apple has certainly mastered the customer service aspect as well as the use of mobile as an engagement and incentive tool.

As we move to be even more reliant on our smart, mobile devices (remember, most of us still don’t pay for goods with our phones… yet – but that’s another story), we will see more traditional brick and mortar turn to mobile to literally pull themselves back from the brink.

 

 

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Let’s Talk About LTE Plumbing

Plumbing may seem like a strange word in a telecoms focused blog – especially one that highlights Long Term Evolution or LTE.  Still, that’s what it is.  Plumbing moves something from one place to another – typically through pipes.  In the plumbing that we all rely on, water or gas is moved to faucets, heaters, cooktops and other other appliances.  In the mobile telecom world, we have new and shiny LTE networks being deployed around the world.  To move all of that data between these high speed network island, we need plumbing – and that plumbing is called an IPX.   Peter Bernstein put it this way in his article: LTE and Roaming – Sybase 365 Leading the Charge: “Let’s face it, plumbing is not sexy.”

Plumbing is indeed, not sexy; however, for connecting LTE networks the “plumbing” such as the connectivity provided by IPX networks are very much required.  The primary reason to connect LTE networks via an IPX is to support subscribers roaming from one network to another.  LTE Roaming is well described in the GSMA document IR.88.

The use of the IPX as the inter-PLMN backbone is clearly defined in IR.88.  I leave it up to you to delve into IR.88, if you wish, as this provides very technically oriented guidelines regarding how LTE Roaming will work.  An IPX is recommended, as a single LTE network can theoretically reach many or all other compatible LTE networks via the single IPX connection.  Additionally, an IPX will support all of the necessary security and network performance requirements that are needed for LTE interconnection, as well as inter-working of a number of other functions.  As has been written many times before, an IPX may be used for a variety of services – LTE Roaming being one of them.

An Overview of LTE Roaming Architecture

Take a look at the GSMA IR.88 view of the LTE Roaming architecture in the diagram below.

The “control plane” means signaling and control messages such as those using the Diameter protocol – especially across the S6a and S9 interfaces; connections between network elements have

interface IDs” and are designated by a letter/number/occasional letter combination.  This also differentiates between the network elements that are active on both the Home network (hPLMN) and Visited Network (vPLMN).  The “user plane” is the actual data – that is email, voice calls, web browsing, rich communications, app data – the actual user data. 

 As shown in the next diagram, which depicts a “local breakout” scenario, the LTE device connects to the E-UTRAN which is the technical name for the LTE Radio network, which passes along “control” messages to the local (in this case, visited) MME (or Mobility Management Entity, the core network element that is used for a variety of functions, including management of the initial attachment for the attached device). 

  

 The MME then signals the Home HSS (Home Subscriber Server) via the S6a interface.  This request uses the Diameter protocol and the MME asks the home HSS about the subscriber that has connected to its network.  The HSS passed back to the MME information about the subscriber, including whether or not the subscriber is authorized for Local Breakout or Home routed traffic.

Local Breakout is a feature of LTE Roaming and enables the subscriber to reach IP services across the visited network’s   Packet Data Network (PDN).  For Home routed traffic, all “user data” is routed back to the Home Network (much like what happens in 3G networks, today).

In the next diagram, we have a view of Home Routed Traffic.  The Blue lines as well as the highlighted Network Elements outline the components that are involved.  I won’t go into details here; however, note the S6a interface point uses Diameter, while S8 is used for GPRS Tunneling Protocol (GTP) in most cases to reach the Home network.  

  

Now you can compare what happens in Home Routing vs. Local Breakout.  With Local Breakout  the Diameter protocol is also required over the S9 Interface between the Visited Policy and Charging Rules Function (vPCRF) and the Home Policy and Charging Rules Function (hPCRF).

Basic LTE Roaming call flows and architectural diagrams are rather complex stuff, but the point is to illustrate the importance of the amount “plumbing” necessary to achieve Quality of Service for LTE subscribers.  The IPX makes this seamless connectivity possible so that there is virtually no difference to the subscriber between services and quality of service while roaming vs. being in the home network.  This becomes especially important when some of those services include Voice over LTE (or VoLTE).  With services such as voice and video calling, the IP latency and jitter must be extremely low from end to end. Certainly the LTE (E-UTRAN) radio network will provide low-latency and high bandwidth between the device and the towers, but operators must also require QoS solutions for backhaul (the network connecting all of the cell-site locations together), as well as within the Evolved Packet Core (or EPC) and finally between networks (the IPX).

To further complicate matters, LTE Roaming must also support the concept of 3G fallback. This usually occurs when the visited network does not support LTE or does, but at incompatible frequencies.  In that case, the device will connect to the UTRAN (3G radio network), if it supports such frequency bands (and most LTE devices support both 3G and LTE frequency bands).    Details around 3G Fallback are not discussed here; however, if you are interested, there are either 3GPP and GSM standards documents that can provide the whatever level of detail you need.  Some of the architectural elements needed for 3G fallback (especially when one or both networks also support LTE) are shown in the LTE Roaming diagrams.

So as you can see from this viewpoint, there is significant amount of data exchanged in order to enable subscribers to roam from one network to another.  Furthermore, to provide and retain the QoS that the subscriber expects, there is no viable alternative other than the IPX infrastructure as the fabric to enable the roaming scenarios where subscribers will be expecting the same level of service as they would have in their home networks.

So, as you can see, it IS all about the plumbing.

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Mobile World Congress 2012: Wrap-Up Commentary and a BIG Prediction

The 2012 Mobile World Congress is now in the history books.  All of the 60,000+ delegates have returned home with renewed excitement about this multi-trillion dollar industry and the energy generated at this annual ritual of the mobile industry.

For 2012, there was significant MWC chatter around three-letter technology abbreviations: LTE, NFC, RCS, and OTT.   For all of these subjects, I and my colleagues could write books; however, today I want to focus more on LTE and OTT.

For those readers who have never attended a Mobile World Congress, but maybe have attended smaller trade shows or the spring CTIA shows, each and every one seems to generate energy around two or three key issues.  For me it was LTE and OTT.  Perhaps it is because we provide services around all these services; or perhaps because everywhere you turn, there are companies promoting their own products around supporting LTE roll-out.  LTE is designed to enable a wide variety of applications, but a key benefit is to better enable richer multi-media services such as RCS.  In fact, and especially in the European markets, RCS can be a clear differentiator for many operators to “take back the subscribers” from the grips of various OTT services.  Offering integrated contact lists, rich P2P communications, such as presence-based messaging, voice calling (including VoLTE!) enriched with video and images, RCS will help operators fully realize the benefits of their new LTE networks.

It was clear, from the new GSMA brand joyn (for soon-to-be launched RCSe services) announcement and several operator CEO presentations that the mobile operators are working very hard to take back the subscriber with superior products and services.  The GSMA says that “joyn makes everyday mobile to mobile communications more engaging.”  They also say: “It’s just there, it just works.”   In future blogs, we’ll talk more about RCS, what it looks like, how it works and where it is going.

The “It’s just there, it just works” quote reminds me of a similar quote from a certain fruit-inspired company, who, as I write this will be launching a new iPad, tomorrow.  Let me go on a limb here and make a prediction:  I predict that the new iPad 3 will not support LTE. I think, at this point, Apple would rather wait for further operator deployments (various sources agree that over 120 LTE networks operational by end of 2012).  Still, if the iPad 3 does happen to support LTE, and I don’t think it will, that would be a huge catalyst to get operators moving even faster (not withstanding multi-band support from many other OEM devices: Samsung, LTE, and HTC to name a few).  Otherwise, I would like to note that HSPA+ is quite fast these days.  My real life experiences (via SpeedTest.net), both in Barcelona and in my home areas of Virginia now give me in excess of 6 Mbits/sec download speeds.  Addtionally, LTE networks are still too fragmented in terms of frequency bands – an Apple LTE supported device would have to be targeted for certain regions, possibly supporting three groups of frequency bands  at minimum.  But, later in the year, as the LTE picture starts to further materialize, as more multi-band LTE chip sets are available, then let’s see what the new iPhone 5 (or whatever it is to be called) will do.  I think there will be more than a realistic chance of an iPhone 5 LTE support.

In the coming weeks, I will be following up with a more technical focused blog entry around LTE Roaming and technology.

Finally, I’m reprinting my MWC Daily article (appeared in Wednesday, February 29th issue), that addresses OTT impacts.  I wrote this to a non-USA mobile industry audience, as the North American market players are now quite familiar with our own brand of OTT services – it’s different in Europe and other parts of the world, and very concerning to many.

Over-The-Top Messaging Impact on Traditional SMS

In the last 2 years, new, potentially disruptive Over-The-Top Messaging service providers have emerged in the North American marketplace.  These OTT messaging providers, unlike mobile network operators who provide services across mobile networks, are not affiliated with any specific mobile network operator (they are not a Common Mobile Radio Service or CMRS operator). Instead, the service runs “over the top” of an existing broadband service.  We coined the term “NUVO” to describe them.

NUVO stands for Network Unaffiliated Virtual Operator, a specific type of Over-The-Top service provider. NUVOs are person-to-person communications service providers, similar to Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), except that MVNOs provide services on specific mobile operators’ networks.

NUVOs provide basic services such as voice, SMS and MMS, as well as various other services over any network — mobile or fixed. NUVOs are typically smart-device-based service providers (smartphones, tablet, iPod touch) that include companies and services such as Google Voice, Pinger (Textfree brand), Gogii (textPlus brand), MediaFriends (HeyWire brand), Toktumi /Line2, Enflick (TextNow brand), TextMe and fring.

A common NUVO attribute is that the service requires a new ITU E.164 style telephone number. The telephone number is typically assigned to each user or subscriber, who can then interact with others via mobile-style messaging, through voice calls or video calls.  Another common NUVO attribute is that they try to interoperate with the existing messaging, video or voice ecosystem.

In 2010 and 2011, NUVOs’ scope and influence grew considerably in the United States and Canada with subscriber estimates numbering between 15 to 20 million. Monthly message traffic now exceeds 5 billion messages per month to and from the Mobile Operators alone helping the overall messaging market to continue to show growth.

For this mixed messaging ecosystem to be successful there must be a variety of checks and balances in place, such that all participants respect the long established rules of the messaging ecosystem.  Most of the larger, more established NUVOs “play by the rules” and are very diligent about maintaining a robust messaging ecosystem.  Messaging hubs like Sybase 365 work hard to guard the messaging ecosystem against those that would take advantage of the tremendous subscriber reach through SMS.  Messaging hubs must be diligent against SPAM, as well as A2P style messaging that may attempt to pollute a strictly Person-to-Person (P2P) ecosystem. Service providers that do engage in A2P-style messaging activity within the P2P ecosystem may be subject to remedies such as traffic blocking, and reclassification as an A2P provider..  Furthermore, in the United States, the CTIA organization took steps in 2011 to establish a new set of Inter-operator SMS Guidelines to include “non-CMRS” service providers.  These guidelines not only apply to app-based service providers, but also fixed-line providers such as cable television & network providers who can supply SMS capabilities to their fixed line subscribers.   The new CTIA Guidelines provide a variety of basic ground rules with which non-CMRS providers must comply, further guidelines for messaging hub providers, and remedies to deal with those players who insist on operating outside of the norms for legitimate person-to-person SMS.

It is important to note that the NUVO category does not include non-SMS interoperable service providers such as WhatsApp or Kik, whose services require all subscribers to their closed messaging ecosystem to download a proprietary app to their device.  Those service providers do not interoperate with other messaging communities or mobile subscribers through SMS.  In a way, they are very much new Instant Messaging (IM) communities, further adding to the fragmentation of that space.

Recently, KPN in the Netherlands and other operators have reported their overall SMS traffic and revenues have declined, due in part to non-SMS interoperable OTT messaging providers (WhatsApp was specifically mentioned).  In the US and Canada, the NUVOs have chosen to inter-operate with the domestic SMS ecosystem via the messaging hub providers.  In other intra-country markets, that is not the case – messaging hub providers only being used for international interoperability.  Additionally, as noted earlier, NUVOs require standardized telephone numbers, which are more easily obtained in the United States and Canada.  In many markets dominated by GSM operators, domestic SMS is strictly accomplished through direct-SS7-based connectivity between GSM operators.  This completely leaves out the millions of devices that are connected, but cannot interoperate with this GSM-only SMS ecosystem.  This set-up may have given rise to a situation with unintended consequences.  The users of these OTT apps and devices are forced to turn to other non-interoperable solutions.  Consequently, the market gap for free (or very low-cost) messaging is being filled by alternate providers such as WhatsApp.

We should also note that there will be some MNO message cannibalization by such services as iOS5 iMessage, which goes over-the-top as well – but this service is only for iOS5 devices.  iMessage uses standard SMS when exchanging messages with iOS5 devices that have opted out of iMessage, non-iOS5 or non-iOS devices.

NUVOs are appealing to a variety of subscriber demographics.  Most NUVOs offer a basic or complete service for free, subsidized by targeted advertising within the service.  This model has worked quite well, as many NUVOs are profitable or close to being profitable.   Additionally, a NUVO and its subscribers are somewhat like a social network.  Within this network of users is a common platform –the app that each subscriber uses to engage with other NUVO subscribers or subscribers of other entities through standard SMS messaging. A NUVO with 10 million subscribers, all using the same app for messaging and voice or other P2P services can lead to an almost unlimited number of creative capabilities to engage these subscribers.

The NUVO market is becoming an awakening force in North America and there are a few NUVOs taking tentative steps in Western Europe.  As long as these new service providers are responsible citizens (not purveyors of spam, for instance) and they provide interoperability with the existing SMS messaging ecosystem, there is a good chance that they will successfully coexist with MNOs and by expanding the range of devices that can be messaging enabled, they will serve to increase the number of connected subscribers, increase messaging traffic and thus benefit all participants in the messaging ecosystem  – subscribers, NUVOs, and Mobile Operators.

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2012: The World WANTS to go Over The Top

No, this won’t be a 2012 type prediction of Armageddon!  But the mobile industry has begun the inevitable and likely irrevocable evolution towards an all IP ecosystem.  This also means that services – basic services such as voice and messaging have already begun to go IP – or “over-the-top” (OTT) ahead of equivalent offerings from the network providers themselves.

In the past two years, I’ve written and spoken extensively about the “NUVO phenomena” as well as impact or lack thereof on global SMS (and really MMS) volumes.  I’ve also discussed other non-SMS interoperable OTT players such as Blackberry Messenger, iOS 5.x iMessenger, Facebook Messenger and a few others.

This is a time of transition and I think it will cause considerable strife and struggle in some parts of the market, before the industry stabilizes around what it is to become in all-IP paradise.  In some markets, such as Western Europe, independent OTT players including the infamous WhatsApp are having a profound effect on GSM operators SMS revenues and traffic.

In the USA and Canada, NUVOs (interoperable with the ecosystem) got an early start and consequently MNO revenues and traffic have not seen the dramatic drop.   Both the North American and Western EMEA markets have strong mobile IP ecosystems.

In other markets, where smartphones are not so prevalent, there is less cannibalization from OTT players for voice and messaging.  In fact, just the other day, I heard a statistic (attributed to Tomi Ahonen) that 90% of the world still doesn’t use smartphones.  We all know that the “next billion” is coming from developing markets and we are already into that billion right now.   Our global mobile world will evolve at different rates – we all know that, but in markets where it is evolving faster than others, there is  and will be considerable conflict and discord among the major players.  Many analysts and operators point to the emergence of the OTT service provider as a major culprit.

But are OTT service providers the blame? I don’t think so.  These are innovative solutions that have taken the basic services that we all know and love – such as talking and texting – and rebuilt them, amended them, brought them to the new current technology.  The network providers built and are continuing to build wonderful mobile networks.   And why shouldn’t the gaps be filled by OTT services over these wonderful networks?   Yes, there are issues with many of them.  Some don’t understand the concept of interoperability with each other or the existing ecosystem.  Others are deluded that the world will ONLY use their service; therefore, they do not need to interoperate.

So, are the operators (and I’m speaking about the mobile operators, specifically, here) to blame? Again, no – let me explain.  Telecommunications operators are very regulated bunch – in the US included.  Basic services such as voice – the original phone call – are quite regulated and mired in long legacy ecosystem.  This is part of the MNO’s burden.  If they could, they would have moved to OTT voice on top of their own networks much sooner.  They really couldn’t and the regulatory agencies in various countries couldn’t figure out what to do with the already gap-filling, independent players that emerged to just do that.  Think Skype, Google Voice, and many others that now have pure mobile voice alternatives.

The blame lies with the subscribers.  You, me and everyone who are the consumers of all these new, shiny, twisty, twirly applications and services.  We use them – and many of them are free!  All we are asked is to look at some advertisements.   The good one’s even target ads and products to our own liking.  This is one of the catalysts that is changing the mobile industry.   These services work!  The good ones are indistinguishable from the CS-based voice or GSM/CDMA text messaging and MMS messaging that we’ve all loved over the last 10-15 years.

The result is that we see analysts talking to MNOs about how OTT is bad.  We also see MNO’s showing decreased revenue, profits, and traffic.  There is talk of banning OTT services, even regulation (gulp!).  Yes, we are in a time of strife in many mobile markets.  The early-adopter markets as we all know, will have to figure it out as we go along.  The ones to the party later on, can learn from what the early-adopter markets are going through right now.

The key for both service providers (OTT, traditional, value-add) as well as MNOs are to accept that these first shots (from the OTTs) are not meant to be provocative, but are filling a consumer gap – that is services that people want, but at lower costs and ways that can leverage all of this great new network infrastructure.   For OTT service providers:  They must play nicely, they must be willing to interoperate and bridge between the old and new – to work with legacy services and innovate to a new level of service.   Be disruptive, but not destructive.   For the MNOs:  You do OWN the network.  You built it.  Accelerate your own OTT services.  Embrace the good independent ones – it is them that will bring and keep subscribers on your network.

2012 doesn’t have to spell the end.  It won’t be easy.  And with apologies to Gartner, I am optimistic that this industry can avoid the “trough of disillusionment” before we reach the age of enlightenment once again.

 

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The Twelve Days of Texting

Worldwide, texting is a very personal activity – not withstanding the texting to short codes and receiving responses or alerts, roughly 90% of texting worldwide is to another person.  Globally, we still see SMS (or texting) growing.  Our global statistics continue to show worldwide SMS traffic growing, but certainly slowing.

We have a number of ways to determine the top “texting days of the year.”  For our role in the ecosystem in the last year, we have visibility to over half of the US SMS traffic and a very significant portion of the global country-to-country SMS traffic.  Consequently, we have to consider both the high volume US traffic in addition to the global country to country (including the US) traffic.   What’s considered high messaging days in the Middle East may not make a dent in the normal rates in the U.S. and vice-versa.  Messaging rates on major holidays or texting days also vary through the day – for example for New Year’s Eve, early in the day, we would see messaging rates at “normal” levels, but later in the evening, we’ll see the rates skyrocket to over 100% of normal.   Consequently, the overall traffic rise for the entire day would be significantly less than the peak hours.   For this reason, these statistics will look at the top 12 international days, which may be different from the more ‘domestic’ (or North American) view.  Finally, we’ll take a look at some of the peak hours in our US centric view of the SMS world.

For these statistics, we’ll consider the period from December 1, 2010 through December 1, 2011.

Typically reference days are a day or two days before a particular holiday; occasionally, it is the day after.  The criterion is simply the closest “normal” day to the highlighted day.  The percentage increase is calculated from that day or day/hour.

Internationally, in country-to-country scenarios, the Top 12 Texting Days were:

Rank

Day

Percentage Rise over Reference Day

1

New Year’s Eve 2010 (12/31/2010)

96.34%

2

New Year’s Day 2011 (01/01/2011)

80.44%

3

Day before Eid ul Fitr (08/30/2011)

47.93%

4

Christmas Day 2010 (12/25/2010)

41.63%

5

Valentine’s Day (02/14/2011)

31.27%

6

Eid ul Adha (11/6/2011)

30.32%

7

Eid ul Fitr (08/31/2011)

26.82%

8

2 Days before Eid ul Fitr (08/29/2011)

24.32%

9

Day Before Chinese New Year (02/02/2011)

17.80%

10

Mubarek in Egypt steps down – 02/11/2011

15.02%

11

Day before US Memorial Day – 05/29/2011

12.75%

12

Chinese New Year (02/03/2011)

12.50%

I’m not sure why 05/29/2011 made the list.  It was the Sunday before the US Memorial Day holiday. The major event that day was the running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race.

Now, if we simply take the top messaging days on our US-domestic centric node, by absolute volumes, our top 12 list, looks a bit different:

  1. 12.25.2010 – Christmas Day
  2. 11/24/2011 – Thanksgiving Day USA
  3. 01/01/2011 – New Years Day
  4. 12/31/2010 – New Years Eve
  5. 5/8/2011 – Mothers Day
  6. Friday – 6/24/2011
  7. 12/30/2010 – Day Before New Years Eve
  8. Friday – 6/17/2011
  9. Thursday – 6/23/2011
  10. Friday – 6/10/2011
  11. Friday – 7/8/2011
  12. 12/29/2010 – Two Days Before New Years Eve

In this list, we show four separate Fridays in the summer that were in our top 12 (by volume) texting days.  Summer Fridays, no doubt!  Before you ask how many messages we processed, those numbers are confidential, but suffice it to say, it’s well over 1.6 billion messages per day for all of these and more.

Now, if we change this up and compare certain days to “normal” days, we have the following:

Rank

Day

Percentage Rise over Reference Day

1

New Year’s Day 2011 (01/01/2011)

21.64%

2

Christmas Day 2010 (12/25/2010)

21.47%

3

Thanksgiving Day (11/24/2011)

13.10%

4

Mother’s Day (05/08/2011)

9.91%

5

Valentine’s Day (02/14/2011)

4.83%

6

Father’s Day (6/19/2011)

3.20%

7

Halloween (10/31/2011)

2.41%

8

US East Coast Earthquake (08/23/2011)

2.19%

9

New Year’s Eve 2010 (12/31/2010)

2.04%

I stopped here at the top 9, as comparing these days to “normal” days gets to be a difficult task as we then have to ask “what is normal?”  Those Fridays in June could be construed as being “normal,” yet they are a top 12 in terms of absolute volumes.  Summer is becoming a significant time for people to text; consequently, we are seeing some of our biggest days by volume in the summer.

Many events such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the US East Coast earthquake, the killing of Osama bin Laden did generate record messaging for certain locales or very short periods of time.  For example, in Africa, in the hour after the news about bin Laden was announced, messaging was up over 200% in the 1st hour and 86% in the 2nd hour after the news broke.  In the US, the SMS increased almost 20% of “normal” in the minutes that followed the breaking news.

The Women’s World Cup win by Japan created similar deviations from “normal” but not enough or for a long enough period of time to create a “record day.”   These days, significant news is more often “broken” over Twitter vs. SMS.  SMS (person to person) is still used, but as Twitter is a one-to-many micro-blog, it is better for disseminating news bulletins.

Speaking of Twitter, if we compare the top messaging days to the top Twitter days, most of the breaking news that generated the top Twitter days did not result in high SMS volumes, globally – sometimes certain region generated significant texts, as described above, but these did not translate to significant global volume uptakes.

Finally, I wasn’t going to include Christmas Day 2011 in these stats, but early numbers suggest that Christmas this year moves into 1st place for both absolute volumes and change from the “reference day” (I used 12/26/2011 – the day after Christmas).  The change from “normal” is 24.4%.  This clearly shows that SMS is alive and well and is widely used around the world as well as widely used in the United States for extending Christmas greetings.

I hope everyone had a peaceful and merry Christmas and holiday season.

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Messaging Gets More Crowded

Mobile messaging, especially SMS-based messaging, has seen a resurgence of usage in the US market; however, it is not necessarily carrier-based SMS that has grown.  There are a growing number of messaging apps and services that have been launched and announced, and services such as iMessage are just around the corner.   This runs somewhat counter to recent industry and general press, were we’ve seen articles stating that “SMS is dead (or dying)” and that non-SMS “chat” services are displacing true, mobile-SMS interoperable services.    Certainly, in some markets, non-SMS “chat” services have cannibalized some SMS revenues – especially outside of the USA and Canada, but in general mobile operator SMS (as we know it) is alive and well.   I’ve made the case, that by enabling and including 3rd-party, SMS-interoperable services (such as various NUVOs) in a GSM-only country, the MNOs can push back against the non-SMS chat services, as subscribers will utilize the NUVO-style services on non-mobile telephone devices. 

Recently, AT&T Foundry – described as “innovation centers that are home to our collaboration with tech leaders and start-ups to fast-track new apps, platforms, and more,” launched a solution called AT&T MessagesAT&T Messages - multi-device support

This new service, currently in Beta testing on Android platforms, enables users to make all of their messages (both SMS and MMS), voicemails and call logs accessible from multiple devices, such as PCs and tablets. At this point, I am not clear whether or not this requires that your AT&T text/multimedia messages require a different app vs. the native built-in app. And if you have an iOS device, then how does that play with iMessage, which should also use the built-in messaging app (which reverts to standard SMS when the destination is not another recognized iOS device)?   Are iOS-only communications, which are designated differently than SMS-based messages in the application, also available via the cloud to other devices?   While this sounds good, I think there are a lot of compatibility questions that are not addressed.  It should be noted that AT&T Messages is not a new messaging community or ecosystem – but one that extends their existing messaging into the cloud and thus additional devices.

As of this writing, iOS 5 has not launched yet, which includes iMessage.   Since the iMessage announcement, Facebook Messenger also launched, which does indeed interact, leveraging SMS short codes, with non-Facebook Messenger users via standard SMS; however, a non-Facebook user cannot independently address a Facebook Messenger users via SMS.

Another, non-SMS-interoperable messaging service from Samsung called ChatON was announced on August 29th of this year.  Like many “messaging apps,” this does not interoperate with the SMS ecosystem; however, this is targeted for multiple device families: Android, iOS, Samsung Bada, and Blackberry.  ChatON will also include image and video sharing as well as group messaging. I do not think this is live video calls such as what you can get with iOS Facetime, Fring, or Skype.  It is more MMS-like (but not compatible with the true-global MMS ecosystem).  While packed full of nice features, I have to note that as it is not interoperable with the legacy (and largest) SMS ecosystem, and everyone else that you “ChatON” with must also be using the same application.

With the addition of Facebook Messenger and ChatON, we now have two, rather large install bases of users that will use a non-SMS-interoperable messaging application.  It remains to be seen if these will cannibalize traditional SMS traffic and revenues from the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).  Certainly, in some countries, apps such as ‘WhatsApp’ have already done so.  In the United States and Canada, however, the app-based NUVOs have dominated the non-MNO “free messaging app” market.  While users are typically assigned an alternative telephone numbers, the usage of these, along with their traffic continues to grow.  If one includes Google Voice, Pinger’s TextFree, various Gogii TextPlus apps, the TextFree app, the Mediafriends HeyWire app, Toktumi’s Line2 app, the GroupMe app and Enflick’s TextNow app, I estimate that the overall subscriber count is in the 15-20 million range – maybe more.  I have also seen statistics that there are actually more of these apps loaded onto non-mobile-telephone devices such as iPod Touches and various tablets than onto mobile phones.  Consequently, they were the first and still lead in terms of bringing traditional mobile messaging to non-mobile telephone devices.   That interoperability has helped improve overall mobile messaging traffic grow in the North American market. 

While it is too early to tell, the recent non-SMS interoperable ‘chat’ launches have only further fragmented the app-based chat options.  While there is nothing that says these companies can’t launch their services, those that continue to assume that their brand will dominate the non-SMS “chat” space are somewhat deluded.  History is a good teacher and the most successful non-verbal communication medium in the history of mankind is SMS.  Why?  Because it literally reaches over 5 billion people and is now a very strong channel for short code based consumer outreach and in some markets mobile payments. SMS is ubiquitous.  That won’t change in the foreseeable future.

MNO based “traditional” SMS Is certainly under siege; however, various press articles’ notion that SMS is dead or dying is quite premature.  NUVOs are playing a great role in the overall ecosystem by offering alternative messaging applications and this should continue if the NUVO companies can continue to grow users and revenue, as well as offer innovative services that users will embrace.  AT&T made a good start by incorporating the cloud-based AT&T Message capabilities.  NUVOs have already been doing this for some time and it is probably a matter of time before we see more MNO/NUVO partnerships such as the Sprint/Google Voice partnership.

As you can see, the “messaging space”  is getting crowded and at some point, there will be a consolidation of sorts.  I will say that messaging and social networks go hand in hand, and someone will eventually offer a true NUVO-style messaging component of a social network that will indeed be a killer app.

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