Mobile operators are constantly asking Procera how we keep up with application signatures. The rapidly evolving mobile application landscape is making signature updates even more critical, as new applications are launched at what seems like a mile a minute. Our R&D team sometimes feels like the proverbial dog chasing its tail, as every week there are tons of new mobile applications launched in the App Stores for the major mobile operating systems.
Mobile applications are the driving force in the new mobile data economy. Consumers do not have smartphones just for email anymore. Rather, they utilize them for social networking, video streaming, photo sharing and real-time search/navigation. A mobile operator looking to capitalize on the latest and greatest application craze wants to market its service to capitalize on these new “hip” applications. Early adopters in particular, present an opportunity for operators who take the lead on creatively marketing new services at zero cost or who offer reduced rates as part of a promotion. A growing number of mobile operators are looking at how they can jump on this opportunity. To do this successfully, they need to be quick off the mark with new applications.
The good news is that not all applications are created equal, and many are simply web front ends for a smartphone (sometimes just to get around the restrictions on in-app purchases by some App Stores). In these cases, a simple Virtual Service (which is a capability that we have for a customer to create their own signature) created to capture a specific type of traffic to a specific site will allow the mobile operator to create new services or zero-rate/exempt traffic from usage quotas in a matter of hours—not months as was the case in the past. The challenge is that many systems just classify these applications as HTTP, which does not allow for service differentiation, and an operator cannot create services based on these applications.
More complicated applications (messaging, VOIP and sometimes streaming video/audio), are another matter completely. Skype, Viber and Spotify are all examples of applications that can change the way they operate depending on the network bandwidth, attempts to limit their bandwidth or even the device on which they are running. These applications require a fast-moving development schedule, and sometimes cooperation between the operator and the vendor to ensure that traffic is properly classified. If you are charging (or NOT charging) based on a specific application, you better get it right!
For applications like this, we use a number of methods to keep our signatures up-to-date (some of which I won’t go into here in order to keep our secret sauces secret), but one of the critical capabilities that any mobile operator should be demanding of their vendor is keeping signatures up-to-date. A follow-up question is “How often do you update them?” An answer that has the word “month” or “with new firmware” should set off alarm bells. The mobile application landscape is moving way too fast for operators to be hobbled by slow signature updating. If you cannot get a new signature or launch a new service in a matter of weeks, you are not being served well.
Mobile operators that have the ability to innovate with new services and roll them into production quickly will win the battle for consumer hearts, as well as consumer wallets. A new service that allows a customer to sample a streaming service for a few weeks as it launches is a great way to let consumers decide if they like the service without heavy financial penalties (especially with unlimited data plans going away), but also for an operator to market its service to specific demographics that will use the service in the future. It also enables the mobile operator to give its consumers services that they WANT, and turn that into customer loyalty and stickiness.