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In the face of unprecedented worldwide growth in the use of mobile devices, mobile network operators are severely challenged to deliver the applications and performance users are demanding. Bandwidth is limited and applications suffer from high latency. The lack of compatibility across legacy systems, including 3G, 2G and non-mobile communications providers, hinders the ability to provide seamless end-to-end services. And competing codecs, presentation formats and protocols make it difficult for users to access many of their desktop applications on mobile devices.
How can MNOs satisfy their customers’ insatiable appetite for apps while ensuring a high-quality user experience? The answer can be found in how Internet service providers solved similar issues nearly 14 years ago.
Today’s mobile infrastructure
Just like the ISPs of old, many MNOs today must contend with outdated strategies and legacy infrastructure. Some common scenarios include:
Restricted by a single IP service provider: Many MNOs outsource their IP connectivity from a single network provider, increasing their costs and restricting their options. In this model, the MNOs have no direct connection to their key traffic sources and no ability to prioritize the delivery of voice, video, messaging and mission critical applications. They are also at the mercy of the provider’s limited number of Internet access points, which leads to traffic congestion, over-utilization of existing connections, and a high-cost cycle of provisioning additional access in the same inefficient locations. Finally, a single network service provider eliminates the possibility of price competition and creates a single point of failure for mission-critical services hosted in cloud environments.
Poor customer experience with MNO-run applications and services: Today’s MNOs often host applications such as voicemail, messaging and storage in multiple data centers located far from population densities. This invariably results in greater latency and a poor customer experience. Managing these remote data centers is extremely expensive and the procurement process for bringing new services online is long, complex and costly. The transport of applications across long backbone links also puts increased strain on available capacity.
A failure to communicate: The tendency for most MNOs not to communicate with each other except through intermediaries means that over the years, they have used a variety of different technology standards. Today they require companies to sit between them to perform vital services such as settlement and billing and SMS and MMS aggregation. This is a very poor foundation for video transport. Not all video is transcoded the same way, and not all devices support the codec that the video was originally formatted in. The result has been extreme and constant user frustration.
The answer: Mobility hubs
A more efficient architecture for the mobile infrastructure is the same hub model adopted by Internet service providers to solve their bandwidth and interoperability challenges. The hub model is based on multiple, geographically distributed, neutral data centers housing complete ecosystems of service sellers and buyers that span the entire mobile value chain, including network service providers and service enablers; social networking, digital content, cloud and financial services companies; and enterprises.
Neutrality, direct connections and interoperability: Inside each hub, MNOs can connect directly to major traffic sources instead of purchasing IP transit. The presence of multiple network providers makes the hub a highly competitive marketplace where MNOs can negotiate better rates. Direct access via a simple cross-connect or exchange platform inside the hub, also makes it far easier, faster and less costly to provision new connections, which reduces operational and lost opportunity costs and allows MNOs to scale cost-effectively over the long term. Finally, direct access to an array of roaming, interoperability and messaging service enablers and providers lowers costs and ensures greater uptime and availability for these core MNO revenue generators.
The mobile ecosystem: To dramatically improve the user experience, the hub enables MNOs to connect directly to the top-tier providers of the services that are powering the digital age. Direct connectivity ensures an optimal user experience, and MNOs also gain access to a variety of potential partners that are already solving the compatibility issues that exist across the MNO’s legacy systems and between mobile and IP applications.
Global distribution: Mobility hubs solve the problem of proximity to traffic sources. Because the business model of neutral data center hubs depends on drawing in as many network providers, service providers and enterprises as possible, the hubs naturally locate in dense population areas and key markets around the world. This means that MNOs can locate their infrastructures close to their customer bases and the services their customers are demanding.
Co-locating in-house applications and services: Instead of hosting applications and services in expensive, remote data centers, MNOs can centralize their applications, content and services in a select number of hubs, driving down costs while improving performance and customer satisfaction. Locating infrastructure in major metropolitan areas instead of remote data centers can also reduce operational costs.
Reduced traffic and costs: Mobility hubs enable MNOs to reduce overall network traffic on the backbone by locating applications near high customer densities and connecting directly to the top mobile traffic destinations. When it does become necessary to purchase additional backbone services to connect regional markets, mobility hubs offer a competitive marketplace where MNOs can choose among multiple providers to optimize cost and performance, aggregate purchasing to drive down costs, and reduce provisioning time. Finally, mobility hubs offer the possibility of creating a competitive Ethernet exchange where MNOs can aggregate purchasing, provision capacity in near real-time and further reduce costs.
Today, few people or businesses think about their basic Internet connectivity for desktop computing. Using the hub model, ISPs consistently deliver the high-capacity, low-latency connectivity required for even the most demanding applications. Now it’s the MNO’s turn. To reach that same level of capacity and customer satisfaction, and to be able to cost-effectively scale their capacity and operations, MNOs should deploy in multiple, geographically distributed, neutral data centers and take advantage of the robust mobility ecosystems they contain.