Over-the-air service activation, sometimes called “over-theair service provisioning,” allows a potential wireless, both cellular and personal communications services (PCS), service subscriber to activate new wireless service without the intervention of a third party (e.g., authorized dealer). The use of special software 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 service 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 service 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. These features operate over a digital control channel (DCC).
In addition to over-the-air programming, the DCC supports such advanced services as calling line ID, message waiting indication, and Short Message Service (SMS). 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 by allowing mobile phones to “sleep” while idle to conserve power. DCC also improves network performance and supports advanced voice coder technology for improved audio quality.
In 1995, Code Division Multiple Access (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. In the future, cellular operators will look to leverage this capability to offer more value-added services, providing them with the latest applications software coming directly from the network.