Women holds her smartwatch against a digital wall
#Connectivity & IoT

Efficient entitlement servers, happy customers

5 Mins.

The stunning success of entitlements in the iOS ecosystem spurred their growth elsewhere. Mobile network operators now cater to a customer base that expects seamless access to an ever-growing list of digital services. Managing those needs is the work of an entitlement server (ES). A well-designed ES removes pain points from the user journey, while making the operator’s processes more efficient.

The market for new cellular devices and innovative mobile services is constantly evolving. New consumer devices and features that were unthinkable years ago are now part of our everyday reality. 

Take the example of video calling: it had been the preserve of corporate boardrooms and the like, making its way in the early part of this century to desktops via third-party apps that required installation, infrastructure (such as webcams), and payment. At the time, on-demand video calling on your mobile phone was the sort of thing that had hitherto been the stuff of science fiction – like the communicators in the Star Trek universe – of a piece with light-speed travel to distant galaxies. Now, it is a commonplace, even mundane, part of our daily lives. It isn’t a plus point that a mobile manufacturer offers, or an extra service that a mobile network operator (MNO) provides. It is just par for the course.

There are two things we can take from this. One, when new use cases present themselves, industry must adapt itself to make the most of them. And two, mobile subscribers get used to new features very quickly, so providing a smooth user experience is crucial to any operator’s continuing success.

Flexible for the future

The field of digital services is constantly evolving. One of its drivers is the eSIM, which enables end-to-end digital experiences that the user can enjoy seamlessly. Given that the mobile market is moving toward eSIM-only devices (Apple’s successful eSIM-only rollout of the iPhone 14 in the USA in 2022 will probably mean more eSIM-only releases in other markets), and given the growing ubiquity of wearables such as the Apple Watch, mobile operators need to get prepared for an entirely eSIM ecosystem, which opens up new worlds of digital services. A key capability in making that sort of environment work is the use of an entitlement server (ES). MNOs who have been supporting iOS devices are only too aware that entitlements are the key to providing their iOS customers with a great experience. 

Supporting the iOS road map means that you can expect more new use cases to appear all the time. Entitlements such as smart watch activation, transferring a mobile subscription to a new device, VoLTE, international roaming, etc., need to be seamlessly managed, so customers have a positive experience.

MNOs aren’t the only stakeholders here. Device manufacturers are similarly invested in a fulfilling customer experience of their products. An efficient ES doesn’t help an operator (and, by extension, a mobile device manufacturer) just by removing pain points from its client-facing service: it also helps the operator by being cost-effective and easy to adopt and roll out, and by integrating well with an operator’s existing infrastructure. 

Additionally, it must address not only current use cases, but also be agile and adaptable enough to work well with those use cases that are being developed in a market as fast-moving as the mobile industry. In fact, new use cases should be automatically added as they are made available by manufacturer and operator.

Businessman with a digital layer of several devices

Managing entitlements

“The entitlement server acts as a centralized back-end entity that enables mobile operators to provision and authenticate various services on consumer devices. It allows them to tightly choreograph the end-user experience on a mobile device, ultimately resulting in better services for end users,”
says Tobias Lepper, Senior Product Marketing Manager at G+D.

Mobile devices have certain capabilities – e.g. 5G, VoLTE, or international roaming – that only work if the mobile carrier also supports these features. The ES maps capabilities between the devices and the carrier’s infrastructure. These services also need specific configuration settings. An ES matches these settings between devices and network, so the service works properly.

Further, an ES manages service status, allowing the device to display whether a service is currently available or not. Some services also require permissions before subscribers can access them – for instance, if a particular type of mobile subscription is involved. The ES allows carriers to grant particular users access to those services.

Finally, the setup of companion devices, such as watches and other wearables, can require a dialogue between carrier and user, which can include acceptance of terms and conditions, and even a request for payment. This activation process is orchestrated by the ES.

“The entitlement server allows network operators to tightly choreograph the end-user experience on a mobile device, ultimately resulting in better services.“
Tobias Lepper
Senior Product Marketing Manager at G+D

The roots of “entitlement” lie in Apple’s management of iMessage and FaceTime a little more than a decade ago. Following their success, more and more services are now within the ambit of entitlements, including setting up the popular Apple Watch. When new use cases emerge, these are added to what entitlement servers manage. A case in point is eSIM Quick Transfer, which enables the seamless transfer of a mobile subscription on a physical SIM or eSIM from one iOS device to another through iOS Quick Start, or via the cellular settings.

Current challenges

In the present scenario, however, there are still some obstacles to the successful adoption and implementation of traditional ES solutions. 

  • Deployment Typically, ES deployment is quite slow, as it requires coordination between an operator’s own systems and personnel, and its vendor’s tech team. This includes the implementation of APIs.
  • Slow to adopt new use cases Currently, this process can be difficult and time-consuming. Among other things, a new project team may need to be set up and trained in each case. As stated earlier, adding new use cases quickly and efficiently is key to a successful ES. This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Costs Because of the complexity involved, including the time and HR factors mentioned above, ES solutions typically require a lot of capital expenditure.

A design for success

These problems are solvable, of course. Indeed, a solution is at hand. A successful ES in such an environment is designed from the very beginning to address precisely these challenges. Crucially, it is adaptable to new use cases. 

Such an ES is developer-centric. A software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach is one avenue that has rewarded further exploration, mirroring its success for successful technology companies in adjacent fields. 

It gives the MNO the freedom to conduct its own onboarding. The level of familiarity that comes from working with what you have a hand in developing yourself is clearly attractive. 

Further, the commercial model should be much simpler than those that currently exist in the sector. A try-before-you-buy approach would also be a draw, with a free-to-use developer portal.

Better for operators and end users

Entitlements like Apple Watch or VoLTE, or a service like eSIM Quick Transfer, are central to a good customer experience. A bad experience can turn a user off your service, and even prejudice them against the device and the ecosystem it belongs to. 

G+D’s solid background in eSIM management has led to the AirOn360® ES solution, which substantially incorporates all the design parameters listed above. With its platform-as-a-service model, it is easy to build upon and is cost-effective. By putting use-case extensibility at its core, it helps operators build for the future.

Key takeaways

  • Entitlements will grow and expand, making them crucial to any operator’s continuing success
  • A well-designed ES can mitigate some of the time, HR, and cost issues that typically affect their adoption 
  • How easy or difficult it is to add new use cases to an ES will be a measure of its success

Published: 11/08/2023

Share this article

Subscribe to our newsletter

Don’t miss out on the latest articles in G+D SPOTLIGHT: by subscribing to our newsletter, you’ll be kept up to date on latest trends, ideas, and technical innovations – straight to your inbox every month.

Please supply your details: