Sunday, July 18, 2010

Telecom - Who Cares What Runs It...

Had it been year 1800, people would have laughed if we spoke about passing whispers from one corner of the world to other in not even a second's lapse. Indeed, the time was not so advanced and talking about such stuffs would only end up you in some asylum for the best treatment, which would have been directly proportional to the amount of investment you could have managed. Yes, I am talking about mobile communications.

You make a call from your mobile, hear the ring in 3-5 seconds, finish your conversation and hang up, send an SMS and it gets delivered in a jiffy, send codes to receive alerts on cricket, soccer, astrology, jokes, discounts and what not! And if this is not enough, you also get to know about complete usage by the end of the month with sufficient time to pay the bills. Life has become so simple, huh!?Think Again!

But before I proceed, which may mean CRAP for some, a small warning - "this blog doesn't concern those who do not want to go down the path of technology innovations". But I will try my best to keep it simple for those who have even a penchant for slightest learning about Telecom that starts with systems and networks. 

When you make a call, it is picked up by the tower (BTS) in your network/cell (your local areas are divided into smaller portions called cells) and thus sent to the controlling system (BCS), whose main purpose it to send it to some switch (MSC) that signals the other telephone via some intelligent networks (IN). Areas are divided into cells and every cell has a tower to provide signal to your phone. As you change from one cell to other, the signal strength reduces, but hey your phone is no fool. It sincerely tries to monitor the signal between towers and as the first tower fades and second tower increases its strength, it switches for better clarity and your location on your phone changes consequently.  

And what you can do with your connection and what not is defined by the form you filled, what plans you took and what services you ordered by calling the call center executive. All this data is stored at a place called CRM (Customer Relationship Management) that does the work from taking details from filled in form to starting the activation of your service and then monitoring your activities. All your bills (for post paid) are calculated in systems (Mediation & BRM) that convert them to rupees by the end of month and in a format which a customer understands. But for a customer, it is just the call center agents and the service provider shops that matter as they are the only touch points. Nowadays we do have web services also where you can change your settings or plans. Good for the companies as they save some cost in doing simple activities which even a customer can do sitting at home in his computer. Making a customer your employee to do self service do save a lot of money, especially when you see the numbers in millions.

Above all this is the integration between the systems. Endeavor to make all of them automatic is imminent so they could talk to each other without human intervention  and it is done by various companies. Some are good at CRM, some are at Networks and some at just Billing and Rating calls. To make a connection between these systems you require a middle ware that talks different languages to respective systems. A minor miscalculation may end up taking a toll on the whole system. Very tiring job and hectic to maintain, and thats why we have these solutions architects who work day and night to design and then maintain the systems so transition could be flawless.

Now if we see SMSs, they are done directly through the networks with minimal human intervention, thus supposed to be the cheapest of all. But still companies charge Rs 1.5 for an STD SMS to increase their revenue which is already dwindling due to the low rates for voice calls. Similarly a case for alerts which are cheap but comes at a price like Rs 30 per month You take three packs like them and you end up generating more revenue than an average pre-paid user. That is why post paid is sought after plan which Telecom companies want to roll out at large scale. 

Various other questions that surpass our intellect - say, who sits to make our phone paper bills interesting to read and understand, who does the checking if our number is genuine or not when you make calls, who keeps a tab on whether you are on roaming or not and what rates to apply, who does the bill monitoring and credit analysis, who does the address verification and how long do they wait to disconnect your services after you default on your payments, how do retailers get their commissions. Answers vary and lie with different systems and over all understanding of individual systems is a must, but we are not going in detail.

A latest development that we see nowadays is MNP (Mobile Number Portability), where you can keep the same number but change the service provider. But are the systems ready to do such transitions without error? Lots of checking and testing is to be performed while implementation and all providers must keep their schedules running for best results. With the advent of 3G and LTE (4G we call it), there is bound to be more questions coming. Markets may also ask for services wherein they want to have their calls paid by their dad, or my SMS to not billed by their company. Some simple questions with complex answers!!

From service providers' side, what should be on priority - network optimization to handle 12 million incremental customers every month, quality of call, portability, adoption to new networks because old systems do not support video calls, government norms for producing pre-paid bills which is difficult to maintain or new players' tariff wars, etc... Can't expect everything in one go from them, but as we say there is no shortcut to success, even players can not excuse themselves from  these budding problems. To start with, just ask yourself a simple question: why our sim cards have cut on one of their corners :)? Try finding this and you will have answers to many more questions... 

In the end, to the guys who understood what i wrote - Happy Telecom! and to others who didn't, title of this post still remains unaltered ;)

Friday, July 2, 2010

2020 - Casting Away

Steve Jobs started with Apple and took it to the heights where we all see it now with all its touch phenomenon. Emulating the same, many companies tried to reach its level but pioneer had carved out its niche space already. Amazing, Awesome, Astonishing, Scintillating and many other adjectives took places in our lingo when we first sat Apple iPhone. A Legend in itself with ample traces to track its existence.

We have already been through so much of Apple that we do not need a blog like mine to know its story. Rather, I would post on the recently read set of ideas from Ericsson that i came across that might come into being by 2020 - The ideas that we are talking here not only change our perception towards technology but may also make us totally dependent on them in years to come.

In total 76 ideas are in pipeline with Ericsson and some of them may be even in the production stage right now when we are reading it. Selected ones are mentioned below:

Eco Passport - I assume that the kind of background my friends belong, all know about carbon credits. It is credit in cash that you get when you decrease the amount of carbon footprint in atmosphere through your activities. Eco Passport is your personal identification and communication platform that not only shows your Eco balance but also shows balances of restaurants, hotels, shops, etc through a small window like screen which you can place in front of you to check the values. It also comes with an Eco Controller which can be used to read the bar code for the Eco value of the product. Hope we see it coming on cars (CNG) too so government could give us some subsidy on its usage by removing taxes :)

Translation Passport - Many a time we feel the necessity of having someone with us to translate the language of foreign national when we are on international roaming. Ericsson has this idea to come up with a digital window like hand held product that would show the translation in the window when you look though it to some foreign language and identifies it accordingly. Good for Sales guys!

Spider Computer - For some it is difficult to carry heavy laptops and desktops. What if we get a torch like computer that runs on your will. You can make it stand on a table and it will project the screen and keyboard. Use this virtual keyboard and screen to do your activities, shut it off and then take it along.Handy Comp!

Sound Walls - These are virtual walls that you can create around you to not let the sound go out. This is useful in places which are crowded or when you are discussing your personal things in public and would not want others to hear. This would also be useful to cut off the extra sound coming from outside. In short, you can talk on mobile in a very crowded area with bare minimum sound from outside a designated radius to pass through as interference. Can you hear?!

Digital Mirror - Looking for a place or standing in line for 20min to check if the dress suits you? No worries! This device lets you check the dress on your body without even wearing it. Just stand in front of it and it will show you the reflection with that dress on. As far as colors are concerned, change it as you like and vary the sizes. Good for shops where change room quantities do not match the footfalls.

Visual Credit Card - Usually we give a damn about the money going out of our credit card, because we know we can pay it when time comes. But while spending we do not see the actual practical effect of it in our balance. Visual Credit Card will display the amount you have in your balance on your card, which when swiped in a shop will show you the reducing balance. When you transfer the money from one credit card to other, you can literally see the money counter decreasing in one and increasing in other. I would love to have a card like this with very little additional cost as long as it reminds me that I may become a Pauper King by the month end!

There are various others that are posted on the site which can lead to a new level of video conferencing and virtualization in coming years.

We may also have a flying theater to run movies in towns where we do not have the connectivity or we can just convert our walls to theater screens and windows to speakers. But this is my idea ;)