One thing which became clear at Informa Telecoms and Media’s recent Mobile Broadband Traffic Management event, held in London, was that a much-anticipated change is happening in the market for policy control.
Obviously the focus of the event was based around traffic management, but a complete day was themed to issues around the use of policy. Over the last six months or so, contract wins by a variety of vendors which have included the provision of a PCRF (Policy and Charging Rules Function), have become increasingly common. Operators are addressing the so-called ‘capacity crunch’ in a number of ways including off-loading in the access, backhaul and core networks, as well as application optimisation and content caching. However, policy control still remains one of the most important tools for addressing traffic management issues.
The change however, is that a move toward more service-oriented applications for PCRF is happening and it is being driven by two very different factors. To begin with, operators who have installed PCRF as a traffic management tool are beginning to look at to what other purposes the 3GPP-specified technology might be put. Operators such as Telefonica told delegates at the event that along with the need to manage a massive growth in demand for video, there was also increasing demand for in-line services such as parental control, optimization and security. As a consequence , real-time charging, customer and network data management as well as network intelligence analytics were being implemented alongside policy control. Another implementation of note was that carried out by infrastructure vendor Huawei for its Russian customer Megafon. In the case of Megafon, as it moved to an all-IP network, the operator was faced with growing data traffic and the fear of becoming a dumb pipe for other people’s content. Again, the operator installed a range of policy-based products, collectively known by Huawei as its package traffic charging platform (PTCP), thus enabling it to manage the growing data traffic as well as look to introducing new services based on innovative pricing strategies.
The second factor driving the demand for PCRF implementation is coming from operators that don’t have a capacity problem. Yes, these networks actually exist! Smaller operators in highly-competitive emerging markets, who are always quick to spot an opportunity, have woken up to the potential of policy control and are quietly rolling it out. Most are reluctant to talk about their strategies publicly, but in informal discussions between conference sessions, it became clear that in markets where smart devices such as the iPhone and where dongle usage is low because few people have laptops, policy control is perceived as differentiating technology. Apart from offering superior control of vast numbers of pre-paid customers in comparison to the traditional IN approach, these operators are looking with relish at implementing more effective loyalty campaigns and discounting in markets which are notoriously susceptible to high rates of churn.
The evidence is that there is a growing realization that policy control can address pain points other than those created by capacity and usage issues. Research from a number of sources including Informa Telecoms and Media has shown that while the ‘capacity crunch’ is an issue for many operators, where, when and how it occurs varies from one network to another. The likelihood is however, that once this issue has been addressed, those operators using policy control in a more customer-facing manner will serve as examples of what else is possible with a little imagination.