SMS lessons from the Asian market leader
By Bill Bryant, Dialogic
Jun 6, 2007 12:58 PM
Short message service, or SMS, continues to be the most admired data application in the mobile network services market. Its popularity with subscribers requires ever-increasing capacity to handle demand and rewards service providers with increased revenue, but only if they can satisfy that demand efficiently.
Success with SMS lies in balancing cost and performance by choosing the best architecture and then building with the right components. In order to provide benefits to the service provider community, developers of SMS platforms must understand the big picture: how architecture and applications come together to deliver performance that anticipates and exceeds the needs of today’s mobile operators. And they must also be able to accurately predict the capabilities of underlying building blocks.
Cellebrum is a leading Asian value-added mobile services and solutions provider on SMS (as well as other platforms such as IVRS, WAP, GPRS and USSD). They hold specific expertise in the field of signaling an call processing. With an interest in open systems, Cellebrum has worked closely with Dialogic, using its signaling and host media processing technologies as the building blocks for Cellebrum architecture. Dialogic has pioneered the integration of components into SMS signaling systems for over 10 years. Cellebrum has also performed significant benchmarks using Dialogic gateways. The companies’ solutions are providing the next generation of SMS throughout Asia.
“With clear focus and a high quality of work, we have a large satisfied client list, and we enjoy a distinctive position in the industry,” said Saket Agarwal, chief operating officer of Cellebrum. “SMS offers a true ‘one-box’ solution to give network operators a competitive edge over others. It can directly be integrated with all of its SMS-based and voice-based services with exceptional speed and ease.”
Cellebrum offers a short message service center (SMSC) solution with industry-best features on a highly scalable and modular architecture. Working on the Dialogic SS7G22 Signaling Server, it has been deployed across nearly 10% of the Indian market through various operators including Spice Punjab, Spice Karnataka, Reliance and others. Cellebrum has deployed over 50 of Dialogic’s signaling servers in its SMSCs running live in Asia.
Cellebrum’s relationship with Dialogic has allowed easier horizontal expansion of Cellebrum’s services and solutions across various areas. It has enabled deployment of additional or new VAS (SMS or voice-based) services without any additional hardware/infrastructure cost. A single SS7 link terminating on a single signaling gateway can handle multiple voice nodes. Signaling is also ported on the IP network, which has allowed the set up of a central solution for multiple regions, further reducing hardware and infrastructure cost.
“The key to success was building an infrastructure that would cost-effectively expand mobile network services, provide rich feature sets and improved performance,” noted Lyle Cowen, product marketing manager for Dialogic. “We were able to help Cellebrum improve signaling strategies to keep ahead of the competition.”
Cellebrum clients can offer SMS chat and voice chat (where your identity remains anonymous), unified messaging, dating and entertainment features. Entering “cricket” on your cell phone or PDA will prompt the latest cricket match scores and details.
The explosive growth of SMS usage and users has driven wireless carriers around the world to add the ability to send brief text messages over their own networks to capitalize on the phenomenon. Nowadays, the addition of SMS services brings substantial value to a network operator's service offering. Yet, as the number of messages begins to grow exponentially, one of the major bottlenecks in the system becomes SMSC capacity and the long cycle it takes to upgrade.
For operators with heavy SMS traffic, Cellebrum offers an innovative load sharing solution where the mobile switching centre (MSC) shares the load for several SMSC units. This solution enables a server cluster to be seen as a single, large SMSC by the users. This provides easy and fast scaling of SMSC capacity just by adding server units. Dialogic’s open system architecture allows easy integration with various network elements.
A harsh reality in the SMS market is that higher volume has not brought service providers proportionally increased revenue because of fierce competition. The average price of a message continues to fall. Cellebrum is addressing this by reducing infrastructure and enhancement costs by deploying future-proof, high-density signaling solutions.
To counter the loss in revenue, mobile operators can employ the following strategies:
• Retain current subscribers by delivering a wider array of enticing services, which lowers retention costs.
• Increase the number of premium services to generate more revenue from popular, high-volume services.
• Introduce exciting new services that improve revenue per user and attract new customers without substantially raising advertising promotional costs.
• Use technical strategies to raise average margin per user, forcing costs down while scaling volume up.
The efficiency needed to lower costs while increasing volume requires an investment in more efficient network technologies. In the case of SMS, this need for efficiency has encouraged new architectural ideas from equipment vendors and enhanced solutions from traditional vendors.
The advent of extremely high-peak-volume applications, such as the mass voting required by popular television shows (1800+ messages per second!), significantly raises mobile operator costs. Together with an increasing pressure to offer SMS free-of-charge to attract and retain customers, skyrocketing operating expenses have prompted mobile operators to consider new architectures that promise to help them meet the demands of high-peak applications at a reduced cost. Cellebrum faces these high peak/high volume scenarios during major holidays such as Diwali and New Year’s Eve. These are handled through Dialogic’s robust high-density signaling platform, as well as its fully horizontally scalable architecture. Enhancing the capacity is just adding front-end nodes as opposed to major hardware requirements.
New architectures introduced the concept of the SMS router, which eliminates the need to store messages and delivers each message immediately if the recipient is available. Adding a router significantly reduces the cost of messages delivery attempts per second (MDA/s) and enables thousands more attempts per second to satisfy increasing volume requirements. To fend off the competition from vendors touting the new architecture, suppliers of traditional SMS architecture equipment have modified their configurations to allow direct delivery and SMS filtering, which has resulted in lower platform costs. The competition between older and newer solution providers remains fierce with some casualties, but such competition has helped mobile operators keep costs down and ultimately benefits subscribers. Solution providers have rapidly revised their architectures to reduce equipment costs.
Such is the case with one Cellebrum customer whose peer-to-peer SMSC had high input/output (I/O) and storage need. Cellebrum developed an SMS Accelerate component, which reduces storage requirements of SMSC substantially. The SMS Accelerate prompts delivery directly from memory and hands over only failure cases to the traditional SMSC model. That has reduced load on SMSC by 80%. Cellebrum has also redesigned the signaling network to achieve the highest possible throughput. The downward pressure on operation expense squeezes the price of SS7 signaling components, which can be more than 20% of the equipment cost for solution vendors or 10% of the total price to the mobile operator. Currently signaling costs can be as high as $200 for each MDA/s.
Delivering price-performance first requires an easily scalable and configurable architecture because a high-performance solution is not cost-effective if it delivers more or less capacity than is needed. While this is a straightforward concept, realization of right-size capacity in an SMS system requires precise management of messages and processing resources.
A reliable work distribution mechanism is critical, and that mechanism must be flexible enough to change size and shape to meet the varying configurations. Although architecture is critical, the nature of the application deployed has an extremely high value to the network operator. Enough processing power must be available for the application’s demands, and the best way to ensure enough power is to use the hardware acceleration available from either channelized links or high-speed links to process as many of the protocol layers as possible (such as from MTP3 up to MAP) on a signaling board. Again this seems straightforward, but it is important to make sure each application is written to take advantage of hardware acceleration.
SMS solution developers need to understand the big picture: how architecture and application come together to deliver the required performance and efficiency (in terms of MDA/s) that both anticipates and exceeds the needs of today’s mobile operators. But to actually build the ideal solution, developers need access to hardware and software components that deliver field-proven levels of performance in SMS environments. Only when the throughput potential is known will component pricing have real meaning in solution development.
The seemingly unbounded growth of the SMS market is constantly challenging technology and business models. Usage and volume continue to increase at the same time as intense competition creates pressure to lower costs in order to deliver an affordable service that will retain subscribers who are increasingly price sensitive. To find the perfect blend of performance and price for signaling solutions, developers of SMS platforms must be able to predict accurately the capabilities of underlying building blocks. Success with SMS lies in balancing cost and performance by choosing the best architecture and then building with the right components.