Wednesday, August 28, 2013

PCRF Vendors Respond to Bell Canada Observations

Last week I posted several quotes from an interview with Cassio Sampaio, Bell Canada about policy management (see "Bell Canada: 'Network Policy is one of those things that are easier said than done'" - here), in which he described the differences between the vendors pitch and the operator reality.

I asked some of the policy management vendors to provide their response to Mr. Sampaio views, possibly based on their own field experience, and got the following comments from Torres Networks, FTS, Openet and Ericsson (HP made a comment to the post itself):
Based on our observation, an operator likes to start small by applying a policy in a limited way. For example, an overlay of “happy hour” permits the subscriber to browse at 70% tariff from 6 p.m. to midnight. Gradually, more overlays can be applied, for example, a “super-happy” hour from 10 to 11 p.m., at 50% tariff (meaning that the subscriber will move back to 70% tariff at 11 p.m., and to full tariff at midnight).

The above point can be intimidating and tricky to apply. Many PCRFs support rule-based priority (for example, the super-happy hour overlay above should be checked first, and therefore be assigned higher priority than the happy hour one). While this sounds simple, a mesh of overlays can complicate the situation and confuse the operator. Therefore, it is important to have a “dry run” with a what-if analysis, before actually rolling out new schemes. The initial rollout should be performed for limited hours and on a small subset of users, ideally a more ‘tolerant’ set (students, for example).

After taking the above points into consideration, the operator can certainly arrive at a solution to harness the full potential of a PCRF.
  • Moshe Peterfreund, Director of Marketing, FTS
Indeed, operators are facing challenges related to time-to-market in deploying network policies. The biggest problem that they are facing to date is that their back-end systems are both cumbersome and expensive to alter. As changes happen in the market, it can take operators months to react to them and put in place charging and pricing plans that fit with their customers’ requirements and rival their competitors. Slow reaction times and costly change requests mean that operators are struggling to innovate. The need to integrate complex, multiple systems can slow things down, and integration remains one of the biggest bottlenecks to policy and marketing innovation.

However, even if the integration and interfaces issues are solved, the question is whether the operator has the ability to work as quickly to implement innovative campaigns as fast as its marketing department is developing them. Take, for example, a wireless provider that wants to encourage its subscribers to sign up for premium data services. It uses a policy control and charging solution that provides quota-based credits for the data used on these premium services, enabling consumers to be refunded the data they use when accessing services such as VoIP or online gaming. The credits, on top of their regular Internet quota, mean that consumers no longer ‘pay’ twice for additional services. This incentivizes subscribers to sign up for premium services, something they might be unwilling to do in a world of simple consumption control, where it would just 'eat' their entire quota. This is a real-life example that was implemented using FTS' Leap Policy Control and charging solution with no delay by the service provider’s own IT team, once it was conceived by the CSP's marketing team, and without the need to revert to the vendor for long change request processes which would delay the service introduction. 
  • Christopher Hoover, VP, Global Marketing, Openet
Openet hears similar feedback from many operators. A vendor's promise of set-it-and-forget-it policy sounds nice, but is rarely reality. Technical challenges are commonplace. Policy requires integration across multiple networks, across multiple nodes within a networks, across multiple vendors for the various nodes, across multiple versions of the node from the same vendor, across multiple levels of support for a specific standard, across multiple interpretations of a standard, etc. This is one reason flexibility is an integral aspect of our product line.
Flexibility from a integration point of view is only one half of the story, however. Functional flexibility is also important. Policy systems first deployed to support simple "fair usage" style use cases are now required to support a more complex commercial evolution. Policy is working hand in hand with Real Time Charging systems, Subscriber Engagement systems, and Reporting/Analytics systems to evolve offerings not only in Retail, but also in Wholesale, M2M, and enterprise.

Understanding these two aspects is why Openet is consistently ranked the world's leading vendor.
  • Kent Halling, Industry Analyst Relations, Ericsson
Ericsson agrees with Mr Sampaio’s statement that those things are easier said than done for many operators. Current OSS/BSS implementations often treat charging and policy control as separate silos for historical and organizational reasons. In today’s networks, these systems must collaborate in real time in order to satisfy new business needs. Collectively, they need to create new offerings, charge them correctly, enforce their usage and QoS rules and secure optimal use of the operator’s network resources.

Technically, too, it is difficult for industry standards, which operators rely on, to keep pace with the needs of a very fast-moving industry. This creates uncertainty for operators deciding whether to invest in solutions that go above and beyond the standards by incorporating valuable but non-standard extensions. The 3GPP and other standards bodies still regard operator environments as segmented with few, or non-existent, interfaces between each element, such as OSS-to-BSS or BSS-to-network. To overcome weaknesses in the established 3GPP standards, new interfaces, such as Sy, were created to simplify integrated charging and policy control.

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