Value-Added Features | Voice Communications

There are a number of value-added features that are implemented by the service provider's network. Some of these features may require a specific type of handset to access.

Over-the-air activation

Over-the-air activation or over-the-air service provisioning allows a potential wireless, both cellular and PCS, service subscriber to activate new wireless service without the intervention of a third party (e.g., authorized dealer). New software from Lucent Technologies, for example, enables wireless service providers to offer over-the-air service provisioning capabilities—including initial activation—plus provisioning of other innovative wireless features, such as paging and voice mail. The process is made secure by restricting the phone's initial use to activation only. Once subscribers have the phone in hand, they can immediately dial a customer service representative who can activate the phone and accept account information.

Over-the-air activation also enables the service provider to activate a potential service subscriber's unit by downloading over the air the required parameters, such phone number and features, into the unit. The service subscriber does not have to bring the unit into a dealer or service agent. This allows service providers the capability to start marketing subscriber units through nontraditional mass-market retailers, who do not have the personnel to individually program subscriber units.

Another capability of over-the-air activation is the ability to load an authentication key into a subscriber unit securely. Authentication is the process by which information is exchanged between a subscriber unit and the network for the purpose of confirming and validating the identity of the subscriber unit. The over-the-air activation feature incorporates an authentication key exchange agreement algorithm. This algorithm enhances security for the subscriber and reduces the potential for fraudulent use of cellular service.

New customers simply place a call to the cellular operator, and the information is transferred automatically to the cellular phone over the cellular airwaves. This method of activation enables cellular operators to explore new distribution channels for subscriber units and substantially reduce distribution and service provisioning costs.

In 1995, CDMA became the first digital cellular technology to offer instant activation to customers based on specifications defined by the CDMA Development Group (CDG) in 1994. The downloading capabilities use a flexible transport protocol that is easily adaptable. In the future, cellular operators may use this capability to forward other information to cellular customers, providing them with the latest applications software coming directly from the CDMA network. A possible application could be automatically updating roaming information to give customers easy access to CDMA systems nationwide.

Over-the-air programming

Cellular service subscribers can activate and modify their own cellular phones without third-party involvement. Among the vendors offering systems that support over-the-air programming is Lucent Technologies, which offers its AUTOPLEX Series II cell sites with Digital Control Channel (DCC) software based on the IS-136 standard. The system enables cellular service providers to offer enhanced features and services over existing TDMA-based digital cellular telephone networks. DCC allows cellular operators to offer the latest in digital wireless services, including over-the-air programming, tailored to individual subscriber needs. It interworks with existing analog infrastructure, providing operators a gradual and cost effective migration to digital. Nortel (Northern Telecom) also supports the Digital Control Channel in its DMS-MTX wireless systems.

In addition to over-the-air programming, DCC supports such advanced services as Calling Line ID, Message Waiting Indication, and Short Message Service. It also offers Tiered Services, allowing operators to tailor pricing packages for residential and business customers based on location and usage. Sleep Mode, another DCC feature, improves handset battery life as much as three times over existing cellular phones by allowing IS-136 phones to "sleep" while idle. DCC also improves network performance, and supports advanced voice coder technology for improved audio quality.

Cellular voice authorization

Cellular voice authorization uses an individual's voice print to prevent access to cellular phones by unauthorized users. With this application, cellular carriers can more effectively fight thieves who detect a cellular phone's unique identification codes, then embed the codes in other cellular phones. When these illegal phones are used, the airtime and long distance calls are charged to the original owner—a problem that causes losses of more than $1 million a day for the cellular industry.

One manufacturer of cellular voice authentication technology is Texas Instruments. The technology is premised on the fact that every person has a distinct voice print. Before allowing a user to access a cellular network, the system requires the caller to speak a user-selectable PIN (personal identification number). Cellular Voice Authorization then compares the voice sample that is spoken against stored samples of the individuals voice print. The user can access the network and place cellular calls only if the spoken sample matches the stored samples.

By attacking fraud before it occurs, cellular voice authorization prevents losses that must be absorbed by cellular carriers or paid by subscribers (if the fraud goes undetected on their phone bill). Voice authorization technology also eliminates the inconvenience of having to reprogram a phone with a new number after its identification numbers have been fraudulently duplicated. This avoids interruption of service for the customer.

Voice mail

Voice mail is among the newest capabilities being added to wireless services. It is basically a computerized answering service. When accessed, it plays a greeting and records a message. Depending on the sophistication of the service, it can notify the subscriber via an audio tone, on-screen icon, or a pager that a new message has been received. After the subscriber retrieves the messages, they can be replayed, saved, deleted, replied to, or forwarded to another subscriber on the same network who also has voice mail. In addition, the user may skip to the next message and move forward or move backward through all of the messages.

Voice mail can be useful in many situations. It enables callers to leave messages when the subscriber's handset is turned off or out of range, or when the subscriber is busy with another call and does not want to be interrupted. Voice mail is also useful when it is inconvenient or unsafe to answer the car phone. Voice mail can even be used by the subscriber to leave personal reminders.

Nextel is one of the wireless services that supports voice mail. When a call cannot go through, for whatever reason, the caller is given the option of leaving a voice message via Nextel's Voice Mail service. Messages may be up to 5 minutes in length. Users of the company's Lingo or PowerFone handsets are notified of new messages through an on-screen icon and audio tone. The on-screen notification indicates the number and type of messages (voice or text) that are waiting. This eliminates unnecessary calls to check Voice Mail.

Voice messages may be retrieved any time using either the handset or a conventional wireline phone. Depending on the service provider, airtime rates may apply to message retrieval over the wireless network, although there is usually no charge for retrieving messages via wireline phones. Messages are held in storage on the network for 30 days, after which they are deleted. The PowerFone stores up to 16 voice messages and numeric pages. For added convenience, pre-programmed speed dial numbers provide easy voice mail retrieval from the handset.

Conference calling

The ability to set up a wireless connection between three or more parties is a relatively new capability offered by today's advanced wireless networks. In its most basic form, this capability is known as three-way calling in which a subscriber establishes connections with two other parties for a conference call. When either of the two parties hangs up, the connection is maintained until the call originator hangs up. Among the carriers that offer three-way calling is AT&T Wireless. The company offers three-way calling to subscribers of its nationwide 800-MHz Digital PCS network. The rate plans include three-way calling, as well as call forwarding, call waiting, and detail billing, at no extra charge.

Nextel offers a more sophisticated version of conference calling. The Direct Connect feature allows PowerFone users to communicate with up to 100 individuals at a time. The user simply programs into the PowerFone the individuals and groups of people they talk to most frequently. When the user needs to reach any individual or group, he or she simply scrolls to them on the PowerFone display screen, and presses the Direct Connect button to be instantly connected.

The following Direct Connect capabilities for establishing conference calls are available over the Nextel network:

  • Private call establishes a call with another person with the push of a button.
  • Group call allows the user to set up and select a talk group. Pressing the Nextel Direct Connect button establishes the connection with everyone in the group. Up to 30 groups can be programmed into the PowerFone.
  • Intercompany private call lets users from different companies communicate by way of the private call feature. It is intended for those who are collaborating on projects, such as contractors and workgroups. It works just like private call in that all parties are connected with the push of a button.
  • Call alert lets the caller send a visual/audible alert to the recipient's phone. The recipient can answer the call by pressing the Direct Connect button, whereupon both parties are instantly in touch.

Mailbox on demand

Another value-added service that is being offered in conjunction with wireless services is the virtual mailbox, or mailbox on demand (MBOD). Like other value-added services, (MBOD) is implemented with a subsystem that is integrated with the carrier's wireless switch. Centigram's Series 6 communications server, for example, provides MBOD as part of its MobileManager applications suite for wireless carriers.

MBOD answers the phone and takes messages for both cellular and landline customers whose lines are busy or go unanswered. MBOD is an application aimed at the 90 percent of residential subscribers and the 50 percent of cellular subscribers who have not purchased voice mailboxes. MBOD provides the benefit of messaging options to subscribers, and may increase the number of subscribers migrating to monthly messaging services.

Even if subscribers have answering machines to take messages, MBOD will answer the call when the answering machine is busy or when the subscriber ignores a call waiting tone and lets the incoming call go unanswered. Once MBOD takes one or more messages for the subscriber, it will notify the person that messages are waiting and deliver those messages automatically.

To notify subscribers of new messages, the Series 6 can call them and deliver the recorded messages. In a cellular network the Centigram system can send a message to a Short Message Service (SMS) Center, which delivers a text message to the subscriber's handset, notifying them of a new message.

In a cellular environment, MBOD can capture and take messages for the traditional 15 percent of calls which go unanswered. On the wireline side, where an even greater percentage of calls are busy or unanswered, MBOD is better than an answering machine because it takes and delivers a message when a subscriber's phone is busy, so uncompleted call traffic will decrease with each message delivered. In all networks, MBOD decreases the number of uncompleted, unchargeable call attempts because every call is completed on the first try.

Personal number service

Personal number service integrates voice, fax, and follow-me capabilities into a single telephone number, such as a subscriber's established pager number. Personal number service enables subscribers to have a single telephone number which will seamlessly route communications to people on the move at their mobile, office, and home telephone numbers, pager, and any other number in the world.

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