We recently announced the world’s first global activation system for small cells and femtocells, incorporating Akamai’s Electronic Software Download solution.
Understandably, the initial focus was on the speed and scalability of this new system from a user experience perspective, essential as market volumes take off. But in fact this system is having a profound influence on the small cell ecosystem, the resilience of devices in the field and the flexibility of operators to evolve their small cell infrastructure.
Part 1: Enabling a Simpler, More Secure Supply Chain
Small cells, especially residential femtocells, place unique operational demands on operators. Unlike macro base stations, they are deployed in massive numbers and installed by consumers, so automation is essential. But unlike other mass market home devices, such as broadband routers or set-top boxes, femtocells are components of a secure mobile network, which introduces extra complexity and potential vulnerabilities.
Today, most femtocells are managed by proven TR-069 and TR-196 systems initially designed for broadband products. But these management systems are located beyond the operator’s security gateway and so require security credentials for the femtocell to reach them. That in turn means that this sensitive information has to be added at the factory, introducing cost, complexity and a potential vulnerability at the start of the supply chain. Many of these processes are completed manually today, which contributes to activation times taking many hours to complete. It also means that every factory producing femtocells requires a secure signing authority system, meaning an operator or systems integrator would face increased device security management and complexity by working with more than one supplier.
Ubiquisys small cells are different. Operators can work with a variety of manufacturers to produce devices using the Ubiquisys Femto-Engine system. These devices carry neither software nor device and operator security credentials, so no factory-based signing authority is required. Units intercepted in the supply chain are useless and can be permanently blacklisted. There is no risk penalty for operators to work with multiple suppliers and the reduced complexity makes it easier for new device manufacturers to enter the femtocell market.
When a customer plugs-in their femtocell, it performs its only available function – it connects to the Activation System to be authenticated (checking device, customer and environment information) and then receives its security credentials and Femto-Engine software. Only then can it connect to the operator network and begin operation, and be managed by the standard TR-069 and TR-196 systems.
In part two (next week), I’ll explain how the Activation System is making residential femtocells more resilient in the field, leading to lower customer return rates, and how it gives operators more flexibility in evolving their small cell infrastructure.