Mediation finds a new and growing role as an NFV gateway
Ten years ago the business of mediation was mainly a matter of collecting records from, say, a long duration call, adding them up and then just shipping them onwards, usually to a billing application. The role of mediation in 2016, however, has changed beyond all recognition.
As Jeremy Cowan finds in conversation with Danniel Elmbear, head of DigitalRoute’s Billing Mediation product team, today it’s more about connecting different systems, enabling new services in real time and opening up capabilities that aren’t there if there is no mediation system.
Mediation in a telco context used to be a billing-related function; perhaps it’s now the wrong word as what we’re talking about is broader; a ‘data integration technology’ within which billing-related mediation is just one aspect. So, what are the differences between old and new?
“Modern mediation systems have become much smarter, not just at collecting data but also manipulating and forwarding it to a much broader array of downstream applications than just billing,” said Elmbear. “On top of that, mediation-based Policy Control has been introduced in the past few years. Ditto OSS Mediation. And also Usage Management and KPI management. All of these Use Cases change the nature of what mediation is.”
Elmbear believes it’s changing from a ‘see this, do that’ system, to a smart application that can help the telco user to make the right decisions.
Spare a thought then for carriers still relying on legacy mediation products. They’re probably missing out on opportunities that ‘modern’ mediation could provide. Many of these telcos have point solutions doing only parts of what the latest mediation applications can deliver.
One example Elmbear cites is this: “If you have a legacy mediation system, you’re likely to be processing a lot of billing records and then sending them through your online charging system, which is an extremely expensive way of going about the process.”
With a Usage Management functionality, you can divide those records into self-defined buckets at the mediation stage, thereby bypassing the need for an OCS. As a result, you can offload your online charging system, saving you a lot of money and unnecessary throughput.”
Elmbear continued: “Furthermore, if you send all of those events to the other systems (not just the OCS but others, too) it may well overload them. They’re not built for the kind of data bandwidth that modern networks generate. But if you can pre-process events in Usage Management you can extend the legacy systems’ lifetime and increase its ROI (return on investment) by lessening its workload and so improving its performance.
With everything moving towards the cloud, and NFV and SDN deployments now shaping up, does mediation add value in this transitional area of telco?
“Clearly,” said Elmbear. “I don’t think any operator will go from a traditional architecture directly into a full 100% NFV / SDN architecture. So there needs to be an intermediate step – and that offers a logical and straightforward role for a modern mediation system. Using mediation, you can direct or orchestrate data; separating what goes to the NFV systems and what goes to legacy. Mediation bridges between the two environments.”
If you think of a virtualised network function from a data perspective, virtualised deployments are really just another box in a series of boxes. To mediation, it doesn’t really matter whether the next box is virtual or on-premise or whatever. The point is, it generates data. So an NFV or SDN really just presents you with another data source to integrate with everything else in your IT. With a modern mediation product you have a way of integrating that new element (which in this case happens to be a virtual one) into your IT infrastructure quickly and easily.
That makes the mediation product a gateway solution in the major transition the industry is now facing. How widely is this understood?
According to DigitalRoute’s head of communications, Keith Brody: “In the Cloud, you can think of mediation as a sort of supplement to what telcos presently call a MANO (Management & Orchestration) layer. Mediation enhances the effectiveness of your MANO by controlling the data in a way that increases your options and manoeuvrability, letting you gain more value from it. Put it this way; MANO is MANO; Mano + Mediation is a turbo-charged orchestration function.”
How, then, can carriers benchmark the return on investment for modern vs. legacy mediation products?
There are many ways, but Elmbear says an interesting one is measuring the time it takes to launch a new service or modify an existing one. “I was thinking recently how quickly many operators worked to offer free calls to France during the terror attacks earlier this year. They responded within hours rather than weeks or months. Of course, you can apply the no-tariff in hindsight for your postpaid customers but for all of those on prepaid contracts you have to act in real-time. This can be enabled at the mediation rather than rating or billing stage.”
Another traditional measure of billing mediation’s effectiveness says Elmbear is the reduction in data records that need to be processed downstream. In one example he cites, a Tier 1 operator in Europe experiencing a rapid rise in data volumes a couple of years back placed DigitalRoute’s MediationZone ‘in front’ of its legacy mediation – thus precluding the need for replacement and continuing to cash-cow legacy.
Using the Usage Management extension not found in legacy mediation products, along with MediationZone’s core functionality, allowed the telco to deploy a flexible workflow engine that enabled advanced filtering, merging and aggregation. Both time-based and session-based aggregation were quickly put in place.
In the project’s first stage, downstream systems included data warehouse, revenue assurance and disclosures streams. In the second, time-based aggregation rules and domestic usage were installed. To date, the outcome of these steps has been a decrease of up to 90% in data volume sent downstream. That’s time and money saved, and efficiency dramatically increased.
The author of this blog is Jeremy Cowan, editorial director of IoT Now
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