Next generation, network-wide, dynamic policy management
February 11, 2011 - Openet
Given the exploding demand for bandwidth, operators have to make difficult resource management decisions on a second-by-split-second basis to keep their networks functioning, to maintain quality of service and to generate reasonable returns on their investments. ‘Policy management’ administers network traffic to ensure appropriate QoS levels. Next generation policy management lets operators dynamically and intelligently control, in real-time,
what, when, where and how subscribers can access network resources and allocates network resources - bandwidth, traffic priorities, volume, etc - accordingly.
Today’s operators face an increasingly complex market landscape. Data access services are becoming commodities and many service providers face slowing or declining subscriber growth as markets
become saturated. Market saturation, increased competition and overall declines in prices per unit of bandwidth
are leading to downward pressures on pricing and margins.
Within this environment, operators face exploding demand for bandwidth. The increasing availability of, and demand for, IP content and applications via many typesof devices not only offers new market opportunities, but also strains network resources. Operators are discovering that the default options for managing network capacity - best effort routing of network traffic, simple over-provisioning, and building extra capacity - are not cost effective. The flat rate, ‘all-you-can-eat’, service plans many service providers offer make it difficult to cover their growing capital and operational expenditures by increasing revenues.
Customers are becoming sophisticated and they demand more from their service providers such as: a seamless experience across content, platforms, and devices; better Quality-of-Service; greater control over their services and spend; and on-demand access to applications and services. As subscriber data needs become increasingly diverse, businesses and consumers are expecting highly personalised services tailored to meeting their individual needs.
At the same time, network service providers are in danger of being marginalised by Over-the-Top (OTT) providers. Rather than bandwidth delivery, subscribers are recognising that the content accessed, applications delivered and services enabled provide the true value of accessing the Internet. As a result, a variety of OTT providers are developing business models to monetise the delivery of rich and valuable content while by passing the service providers. Telecom and cable operators face a real threat of ending up as mere Internet traffic transporters and could miss out on emerging, higher-value revenue opportunities.
Operators must deal with several strategic questions, including how to profit from data growth, how best to manage finite network resources and how to become a central element in the customer experience. Operators recognise that they must innovate if they are to go beyond being simple bitpipe
carriers. However, as new services are increasingly delivered over IP networks, operators have thus far struggled to identify, measure, manage and monetise IPbased services in real time.
Policy management matures
Network operators have grappled with policy management, in its many guises, for years. As networks, services and indeed subscribers evolve and their needs mature, dynamic, effective and thorough policy management has become a holy grail for telecom operators.
Policy management is used in systems and processes associated with managing network traffic to ensure that appropriate levels of QoS are applied (e.g., VoIP receives priority over email traffic). First generation policy management is limited to the realm of network traffic management. Static policies that manage QoS, network traffic and security policies are implemented locally, using a ‘stove-piped’ approach, on separate network elements focused on a particular access method. Since first-generation policy management was not able to incorporate subscriber or session information when making policy decisions, it utilised a one-size-fits-all approach to managing network traffic.
Next-generation policy, on the other hand, enables operators to intelligently control subscriber entitlement to network resources with real-time, dynamic policies. In contrast to its predecessor, next-generation policy controls use session and subscriberaware policy rules such as subscriber entitlements, network resources available, application entitlements, device type, location information, security triggers, application function triggers, SLA between partners, charging rules and the like. These policies are centrally managed in a convergent manner across multiple access networks. As networks become more complex, a centralised policy management framework can reduce the administrative overhead of managing hundreds of policies and improve control over the integrity of the policy catalogue.
Next generation policy is a dynamic function in which real-time decisions are made by taking requests from the network via policy enforcement points (e.g., deep packet inspection devices) and governs:
1. what, when, where and how subscribers can access content and applications;
2. how network resources are allocated (e.g., bandwidth, traffic priorities, volume, etc).
Next-generation policy management in action
Two of the newest and most popular policy management-based solutions in the industry are RAN (radio access network) congestion and IP offloading. Several types of RAN congestion solutions are popping up all over the world; they help operators manage network resources more effectively by utilising more granular network controls rather than global network policies. On the other hand, at the edge of the network, IP offloading lets operators route low-revenueper- bit traffic off the network. The ability to identify and decide which traffic to offload requires a combination of the new offloading gateways working together with policy management systems.
Monetisation, another key component of policy, is often overlooked, but deeply important to operators - especially their marketing functions. This is the gateway that does everything from enabling new subscriber services to increasing customer loyalty and, most importantly, increasing revenues. The answers to these questions are part of a bigger picture of network control. Policy management platforms, intelligently and dynamically, control network resources independent of any knowledge of monetary values. In order to make better, more comprehensive, monetary-based decisions, online charging systems must work in collaboration with policy management. The powerful combination of these two functions provides operators with a long list of new revenue-generating solutions, which are needed more than ever before as subscriber loyalty shifts from the carrier to the device and smartphone functionality often outpaces network capability.
Ultimately, next-generation policy management centres around three core principles: control, monetisation and visibility. This is exactly what operators need to make the most of every subscriber. This is just the beginning for-next generation policy management and the different ways operators will use these technologies to differentiate themselves and grow revenues.