With the advent of LTE and IMS, policy awareness has become an important trend. Rising data rates in the operator’s network have led to a situation where the network carrier is fast becoming the infamous “dumb pipe”.
To avoid this situation, or to atleast improve upon this condition – it is necessary for the operator to introduce various avenues of network intelligence.
Network intelligence can manifest itself in the form of granular policy control, smart policy enforcement and QoS awareness.
3G HSPA defines 4 levels of QoS, Mobile WiMAX defines 5, while LTE defines 9 QoS levels as part of the standard. This provides ample opportunity to the operator to create a business case around Policy and QoS awareness and present a value add to the customer in the form of innovative plans.
Recent standardization trends have shown that there is greater cohesion between policy awareness and the way we charge the customer. Hence, this points to the fact that policy awareness is fast becoming an avenue of monetization for the operator.
In order for the operator to deliver policy awareness in an end to end manner, the following aspects need to be implemented:
1. The network facet of policy awareness:
The Policy and Charging Rules (PCRF) Function and the Policy and Charging Enforcement Function (PCEF) need to be present in the network. In the LTE infrastructure, the PCRF is a dedicated network element, while the PCEF is embedded in the PDN Gateway of the EPC core network. These two nodes ensure that policy rules can be defined, controlled and enforced in all sessions. In addition to these nodes, we also have a Subscriber Profile Repository(SPR) which acts as a central database for Policy rule provisioning, management, updation and deletion alike. In addition to these nodes, the 3GPP Policy and Charging Control architecture (PCC) defines the OCS (Online Charging System) as an additional element of this logical grouping.
2. The Business facet of policy awareness:
The business facet of policy awareness is best implemented in the OSS and BSS stack. The operator has granular knowledge of customer behavior, his applications, data consumption practices and take-rate of new applications amongst the customer base. This knowledge can be leveraged upon to provide the customer with new plans and offers based on policy control and QoS. A recent report released in November 2010 and conducted by YouGov states that consumers are willing to pay for better QoS for mobile video services. Continuing with the business facet, it is interesting to note that Policy awareness is also a key enabler for loyalty management programs. With personlalized knowledge about the customer, the operator can launch special offers for high ARPU customers to improve “stickyness”.
3. Personalization of Customer QoE (Quality of Experience):
Policy control also provides a unique opportunity for personalization. Policy rules can be exposed to the customer using a Self care portal or a smartphone application. The customer can himself configure policy rules and personalize their experience. All this would eventually lead to greater customer satisfaction.
Some examples of policy awareness and QoS control with charging are as follows (non-exhaustive) —
— Bandwidth Boost for a specific period of time or a given session on a discounted rate.
— Policy control based on customer location and a special rating plan to be applied for that location (home zone).
— Policy and QoS control based on the time of the day and 10% rating discount for that time slab.
— Policy and QoS control based on the nature of content (video, audio, uploads etc) leading to differentiating LTE QCI levels.
— Policy and QoS control arising from loyalty management schemes (which may be based on ARPU).
— Confluence of parental controls on content consumption and policy/QoS.
The possibilities are infinite and there is no end to the practical use cases around policy control and charging.
However, there needs to be an interface between the PCRF and billing as well, to include post-paid services under the gamut of the policy based monetization story.
Some examples of use cases on the PCRF – Postpaid interface:
— ARPU based policy upgrades
— Unbilled amount thresholds leading to policy governed rewards and promotions
— Customers getting policy “voucher” numbers on their bill as a loyalty scheme which offers a free QoS upgrade
— Bandwidth boost for customers paying their bill on time etc.
— Policy control and QoS for enterprise services (which are predominantly postpaid).
Which are the most common and widespread applications of policy control experienced by you ? Please feel free to share your thoughts.