Or  How Even A Marketing Promotion Can Create A Signalling Storm.

Data PlanBecause smartphone signalling has been such an issue for so many operators over the last two years, we’re always on the lookout for new information about how signalling works and how it can be improved.  And what we’ve found is that sometimes you need to turn to your Marketing department to lower signalling – or at least that’s what one major operator in Europe learned recently.

The operator was puzzled when they started seeing a huge increase in signalling traffic, at a much faster growth rate than had been observed previously.  The growth was so rapid that it very quickly threatened network stability, so something had to be done fast.  Using Nokia Siemens Networks’ Network and Service Assurance solution (which is how we know about this), the operator found that it was signalling traffic from BlackBerries that was responsible for the spike.  Drilling down further, they found that it wasn’t just BlackBerries – it was one particular model of BlackBerry.  And the data spike had started when the operator had begun offering that particular BlackBerry model as part of a recent special promotion – without a data plan.

It turns out that, unlike other handsets, BlackBerries are pre-programmed to connect to the network and to look for email updates automatically, whether they have an active data plan provisioned for them or not.  And this makes tons of sense for those people who buy BlackBerries to stay up to date with their mobile email.  But this operator’s “BlackBerry with no data plan” offering had attracted a lot of SMS users who wanted a keyboard but weren’t planning on connecting to the internet.  So what the operator suddenly had was a lot of new handsets on their network that were trying to make data connections without a data plan.  Connection attempts, connection failures, retries, more connection attempts, more connection failures, more retries – it was brewing into a perfect storm of failures and retries, which had built up to create that highly-visible signalling spike.

How did the operator fix it?  Two steps:  first of all, by creating an attractive, targeted data plan for these recent BlackBerry acquirers and marketing it to these customers directly (we used our Campaign Management solution to do this).  Second, by identifying which users had BlackBerry models and configuring the SGSN (Signalling Gateway) to ignore signalling coming from those handsets if they had no associated data plan (this was done with our Subscriber Data Management solution).

Through this two-pronged approach that involved both Marketing and Network Operations, the network crisis was averted and signalling was brought back under control.  Whew!  That was less painful than it might have been.

Moral of the story:  Never, ever sell BlackBerry without an associated data plan.  Or you’re going to be configuring your SGSN to ignore lots of extraneous signalling traffic, too.

To learn more about network signalling and how it works, check out our Smart Labs White Paper.

This post is by Leslie Shannon from our Network Systems team.

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