A New Life for the Policy Control Box

Posted: July 6th, 2010 | Author: Kari Pasonen | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

There is a huge mindset change going on within the mobile operator community.   They are now primarily thinking of themselves as broadband data operators, and not so much as providers of voice connections anymore.

I’m not saying that it has just happened, but now this change is the primary driver in all decisions and plans—the focus of operations, investments and business models is rapidly shifting towards data.  Even though operators are still getting most of their revenue from voice traffic, the overwhelming majority of new initiatives, including exciting product launches, are coming from fulfilling the growing data-service expectations of their customers.

But it means that there are also new challenges, and in that respect, there are many things where OSS and BSS can help.

One big change is in the role of policy control.  Traditionally, policy control has been tightly tied to the network.  It has been the PCRF (Policy and Charging Rules Function), an entity that originally emerged as a 3GGP-defined data transmission controls unit that worked in unison with the PCEF (Policy Control Enforcement Function).  Here the keyword is “control”. It was used to guarantee the health of the network—and of course—save when it came to network investments.  It was about punishing P2P hoarders, video streamers and other “over-users”,  squeezing the throttle when quotas had been exceeded.

That is why network managers have been eager to invest in policy control, and they traditionally have been the driving force behind its adoption.

Now with the phenomenal success of mobile broadband, there are new things happening.  It is not enough to manage only the cost and resource-usage anymore.  Ever increasing competition is driving the need to find new ways of encouraging customers to spend more on broadband—to buy services, capacity enhancements, service upgrades and content.  Policy control has now been expanded to manage solution offering and charging options.  And these needs have nothing to do with network issues; they are in the interest of IT or marketing people.

At Comptel, we have been finding an increasing amount of interest in policy control by customers coming from the IT and business side: it seems that all have now grasped the value of policy control in helping to balance operations between revenue, cost of network resources and customer satisfaction.

IT people, for example, see policy control more like an extension of charging, a way to apply charging policies and implement prepaid & postpaid convergence, and they see policy control as a means to introduce specific tiered charging models.

There are several reasons why policy control is now understood more as an IT- and business-level solution rather than a network solution:

  • It needs to be easily programmable to create the flexibility needed in business rules.
  • It needs to understand service- and customer-specific issues to manage priorities, quality of service and promotions.
  • It needs to manage multi-vendor networks.
  • It needs to manage multiple network technologies (like LTE, 3G, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, DOCSIS, etc.) to create a true end-to-end experience.
  • It needs to interface with application servers to be able perform service-specific policies.
  • It needs to handle migration from 2G/3G to 4G through several phases, while providing the same perceived end-to-end experience.
  • In addition to charging and control issues, it needs to manage network configurations (fulfillment).

So it seems that old network hardware policy control box is finding its new life as elegant and flexible business policy control software.

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