Policy + charging

Policy Is Still Strategic, But Changing

While the role of early policy gear is fading, policy management is actually gaining in strategic importance to service providers, and makers of policy servers are seeing new opportunities as a result, according to Heavy Reading research. (See Pure-Play Policy's Future Is Fading.)

A survey of 96 network operator executives shows that they don't see their early policy technology deployments scaling to take on new functionality, but they do expect a new generation of policy gear will be deployed to handle a broader set of functions, says Graham Finnie, Heavy Reading chief analyst. Finnie, who conducted the survey and conducted 11 in-depth follow-up interviews, found that most operators expect to support far more policy use cases in the future and believe they need the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) architecture to do so.

More than 80 percent of those interviewed said policy would be "mission-critical" within two years and would require equipment to meet new levels of reliability and availability as a result.

To date, Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) servers have been primarily used for things such as fair-use management and preventing bill shock, Finnie says, but most operators expect to use new policy gear to differentiate their services and find new ways to monetize them -- to get away from flat-rate mobile data offerings, for example.

"We found plenty of interest in using policy to address RAN congestion, to enable two-sided business models with third-party content and application owners and to drive cloud services," Finnie says.

Operators aren't sure how practical or cost-effective it might be to use real-time congestion information to address wireless congestion issues, revealing a clear role for vendors in helping operators in this area.

All of the new business models require more scalable policy technology that can integrate with charging and billing systems so that operators have a wider range of triggers to drive policy, both in creating new services and in managing congestion.

The Heavy Reading report also shows the need for greater coordination by the internal IT and network operations departments of the service providers in order to facilitate the integration of policy, which has been largely a network function, with IT operations such as billing.

However, this doesn't mean operators are about to switch to vendors that specialize in charging and billing, said Finnie. "For the time being, most operators say they prefer vendors with networking expertise to those with BSS expertise, so the major network equipment vendors and policy specialists will continue to reap dividends in this market," he said. — Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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