“Knowledge is power” or (to quote G.I. Joe) “knowing is half the battle” – a keen awareness and a deep understanding has long been considered the key to practical command of any field. The more you know about a thing, the better you will be at using it effectively. This applies equally to mobile networks.
We have previously stressed the importance of transparency and understanding the network. But what does this mean in practice? A clear picture of the profile and volumes of traffic is vital to determining the value of an MNO’s messaging; but determining how traffic traverses the network is perhaps even more important, since doing so tells us how to better control that traffic flow.
A comprehensive testing scheme involves several phases, the result of which is a deep understanding of existing and potential vulnerabilities like grey routes, SIM boxes, and poorly controlled connections.
Network stress testing
The first step is a comprehensive audit of traffic handled by the network. This tells GMS and the MNO a lot about where messages come from and consequently how they reach subscribers. By analysing a variety of A2P services we can determine how much traffic is not being charged appropriately.
For instance, altered alphanumeric IDs (especially if the service name is replaced by a generic, often local, number) are an indication that an A2P message has been manipulated so it can be sent via cheaper P2P channels. In some cases, this also provides valuable insights into possible delivery routes, enabling us to identify dishonest actors in the ecosystem.
To build up the best possible picture of the situation, it is essential to have a lot of samples, to create a statistically significant set of results. Over the course of a few days, GMS runs around a thousand tests on the top 20 international services. This gives us a wealth of information about the way traffic from some of the major brands is making its way into the network.
By emulating real end user scenarios – authentication, password reminders, and so on – we can build a picture of how SMS service messages interact with the network in a short period of time. We also test on various devices and with different language settings, to ensure we get a complete overview and pinpoint which routes are potential risks.
Review and report
The entire stress test can be completed without any input from the MNO, which simplifies matters but also means GMS likes to invite the MNO to check the results for themselves.
As part of this, we provide detailed reports, classifying potential problems. “Green” channels are obviously good – they are properly monetized and traffic is routed appropriately. “Red” channels are those that are clearly illegal or in direct breach of an operator’s agreements with their partners, and they should insist these are remedied immediately.
“Yellow” channels are more nuanced. Certain grey routes, flash calls, and other workarounds are not illegal, nor in violation of the letter of contractual agreements. However, they are damaging to the MNO’s bottom line.
Testing and analysis is not limited to connectivity and routing. Legal and commercial examination complements more technical analysis by looking at the causes of the “yellow” – licit but problematic – network issues.
GMS also examines international messaging rates into the MNO’s market, to ensure deep and exhaustive testing of all possible routes. Excessively low rates (specifically, those below the operator’s own) can sometimes help to identify the sources of grey route traffic and similar bypasses.
Examination of commercial and local market conditions can also help with the next round of testing. This is the stage where, having examined and addressed the problems identified by the stress testing, GMS and the MNO set up and maintain a high level of protection by instituting daily reporting and testing.
It is at this stage that testing expands to encompass more services. Our expertise and wide-ranging database of services and manipulations allows us to prioritise those services most relevant to the operator’s business.
Combined with the operator’s own insights, and considering their priorities, we can then fine tune an SMS firewall to fit the particular circumstances and challenges faced by that operator. (Furthermore, if the operator has no SMS firewall, GMS can rapidly deploy and configure one with little to no expense.)
While less intense than the stress test, this phase is vital to the long-term health of a properly monetized network since it ensures comprehensive control while simultaneously providing ongoing protection. Threats constantly evolve, and so a program of ongoing testing and reporting is essential.
A complete Managed Services solution consists of several elements which when combined ensure rigorous control over the network. Testing and reporting are perhaps the most important diagnostic tools, and inform every subsequent step in the process.
Armed with a clear view of traffic routes, a coherent monetization strategy, and a stringent regimen of ongoing testing, MNOs can ensure the integrity and transparency of their networks in the face of a complex and ever-changing market environment.
GMS conduct exhaustive testing with minimal input from network operators, demonstrating where weak points may lie and suggesting solutions. We can offer this service with little or no commitment, lowering the risks for MNOs seeking to understand their network better.