Neustar: More than Just Numbers

By Peter Bernstein May 11, 2012

With the recent release of a white paper by Yankee Group, “Telephone Numbers Are Portable; Is the NPAC?”, I caught up with Neustar’s Steve Edwards, senior vice president, Carrier Services, for an update on what was going on at the U.S.’s administrator of the National Number Portability Administration (NPAC) to see not just what the importance of telephone numbers are, but what the future holds for them and the expansion of Neustar into other important infrastructure enabling businesses. It turns out that despite the move to all IP networks where voice will be carried on the Internet (think services like Skype) or over private and hybrid networks, and the move from IPv4 to IPv6 which will create millions of more IP addresses, numbering remains vital and is growing like a weed. But that is only part of the story. 

On the numbering side of things, this actually should not be surprising since phone numbers have been and will remain the way people contact people. The explosion of voice capable devices, not just smartphones but also tablets, in fact is putting pressure on local number administrators around the world as is the proliferation of machine-to-machine (M2M) deployments that leverage wireless networks. However, before getting into the need for numbers, it is useful to pull out some interesting factoids from the Yankee Group report which Neustar commissioned.

Making number portability seamless

As the press release of the white paper notes, the study looked at: “The Number Portability Administration Center’s (NPAC) performance going back to its launch in 1997 and explains how changes in the telecommunications landscape have made the critical role of the NPAC administrator both more complex and more essential.” The paper calls the NPAC an “essential infrastructure element in today’s network” and it finds that the “NPAC is not a ‘set it and forget it’ operation.” It asks and answers the question as to whether NPAC’s administration has been up to the challenge of evolving to meet the explosive growth and complexity of today’s environment with the following: “Has [the NPAC] scaled, incorporated new technologies, lowered pricing, lowered response time, maintained reliability and satisfied its carrier customers? By any measure of these criteria, the answer has to be yes.”

Here is why:

·         NPAC, during Neustar’s tenure, has scaled to become the largest LNP administrator in the world, supporting over 500 million numbers and more than 4,700 individual customers.

·         Neustar implemented eight major software releases and three platform upgrades, lowered pricing while expanding customer value, supported a wide variety of carrier migrations and product launches, and enabled (in conjunction with the FCC and industry partners) one of the fastest porting periods worldwide for American consumers.

·         NPAC has a customer satisfaction rating of 3.8 out of 4 and a service level performance record of 100 percent in 2011.

In lay terms, it means that the customer experience when you wish to activate a new device with your old number, or obtain a new number for your new device is a matter of minutes not days. And, as Edwards pointed out in our discussion, the white paper also confirmed the findings from a recent NPAC study by Dr. Scott E. Masten, Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business that NPAC services are best delivered by a single, tested administrator.

A gaze into the crystal ball

Edwards pointed out that Neustar is far from a one-trick pony. Indeed, the company really is in the business of providing critical services that are the plumbing that makes modern communications work not just for telecommunications carriers but for enterprises and even individuals. How so?

The information Neustar administrates, as Edwards says, “Provides three critical functions: authenticate users, devices and content. “For instance our recent TARGUSinfo, which has 75 percent of the real-time Calling Name (CNAM) market, is helping us help operators simplify their operations,” he stated. It goes along with Neustar’s expansion of services that have been gained via acquisition in the past few years which included:

·         Webmetrics, a leading provider of web and network performance testing, monitoring and measurement services.

·         BrowserMob, LLC, a leading provider of load testing and monitoring services and Quova, Inc., a global leader in IP geolocation services — allowing the company to expand services to help online businesses optimize their web presence and also detect and prevent fraud, ensure regulatory compliance, manage digital content rights distribution and localize ads and web content.

·         The Numbering Solutions business of Evolving Systems, Inc., which furthered the company’s long-term initiative to simplify operators’ OSS architectures.

Neustar’s three businesses —carrier services, enterprise services and information services — span a gamut of critical capabilities. These include in addition to numbering such things as DDoS protection, domain name registry services, information services, IP geolocation, security threat monitoring, web analytics, media and entertainment connectivity services, and mobile marketing support. 

Talk about Big Data. Edwards noted that Neustar, “has access to over 200 databases, a substantial database on demographics related to over 3.6 billion numbers, and 2.8 billion enterprise IP addresses.” He added that this is one of the reason the company is, “Pivoting toward information services while enriching our customers capabilities to help them transform their BBS and OSS environments to provide next generation services.”

The desirability of being able to independently authenticate people, devices and content in a world where such authentication will be the vital cannot be overlooked. This is equally valid in terms of the offering by physical and virtual service providers of all types as they look to having broad reach and provide compelling integrated/interoperable experiences for their users, as well as for security and performance monitoring reasons.

Big challenges lay ahead for service providers around the world in this respect. Juniper research estimates for example that there will be 253 million new tablets in 2016. This represents the equivalent of 31 areas codes for them, not to mention the over 500 million per year smartphones likely to be shipped. What is equally as daunting is the growth in M2M devices and applications. 

As Neustar likes to highlight, by 2010 (according to Harbor Research) there were 150 million connected M2M devices. This number is projected to grow to 390 million by 2014. Thus far, those devices in the U.S. have successfully used first the 500 area code, and recently additional 500-based codes have been set aside for the M2M explosion, but time and codes are running out. 

Neustar says that M2M addressing needs to shift from telephone numbers to Internet naming and addressing because machines can take long strings of numbers and IPv6 is going to make available an almost limitless number of addresses. Edwards and his colleagues say that, “short memorable strings need to be reserved for use by people.” The point being a transition is not wishful thinking but needs to be planned for and implemented. Obviously, because of where it sits, Neustar is going to play a critical role in all of this.

Why telephone numbers matter

Finally, going back to Neustar’s core expertise, and why telephone numbers matter. Edwards says they matter for three key reasons:

1.       Telephone numbers are a key part of consumers identity. Using telephone numbers as identifier to authenticate for things like medical records is a huge opportunity, as is creating more value by packaging location information to provide more relevance to the consumer.

2.       Information that is distributed through number portability needs to access every switch and BSS/OSS for messages to be delivered and since much of messaging including SMS is telephone number reliant the need for numbers is only going to increase.

3.       The availability of numbers stimulates innovation and competition between carriers, and we are likely early in the learning curve on this front as VoIP proliferates and starts to increase the adoption of things like unified communications and presence. 

What is the value of a telephone number? In a world where big data and using the insights gained will be key to innovation and success, telephone numbers are going to be very valuable. As I have pointed out in articles about things like diameter signaling, and service routers, plumbing may not be sexy but it is very important to maintain and keep and eye on.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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