Are We Already Entering a New Era for Policy Control?

Posted: November 22nd, 2010 | Author: Bob Machin | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , | 8 Comments »

Last week, Comptel attended and sponsored Informa’s Broadband Traffic Management conference at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London.

To judge from the numbers and the buzz, data traffic management is a very hot topic. This was the second outing for the Broadband Traffic Management show, and numbers had more or less doubled since last year, as the eyes of the industry increasingly turn to how the undoubted boom in data services can be turned into significant revenues.

In truth, the scope of presentations was a lot more than strictly traffic management; although a significant number of speakers examined purely engineering issues (with congestion in the Radio Access Network, a particularly hot button), while others (including Comptel’s Ihsen Fekih on Wednesday’s panel discussion) looked at the crossover between network and software solutions. The overall scope was much more about the balance of traffic, investment and revenue, or as Comptel puts it: balancing revenue, customer satisfaction and resources.

It was interesting that almost everyone is still starting from the same point. That familiar slide, which shows the cost of supporting traffic volumes diverging from anticipated revenues, has become more or less iconic (to the extent that you need only to see its shape to get the point), but it came up many times, usually accompanied by a wry smile on the part of the speaker.

But across the two days it was clear that emphasis is now on using the levers of control and charge much more to encourage and allow use than to deny access—not least because traffic patterns seem to be swinging dramatically away from peer-to-peer dominance and towards a more mass-market, consumer-oriented pattern of use dominated by Internet access and content download. The real pressure on networks is from video-based services (primarily YouTube) and streaming media from providers, such as the BBC and Netflix, used by a wide consumer demographic—not just teenagers exchanging illegal games, movies and music. This looks certain to accelerate with the increasing penetration of more powerful smartphones and highly portable tablet devices.

It could be that we’re already moving from Policy Control 1.0 to Policy Control 2.0 in a way which is almost philosophical. Where the first wave was dominated by the need to control (and indeed deter) the use of data services, the second is about taking a much more liberal approach which encourages data use but aims to flatten out peaks and troughs in demand, spreading usage more evenly across networks, geographies and timespans to allow a much better return on capital investment. A number of speakers indicated how solutions to traffic management are by no means all about smarter and cheaper engineering. Good business analytics are key to a better understanding of customer behavior, and can be used alongside levers, such as variable charging, usage control and targeted promotions, to shape usage and maximise return. Taken alongside a number of parallel approaches which are finding real economies in the engineering of data networks, it’s starting to look like gold could be buried in those mountains of data after all.

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