“NFV, SDN are expected to improve agility and speed, but it requires multi-vendor readiness”

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As the telecoms world is moving towards IP-only network era, both voice and traditional messaging is largely getting focused around data and this is setting a totally new paradigm for efficient and easy-to-use PCC environment. In shifting to this new paradigm, speed is the key! The industry needs to move from telco speed to internet speed, accelerating the development of new services and launching them quicker. This is currently one of the biggest challenges facing digital and communications service providers today.

Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com speaks with Simo Isomäki, ‎Vice President, Partner Development at Comptel about the way PCRF segment is embracing change and how NFV, SDN can script the next level of growth for operators.

Today the PCRF function is an integral part of the larger PCC architecture for an operator’s operations, which also includes the Proxy Call Session Control Function (P-CSCF) and the Policy and Charging Enforcement Function (PCEF) – In today’s scenario, what is the right PCRF strategy for an operator?

Overall, PCRF needs to be more closely aligned with monetization strategies. Digital and communications service providers must be able to improve time to market and speed to revenue in their service offerings, evolving from the too-slow telco speed to the era of internet speed, which shrinks the time required for data plan design from months to minutes.

Flexibility is also important for creating new data plans, and can be achieved through configuration, rather than by writing lots of code. Service elasticity needs to stretch to flexible configurability, allowing fast and numerous combinations of service building blocks.

To cater to the elasticity in scaling, PCRF and whole PCC domain must be running as virtual entities and comply with ETSI Virtual Network Functions (VNF), forming a seamless and integral part of the overall ETSI NFV architecture. Currently, some digital and communications service providers are already leading in implementing these capabilities, while others are studying and trialing NFV and SDN technologies. As an active member of ETSI NFV ISG, Comptel is working in NFV and virtualization through a number different Proof of Concepts with our Tier1 customer and with our global and strategic partner Hitachi in the virtualized Mobile Core area.

Digital and communications service providers need to be more in control of their own destiny, and to achieve that, they need to select not only technology that meets their needs in functional and non-functional domains, but also in the domains of changeability and adaptability.

Comptel believes operators should consider the scope outside of the logical 3GPP architecture. For instance, P-CSCF is part of the larger scope of IMS; PCEF falls under the larger scope of control plane and user plane separation, as well as under Mobile Core, within PDN-GW or a separate entity, with or without DPI capabilities. PCRF should be considered as part of monetization strategies and therefore align to more to the IT BSS domain than network domain.

There is also a clear advantage to having policy rules, balance management and rating ‘under the same roof’ without compromising the underlying modular software design principle. This means having them natively embedded into a common data plan designer that is fully aligned with the speed of the internet.

The elements of the PCC provide access, resource, and quality-of-service (QoS) control for the operator’s network operations – what are some of the big advantages that such a policy ecosystem brings for the operator?

The biggest advantage of PCC is that it enables greater granularity of control to the CSPs with respect to how they want services to be delivered, even as complications from ubiquitous access and service domains grow.

This granularity will enable CSPs to move away from one-size-fits-all designs and satisfy cloud-gen customers’ personalized preferences. It will allow them to earn a larger share of customers’ wallets, and help them adjust continuously to stay relevant in such a rapidly changing market.

PCRF is an important part of IMS architectures as well. It works across wireless networks and can come pre-integrated in a standard IT server as well. In such scenario, what does the future hold for PCRF? What more functionalities will define its usability in the near future?

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is a relatively new, emerging technology—a richer multimedia voice and video call service based on IMS. PCRF is a mandatory part of 3GPP VoLTE architecture.

VoLTE also enables native Wi-Fi calling (or Voice over Wi-Fi, or VoWiFi). Every cellular network—no matter how good it is—will have coverage issues indoors and in most cases, Wi-Fi coverage can act as support. Offering seamless support for calls using both Wi-Fi and cellular enables CSPs to offer improved coverage and a more satisfied customer experience.

PCRF should be seen as a means to define how a service is delivered by the network and to provide more dynamic control based on the monetization strategy. Thus, an enterprise VoLTE call could be granted better quality than a consumer VoLTE call. Establishing greater control and defining how a network delivers services allows operators to invest in the right direction and make more effective use of their assets.

Virtualization and ‘network slicing’ are enablers for finer granularity and control but also demand improved intelligence in the Policy Management domain.

How can operators look towards doing more with PCRF solutions – while embracing NFV and SDN on a larger plane?

The world is moving towards IP-only networks. Both voice and traditional messaging are becoming based on data and this is setting a totally new paradigm for an efficient and easy-to-use PCC environment. In shifting to this new paradigm, speed is the key! The industry needs to move from telco speed to internet speed, accelerating the development of new services and launching them quicker. This is currently one of the biggest challenges facing digital and communications service providers today.

NFV and SDN are expected to improve agility and speed in a totally new way and they require multi-vendor readiness. By virtualizing functions that would normally run on proprietary hardware and delivering them via a virtual machine or set of virtual machines, providers can reduce their capital expenditure and improve their overall flexibility

PCC (and thus PCRF) is expected to be among the first functions to be virtualized, along with EPC, IMS, DPI, and VoLTE.

There is no doubt that PCRF is an important element in Service Provider Information Technology strategy today – how can this create the basis to enable digital transformation?

The impatient “Generation Cloud” – a new type of customer – demands a variety of personalized options, instantly. Following the principle of ultra-personalization of “one size fits only one,” operators must be able to leverage wider predictive analytics, feeding the PCC engine with instant decisions and automated actions for each individual customer’s needs, preferences and context.

An efficient PCC architecture requires native integration of policy (PCRF), rating and balance management (OCS), to help operators design and launch new data offerings quickly to these Generation Cloud customers.

To be successful in the future, service providers need to be able to experiment efficiently with new services. PCC and the whole stack must to comply with Fail Fast and Scale Fast methodologies to fit with this new culture of experimentation. If services are successful, they need to be able to scale rapidly, and if services are less successful, operators must fail fast and come up with new ideas.

How is your solution positioned to drive digital transformation for the operator in the right manner?

MONETIZER™ is Comptel’s commercial brand of its Policy and Charging Control offering, incorporating PCRF, SPR and OCS. It’s deployable in virtual environments and is compliant with NFV principles. MONETIZER™ closely follows the modular software design principle, supporting multi-vendor readiness and integration-friendliness, and it’s an integral part of various partner ecosystems and blueprints.

MONETIZER™ can also be equipped with data-driven policies optimized by analytics. Comptel’s predictive analytics solution, DATA FASTERMIND™, predicts the right data plan for individual customers at right time, with excellent accuracy. This allows for speedy experimentation and more frequent trialing of data bundles.

Overall, it combines all the tools needed to efficiently respond to the operator customer’s needs for flexibility, agility and ease-of-use. Its combination of fast offer creation, supported by an offer library is a must if operators are to stay competitive moving forward.

Please share some of the case studies where your PCRF solution is being implemented?

For a Tier1 digital and communications service provider operating in Europe and Asia, Comptel implemented a variety of services including EU regulation data roaming, fair-usage policy with capped plans, “restrict the data” usage, differentiated bundles, bandwidth allocation, online roaming cost control, and offer-based policies in multi-vendor networks with 3GPP compliant policy enforcement elements.

Comptel has also enabled DNA Finland to roll out a data roaming application which helps the operator define tiered data packages and give customers clear visibility into their daily service usage. Additionally, an Asian mobile operator customized Comptel Control and Charge to provide low-cost, device-specific SIM bundles that allowed it to engage a different subscriber segment, as well as create upsell opportunities among existing customers, who would pay extra to get separate SIMs for their tablets.

What is your product roadmap for PCRF? What kind of product innovations are being led by your organization?

In terms of product innovations that Comptel has led, we were the first to realize the need for deep integration in aligning charging and policy control. This is an area where others quickly followed us.

Moving ahead, the main development areas we will be focusing on are the application of VoLTE in virtualized multi-vendor environments. We will also be focused on NFV-enabled delivery of MONETIZER™ as a function in the full blown Hitachi NFV vEPC stack.