Archive for March, 2013

This month’s correct answers came from three times winner Lionel Griache at ProactiveRA, and Srinivas Chikkala from India.

To solve LTT-03 some basic CDR reconciliation matching between MSC1 & MCS2, to the interconnect I/C Gateway was required. The results would show there are some CDRs present at the interconnect I/C Gateway, but are not present on MSC1 or MSC2. The missing CDRs correspond to off-net calls with a short duration of under 5 seconds.

Browsing through the CDR data of both MSC1 & MSC2 shows there are no calls under 5 seconds of duration, which indicates the problem could also include on-net calls as well. Although it is not possible to determine if the calls originated from either MSC1 or MSC2, the lack of calls under 5 seconds in them both points to the problem being in the two switches. Therefore, the most likely cause of the revenue leakage will have to be answer C – MSC1 & MSC2.

The next LTT will be published on Monday 15th April.

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What are the ‘bad neighbourhoods’ of the internet? They are the networks where malicious sources of malware and spam are most often found. And now a map of the bad neighbourhoods has been made publicly available, thanks to the PhD research of Dr. Giovane Moura, conducted at the University of Twente. As Moura explains in his dissertation:

If network security engineers… want to reduce the incidence of attacks on the Internet, they should start by tackling networks where attacks are more frequently originated. If a user… wants to be safer on the Internet, he/she should avoid (or at least be much more careful) connecting to computers located in such networks.

So which are the worst neighbourhoods? Moura found that BSNL of India, Saudi Telecom, the Pakistan Telecommunication Company, the Vietnam Data Communications Company, and Telefonica del Peru were the top 5 sources of spam, in terms of absolute number of spamming IPs. The top 5 organizations in terms of absolute number of phishing IPs were: Bluehost (USA); OVH (France); WebsiteWelcome (USA); Main Hosting Servers (USA) and Universo Online (Brazil).

Moura’s research also includes advice for how to secure a network. Specifically, he concludes that network administrators are better off using blacklists obtained from public third-party sources.

For the full findings, Moura’s disseration is available here. We congratulate Giovane on obtaining his doctorate, and wish him success with his future work.

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cVidya, the Israeli software vendors, have announced that Dr. Steffen Roehn will join their advisory board; see the press release here. Roehn was formerly the CIO of Deutsche Telekom Group, and before that he spent a decade serving as IT Director of T-Mobile Germany. He commented:

cVidya is poised for considerable growth…

…which should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed cVidya over the years. However, he did not elaborate on the factors that would drive growth.

The news that growth is expected fits with comments made by Frost & Sullivan last month, when they announced that Subex had the largest share of the ‘CSP financial assurance’ market. Their analysis concluded that Subex had 20.1% of the total market, compared to just 13.9% for the second-largest player. Frost & Sullivan said this about the market:

An important and growing market that was estimated at $470 million in 2012, CSP financial assurance is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.8 percent to reach $765 million by 2016.

They also said that Subex was…

set to outpace competition and grow its market share further in the coming months.

However, the Frost & Sullivan award came just a few days after Subex’s results for Q3, which were well down year-on-year.

The big fall in Subex’s revenues, and the collapse of Connectiva, highlight that not all growth is good. In the past, I have highlighted some suspicious inconsistencies in cVidya’s reports about unbroken growth. Not all growth is sustainable, despite the implied simplicity of an analyst’s CAGR projections. Growth is easier to attain if you intend to grow losses rather than profits, but losses are not sustainable. Revenue assurance is not new, and companies like Subex and cVidya can no longer think of themselves as startups. Subex is a publicly traded company. cVidya is competing with a publicly traded company and half of it – the pre-merger ECtel – used to be public. When it comes to analysing performance, focusing on growth is becoming tedious. Whether the forecasts come from a former exec or from a sector analyst, they need to evolve and say more about profitability. Otherwise, suspicious customers will walk away from suppliers who are definitely here today, but might not be there tomorrow. Business assurance is typically pitched as a way to improve the telco’s bottom line. Vendors like Subex and cVidya need to do the same, finding ways to improve their own bottom line, instead of concentrating all their attention on growing sales.

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Welcome to this month’s lunch time teaser; A practical RA problem, which is solvable within a 30 minute lunch break.

The Challenge

You work for a mobile network operator that offers post-pay voice services. A high-level control reconciliation performed by the billing team between the post-pay and the interconnect billing system, (shown red in the simplified network schematic below), highlighted some unexpected anomolies. The CFO is concerned there may be some revenue leakage and asks you to investigate further. He needs an answer within 30 minutes because he has been summoned to an urgent board meeting to explain the recent decline in revenue.

Unfortunately, both the post-pay and interconnect billing systems are down due to an essential IT upgrade, however, CDR data is available from MSC1, MSC2, and also from the interconnect I/C Gateway.

The interconnect billing system rates both inbound and outbound calls for integrity.

Question:

From the data you have available, what in the network is most likely to be causing the recent decline in revenue?

A – MSC 1

B – MSC 2

C – MSC1 & MSC 2

D - Interconnect I/C gateway

E - All three switches

Please email your answer to lee@talkRA.com.

The answer will be revealed in two weeks time, along with the names of the first 3 correct answers.

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We recently wrote about the US petition to allow mobile phones to be unlocked, which was prompted by a change in the application of US law. In short, the pro-copyright DMCA law was extended to make it illegal to unlock a mobile phone, an example of government overreach which is both unjustified and against the interests of consumers. Thankfully, the official response to the petition was surprisingly favourable.

The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties. In fact, we believe the same principle should also apply to tablets, which are increasingly similar to smart phones. And if you have paid for your mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.

So what will the US government to fix this mess?

The Obama Administration would support a range of approaches to addressing this issue, including narrow legislative fixes in the telecommunications space that make it clear: neither criminal law nor technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer bound by a service agreement or other obligation.

It is worth noting that this does not mean the government will execute a complete reversal. Violating a contract is not the same as committing a crime. However, this statement only speaks against criminalizing those who are no longer bound by a contractual agreement. Saying that criminal law should not be applied to consumers who are no longer bound by a service agreement is not the same as saying criminal law should not apply to unlocking phones. In that sense, the US government may still retain the legal power to imprison consumers for 5 years if they violate the terms of their contract with their telecoms service provider – and this is still a massive and undesirable extension of government enforcement into a purely civil matter.

The common sense approach of the White House was somewhat forced by the Chairman of the FCC, the US comms regulator, when he issued a statement saying:

From a communications policy perspective, [criminalizing unlocking] raises serious competition and innovation concerns, and for wireless consumers, it doesn’t pass the common sense test. The FCC is examining this issue, looking into whether the agency, wireless providers, or others should take action to preserve consumers’ ability to unlock their mobile phones. I also encourage Congress to take a close look and consider a legislative solution.

It is common sense that when somebody buys a phone, they should be free to use it as they please. It is also common sense that if certain conditions were attached to the purchase, then the vendor should have a legal right to sue if those conditions are violated. But it does not make sense for telcos to watch their customers being fined or even imprisoned by government because the customer broke the terms of a contract. That means the telco has lost control over the relationship with the customer, and is letting the government get too involved in how a private business manages relations with its customers. Nobody wants to see a telco Customer Services function spending a lot of time negotiating with a government-appointed prosecutor over the fines that the government will impose on a customer for violating the contract between customer and telco. Smart telcos will not just applaud the common sense advocated by the Obama administration thus far, but will want government to go further, and completely reverse this unhelpful trend towards the criminalization of civil agreements.

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