Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The truth about 3 digit Mobile Network Codes (MNCs) E.212

Despite the title, I don't know the full truth about Mobile Network Codes and whether they can be 2 digit or 3 digits long. However, I'm getting an ever bigger suspicion no one really does. So after talking to experts from various telco's and standardisation organisations for more than a year and just before I head into a new world, I thought I write down everything I've learned about Mobile Network Codes as defined in ITU recommendation E.212. This is not all there is to know and I hope others will chime in. There is so much misinformation and Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, that it is hurting the development of the industry as a whole. I do have the sincere feeling, I'm the first person in a decade to fundamentally look at these numbers and the impact they have on the telecommunications market. I haven't seen any studies by any other researcher looking at these numbers at all. (Please prove me wrong, I would so love to see some other nutcase who looks at this stuff in-depth, preferably one who is way better than me and teaches me something new).

You're a policy maker and you need to know what to do
Before dismissing the potentially billions of euros of unrealized potential in the market and not changing a damn thing to the way MNC's are assigned, please ask a very very good and honest researcher to look into this. As far as I know there is no reason to be against this plan. But I am one person. I'm often right, but I may not be. After a year of searching though nobody I met who has serious mobile network knowledge has said I'm seriously bonkers and it cannot be done. Here is what I know. Don't be afraid to be critical. Do know, no one is paying me for this position. 

A Mobile Network Code is digits 4 to 6 of a 15 digit IMSI. 
As you may know, your SIM-card carries a unique number, the 15 digit IMSI number. (there are more unique numbers for an IMSI, but this is the important one). This number is used in the network to identify the mobile subscriber. Based on the IMSI the network knows whether the SIM should be allowed access, the type of access it should be granted and where to route the bits too.

The pre-paid SIM-card from the Dutch supermarket MVNO Albert Heijn I bought yesterday as a temporary replacement has IMSI: 204122030140166. Decoding it leads to the following knowledge:

  • 204 is the Mobile Country Code of the Netherlands. Why it is necessary for mobile networks to know countries, I don't know. But it is in the spec. There are some operators like Digicel, who use one MCC 338  for their whole network in many different countries, deeming it too hard to work with an MCC for every Caribean Island and technically speaking they are right. Vodafone could easily use on MCC for all nations it operates in. Nothing breaks if you use an Italian MCC in Vatican city. Though it somehow is against best practices and the ITU doesn't like you doing it and wants operators and regulators to report extra territorial use of MCC's and MNC's
  • 12 is the Mobile Network Code of Telfort. This used to be an indepent MNO with its own mobile network. It was bought by KPN, who switched of Telforts network and now Telfort is an MVNO on KPN's network. MNC's are issued by national regulators. In Vatican City this may well be Radio Vatican or the pope himself. The combination of MCC and MNC uniquely identifies the network. The E.212 spec says that the number can be 2 or 3 digits long. In Europe it is two digits long. In the rest of the world Wikipedia seems to show 3 digits are used as well. For instance Honduras, Columbia and the United States. 
  • 2030140166 is the Mobile Subscriber Identitification Number: In this case it is 10 digits long, per the standard it could also be 9 digits long. That gives every mobile operator at least a billion and up to 10 billion numbers. Though it could be issued completely at random, it does seem there is further logic in the number. For instance I heard that the first x digits are sometimes used to point at a specific Home Location Register, which keeps track of where SIM-cards are in the network. It seems HLR's can only accomodate x million devices per HLR. If you expect more than x million devices, using the first digits allows for easy internal routing of traffic.  Furthermore specific MVNO's, like my supermarket MVNO may get their own range, so maybe 2030 is unique to Albert Heijn. Again, if they grow, it becomes easier to shift them to different or dedicated HLR

Friday, 24 December 2010

Leaving Logica to go and work for the OECD in Paris

It is with mixed emotions that I’m telling you that I’m leaving Logica to go to work for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development in Paris as an economist/policy analyst in the information, communications and consumer policy division. Logica has given me great opportunities to work in the fields of telecommunications and utilities. I had the pleasure to work on a variety of projects ranging from shaping the Belgian energy sector, to smart metering and Machine to Machine communications and the future of ENUM in the Netherlands.

I’ll start at the OECD on January 3rd, initially for a period of 13 months. I will work on the high level meeting on the future of the internet economy, which will be held in June, and on other subjects regarding telecommunications policy. It’s an exciting step. I don't know yet how this will affect this blog as I don't know the OECD's approach to new media yet. It might be that the blog and twitter will go on hiatus. 

I still hope to write two blogposts:
1. everything I know about 3 digit MNC's. There is hardly any information available about it and what is there is mostly misinformation
2. How we should get rid of the difference between public and private networks in most of our telecommunications law. 

And I'm tempted to write a third as a reaction to the Berec mobile roaming consultation

So many ideas, so little time.