The challenges of WiMAX service activation: Over-the-Air provisioning in a retail-centric world

Changes must happen over-the-air

In traditional cellular networks, the operator retains primary control over the devices operating on its network, with most devices being directly supplied to the subscriber through the operator's retail stores or partners, and pre-provisioned with the operator's software or SIM card.

WiMAX will change this. Subscribers buying a WiMAX-enabled device will be able to choose the device model they prefer and buy it from an operator-independent retailer. Separating the device distribution model from the service delivery model will result in a strong supply chain of devices needed for successful uptake of mobile applications.

This represents a new operating model for the WiMAX operator - one that reduces the pressure to subsidize devices, maintain extensive inventory, and sell non-core devices to subscribers. But it does present some challenges:

- Most devices are not sold with the operator's firmware preloaded or locked to a particular WiMAX operator's network. When turned on, the device will look for available service from all operators with network coverage at the device's location. To sign up new subscribers, the operator must ensure that subscribers can detect the availability of its service and sign up in real time, and that the device is able to download the firmware required for services activation.

- A range of devices operating on the network can create complex challenges for customer support staff.

- The ability to push firmware to the device enables users to keep their devices updated, reducing customer support workload and cost for the operator. Ideally, device management, including firmware updates and device configuration, should be tied to the plan preferences of each subscriber and to an automated identification of the device.

- The ability to set different priority levels for subscribers becomes a requirement. Because WiMAX can support a range of applications such as VoIP, videoconferencing, or video on demand (VoD), the operator needs the ability to set QoS prioritization. Subscribers need to be able to change their profiles and seamlessly download the required configuration settings to their devices.

- Subscribers purchasing their own device will want to register on the WiMAX network at their convenience and select plan features they find most attractive, without having to visit the operator's store or call customer service.

What is over-the-air provisioning?

Over-the-air (OTA) provisioning enables WiMAX operators to address these challenges and differentiate their offerings through real-time subscriber self-activation and dynamic device management.

Subscribers can activate their subscription in real time, without the assistance of the operator's customer service representative. New devices can be detected at time of activation and the required firmware can be remotely installed automatically by the operator. Firmware and device configuration settings are pushed to the device, enabling subscriber-selected services. Future firmware updates can be automatically downloaded as required.

OTA provisioning provides two crucial benefits to operators - improved subscriber experience and lower operating expense - and offers the following advantages:

- Faster, consistent subscription activation.

- Efficient identification and configuration of new devices with new technologies, such as WiMAX, where the frequency of firmware updates is likely to be high. Up-to-date firmware ensures subscribers enjoy the most current device and service innovations through seamless updates.

As mobile service operators migrate to WiMAX networks, their business and operating models will also shift. Network operators need to solve the challenges of service activation, while offering superior subscriber experiences for new and existing WiMAX subscribers.

David Brooks is Managing Director for Bridgewater Systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

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