January 25, 2011

Going Mobile | The Emergence of Mobile Cloud Services

Going Mobile“Out in the woods

Or in the city

It’s all the same to me

When I’m drivin’ free, the world’s my home

When I’m mobile.” The Who

The Cloud

Cloud computing or “The Cloud” is Internet-based computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to computers and other devices on demand, as with the electricity grid. Cloud computing is a natural evolution of the widespread adoption of virtualization, service-oriented architecture and utility computing (and certainly a phrase that many believe have hit the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in Gartner’s Hype Cycle).

Regardless of the marketing froth surrounding the cloud, enterprises and consumer companies are taking advantage of the cloud to develop and deploy applications, content, commerce and social networks, and for good reason . . . the cloud provides a myriad of benefits:

  1. Global reach: Internet Protocol takes advantage of the collective network power and pervasiveness of the Internet
  2. Device independence: Any web-enabled device can access the cloud
  3. Scale:  Supports growth driven by even the most dramatic adoption increases
  4. Reduced cost & lower technical barriers: Technical requirements and costs associated with developing and deploying applications and services have never been lower

What’s Missing? A Cloud for Real-Time Services.

Today’s cloud-based applications and services are primarily non-real-time services where fast response or high performance may be desired or preferred but do not operate with strict constraints on response time.  Most browser-based applications or dedicated applications on smart phones share these attributes.

Real-time systems, such as voice, text, instant messaging and video communication applications, have strict deadlines relative to their response times.  They must function within these tight constraints regardless of availability or system load. To support today’s communication applications and the next generation of communication services, the cloud must be extended to deliver a set of Mobile Cloud Services,

So what kind of benefits should these Mobile Cloud Services deliver?

  1. Rich services: Enable “rich” communications such as instant messaging, video sharing and other applications that utilize contact lists and take advantage of user “presence”
  2. Flexibility: “On-the-fly” provisioning of new services and additional storage
  3. Simplified service delivery: Self-service portals with access to pre-packaged automation, single delivery and installation
  4. Cost effectiveness: Pay only for what is used, with little or no upfront cost
  5. Universal access: Users can access their information (e.g. contacts, social feeds, etc.) from multiple devices and remote locations
  6. Back-up: If a device is broken or stolen, data in the cloud is not compromised

Applying Cloud principles to real-time mobile communications offers the promise of greater efficiency, flexibility and simplified service delivery.  Moreover, Mobile Network Operators that embrace Mobile Cloud Services will deliver new services, establish new business models, generate new revenues streams and manage the costs of their legacy services.  But how?

How Can Mobile Cloud Services Help Operators?

Deploy new communication services

Rather than being relegated to the provider of “dumb” bandwidth, Mobile Network Operators can take advantage of cloud services to develop and deliver rich communication services that leverage the latest access protocols and smart devices.

For example, operators can launch 4G/LTE services that take advantage of 4G capabilities such as single number and multi-device delivery using the same universal mobile number; or (my personal favorite) a mobile video conference call, where the bridge connects / calls all the participants.  With this latter service I will no longer suffer the indignity of trying to simultaneously remember a 10 digit number, then a 6-10 digit access code, all while driving (wearing ear buds, of course) and suffering through the spotty coverage of my current mobile service provider!

Create a platform for new application development and revenue models

Operators can open up application programming interfaces (APIs) and allow 3rd party developers to take advantage of these capabilities in creating new applications and new user experiences.  Analogous to Facebook’s application platform or what Apple is providing with it’s iOS and Google is doing with Android, the benefit to 3rd party developers is not only the technology itself but also access to customers via the operator’s network.  Operators benefit through new growth and revenue opportunities, not to mention the air of being progressive and relevant.

Some examples of published web API’s that allows 3rd parties to create new experiences might include:

  • Interactivity: Gaming providers create a group experience by including voice and/or chat as part of game
  • Multi-platform: Allowing gamers to play the same game on multiple devices (e.g. from the latest iPad to a low-end PC)
  • Enterprise mobility: New mobile apps that allow corporate users to access company data, share files, and collaborate on projects and more via their smart phones.

Deliver legacy applications on lower-cost infrastructure

Operator challenges are not limited to finding ways to (develop), deploy and support the latest mobile applications – they are also expected to continue to reliably deliver a whole host of older applications and services, often in the face of downward pricing pressure.  Mobile Cloud Services helps them meet this challenge by allowing operators to deliver services to 2G and 3G mobile devices, while eliminating the costs associated with maintaining older gear such as Short Message Service Centers (SMSC), Multimedia Messaging Service Center (MMSC) and Mobile Switching Center (MSC).  Furthermore Mobile Cloud Services such as IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) Centralized Services offer a lower cost, evolution path to replace legacy mobile switches with an IP cloud-based voice core network.

Who will benefit from Mobile Cloud Services?

Mobile cloud computing creates exciting new opportunities for mobile network operators; basically any forward-looking 3G or 4G operator can benefit from Mobile Cloud Services by allowing them to deploy new rich communication services, create a platform for new application development and manage legacy services with a lower cost basis.

New services, business models and revenue

Mobile Cloud Services provides operators with a set of real time network capabilities, such as voice and video calling, presence, IP messaging.  These can be then be used to package and deliver services directly to their end user; and can be opened up to partners to help them build the next generation of applications and customer experiences that leverage the operators’ network.

Lower the costs of legacy apps

Reliably deliver services to 2G and 3G mobile devices, while eliminating the costs associated with maintaining older gear such as SMSC, MMSC and MSC.

Conclusion

Mobile Cloud Services extend “The Cloud” to provide support for real-time applications and services.  By embracing Mobile Cloud Services, operators can transform their core network to develop, deploy and monetize new mobile services; manage capacity and allocate bandwidth dynamically across services, as needed; and reduce the costs associated with delivering and supporting pre-existing, legacy applications.

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