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.

Mobile Broadband in Fragrant Harbour

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Author: Kari Pasonen | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

It is always a pleasure to visit the busy and booming Hong Kong, even though at this time of the year, it is a hot, rainy and humid place, with summer monsoons pouring waves of hot clouds over the South China Sea.  For Comptel, it is also a pleasure because of the hot and steaming telecom environment; Hong Kong is a market crazy over the latest gadgets, services and bargains.  It is no wonder that some of the leading operator groups like Telstra, Vodafone, Hutchinson and China Mobile have operating companies there and are seeing it as a field lab for new service innovations.

The “Fragrant Harbour” (what Hong Kong means in English) has become the place with one of the highest population densities, bank densities, mobile phone densities and mobile data consumption rates.  People there are enthusiastic about technology and eager to try out new services…and chat, download, browse, stream, tweet, play, gamble, listen, watch, comment…in a sense, it’s an ideal market for an advanced mobile operator.

But at the same time, this market is also price and quality conscious, demanding good service and fast responses with affordable prices. Operators need to be flexible and customer-focused, and willing to listen to their customers and try out new business models.

In Hong Kong, mobile broadband is THE thing right now. Smartphones are representing 80% of traffic (and this is growing fast!), and the need to meet the huge growth in cell and transmission capacity is the main concern of all operators.

But it seems that this is not enough.  On top of sheer capacity, it is becoming more and more important to put that capacity in the right places and to control the use of it in a way that helps to cope with user expectations: “If I’m paying more, I want better service and faster connections.” Stating that the offered service quality class is “best effort” is an insult.

Mobile operator business is becoming more like broadband business; all new network building decisions need to be based on data traffic growth. Advanced capacity forecasting, planning and monitoring are becoming critical as data transmission cost is becoming the key success factor—no wonder that Hong Kong was the place where Comptel delivered the first policy control and cell capacity management system.

This new mobile data market is also turning some basic assumptions upside down.  For example, the peak data rush hour is after midnight (I’m wondering what the applications are…); this is affecting the network operating procedures, as the maintenance window is becoming shorter—traditionally, all network changes have been done in the early hours of the day.

Comptel has had a very long presence in Hong Kong and worked closely with several mobile operators there.  In fact, SmarTone-Vodafone, one of the leading communications service providers in the region, has been a Comptel customer for almost 20 years, and we have found that in that kind of small, technology-driven, business-focused market, it is very easy to see what the key market drivers currently are.