Demand for on-line charging means vendors can’t wait for 3GPP to catch up

It is now generally agreed among most OSS/BSS vendors and an increasing number of operators that the market focus for policy control and its related technologies has shifted from basic traffic management to enabling the implementation of real-time discounting, upselling, cross-selling and a range of mobile broadband services as yet unimagined. Fundamental to the realization of this bright new and hopefully profitable future is the requirement for close integration between OLC (On-Line Charging) and the PCRF.

This is needs to be done in order to leverage the ‘Charging’ part of the PCRF and requires the definition of a direct interface between the two. The 3GPP standards body has specified such an interface, called ‘Sy’, but is not scheduled to complete the standard until 2Q11, therefore no standard currently exists for the interface. As a result of the undoubted demand for OLC and policy-based services, vendors have developed their own solutions and at present, every vendor that has an OLC product also has its own version of the Sy interface.

Evidence of demand for next-generation service support and the measures vendors are employing to meet it is easy to find. Only a matter of weeks after its acquisition of policy vendor Bridgewater, Amdocs released what it terms its ‘Data Experience Solution’ which includes among other features, complete integration between OLC and PCRF. Equipment vendor Huawei has also been trumpeting its fully-integrated platform with the accent firmly on OLC and policy-driven services. Speaking at Informa’s recent Broadband Traffic Management Congress, Dirk Kopplin, Manager, PCRF Product Planning at Huawei told delegates, “I think the 3GPP is late with this [Sy interface definition]. We can’t wait for 3GPP to finish it, our customers want it now.” From the vendors’ point of view, the main thing is to offer products their customers want and if this means pre-empting standards then so be it, it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened.

The risk is however that when 3GPP does finish defining the standard for the Sy interface, there will be as many proprietary versions of it in the wild as there are vendors, which potentially could reawaken the twin spectres of integration tax and vendor lock-in. Kopplin didn’t see this as a problem however given that in common with most other vendors in this sector Huawei is a member of the 3GPP group writing the specification. It’s possible therefore that proprietary Sy interfaces will closely resemble the final standard, but there’s no guarantee. Most vendors will tell you that as with all standards, no matter how closely a specification is followed some integration will be inevitable. The big question will be how much integration will be actually be required in a market where operators are increasingly demanding cross-vendor interoperability.

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