Hung up on HLR: The tricky question of number portability data

By XConnect

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With the potential to usher in a new set of rich communications services and reinvigorate competition with over-the-top application developers, it’s no surprise that mobile network operators are racing towards Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE).

From high-definition voice, to native video-calling and instant messaging, IMS and VoLTE offer huge potential benefits for both subscribers and the mobile industry at large. According to Ericsson, VoLTE subscriptions are set to pass 200 million this year, but there’s more to come: some 3.3 billion subscribers are expected worldwide by 2022.

However, the global telecoms market’s wholehearted embrace of IP interconnect is also challenging the status quo in the back office, particularly when it comes to the tricky question of number portability information.

It’s time lookups were shook up

Mobile operators require rapid access to basic subscriber information to ensure high performance and efficient delivery for voice traffic and SMS messaging. Traditionally, home location register (HLR) lookups met this need, revealing details like a subscriber’s current mobile network, whether a number is active and the customer’s international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI).

Unfortunately, HLR queries also create significant security and privacy issues, from revealing sensitive details like a subscriber’s approximate location, to enabling SMS spam and SIM fraud. With the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now looming on the horizon and customer privacy becoming a hot-button issue, the mobile industry have been taking precautions to protect their information, and also searching for an HLR alternative that can fulfil the same requirements without compromising sensitive data.

Meanwhile, with the rapid rise of VoLTE, it’s also becoming clear that HLR access is not ideally suited to next-generation network services. A typical HLR lookup can take two or three seconds to receive a response – too slow for the growing range of mobile applications for which low-latency is critical. Rapid access to number portability information is essential for operators to interconnect their VoLTE services over the most optimal and cost-effective routes.

A new approach

To develop a faster and more secure solution than traditional HLR access, the telecoms industry needs a more centralised approach. By building a cohesive database for number portability information, data can be far more easily queried by players across the mobile ecosystem.

One of the benefits of a centralised approach is performance. Unlike sluggish HLR queries, a central database generally requires less than 20 milliseconds to yield a response. That makes a centralised approach perfect for today’s rising tide of VoLTE services and broader range of latency-sensitive applications.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. There are no existing standards for how such a centralised database should be structured, or even what information it should contain! With a wide variety of numbering plans in use around the world, it’s also certain that normalising and sorting this data to enable quick and easy access will be a considerable challenge.

XConnect’s long experience of running interconnect services and managing number portability administration across Europe makes us the perfect company to tackle this challenge. Building on our numerous industry relationships, we’ve already put in place agreements with several central number portability administration databases, integrating their information into a format that can be easily queried. Our Index platform can take number data from many disparate sources and formats, normalise it and make it accessible in a consistent fashion via a common API.

We’re now able to offer the telecoms ecosystem a robust, practical alternative to HLR queries that ensures not only the efficient delivery of traffic and top-notch application performance, but also enhanced security and privacy suited to the demands of the modern world.

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