Authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA) sits right at the heart of an operator’s monetization strategy, seamlessly integrating policies to their network infrastructure. As next generation operators and CSPs move to an era of Internet of Things and OTT engagements, they need to invest in best in class AAA infrastructure in order to better utilise their network investments. With its products and solutions directed towards driving better profitability for operators, CSG International is playing a vital role in the AAA space.
Siobhan Ryley, Director, Product Marketing, CSG International, speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the current trends in AAA and why it is going to be even more important for operators in the days to come.
Authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA) is typically used as a framework to intelligently manage user policies as well as auditing usage of the customer. How is this technology piece getting evolved at the operator level – in order to deliver seamless experience to the end user today?
AAA has evolved from the days of dial-in to the innovation of smartphones, with Diameter supplanting Radius in the protocol stakes. Diameter is, after all, bidirectional, secure, very efficient, extremely reliable and highly available. It is also backwardly compatible with Radius. For these reasons, Diameter has almost exclusively been chosen as the AAA protocol in all next generation fixed and mobile IP-based networks, via 3GPP’s IMS standards. But as we see convergence between networks and access types, and given that 3GPP is still very mobile-centric, our view is that Radius’ broader integration options will continue to be important. This is also the case with the latest Wi-Fi standards, where AAA is a key component.
As networks evolved, effective policy control through the deployment of Diameter or Radius-based signalling became essential to guarantee cost-effective and efficient delivery of data services, and to manage and minimise risk from increasing traffic. Having developed efficient delivery mechanisms, operators then turned to addressing customer satisfaction. Policy 2.0 – the tight integration of policy and charging – was needed.
Coupling charging with policy management is a fundamental business enabler, as it allows CSPs to both control and monetize subscribers’ use of data services. Once coupled, the ability to access common product and service definitions helps to streamline time-to-market and enables a single holistic and intimate view of the subscriber, including their service entitlements, location, device type and usage behavior.
How can your AAA solution drive better customer experience management for the operators today?
AAA is one of the control mechanisms offered by CSG’s Integrated Charging and Policy (ICP) for the implementation of policy decisions. ICP combines charging flexibility with control mechanisms, in effect harnessing the intelligence and customer context held within the charging platform to drive real-time, subscriber-aware policy decisions into the network. Instead of relying on standalone policy management practices, which typically cut off a heavy data user as usage peaks or quota exhausts, ICP identifies decision points and gives the customer control – over budgets, and individual, family and business spending. Rich notifications and alerts inspire subscriber confidence, helping to allay fears of potential bill shock and promote additional spend for valued services.
What are some of the important trends happening in this space? And why operators need to invest in this segment in order to increase their bonding with customers? What are the big benefits?
Looking forward, operators are continuing to innovate. We see the pace of change increase as they adopt an entrepreneurial approach to new policy enabled use-cases and business models. This approach is driven at least in part by the advent of Over the Top (OTT) offerings. As operators increasingly decide that they need to partner with and attract strong OTT players, they are realising that guaranteeing sufficient and quality assured access to their services is an attractive proposition.
And OTT is not the only acronym driving operators’ new business models. The Internet of Things (IoT) is equally prevalent in the press and in the minds of executives. The need to deliver efficient, appropriately managed network access is at the heart of IoT offerings, from vending machine monitors to quality-critical services such as heart monitors.
Operators need to invest to ensure they have the right systems in place to support their business drivers. From CSG’s perspective, flexibility, performance and openness are key characteristics. Operators must choose the most effective way to deliver policies to the network whether this is over AAA, PCRF or some other mechanism. AAA or policy decisions that are based on the subscriber’s context – including their services, preferences and balances – are the only paths for delivering a quality of experience to ensure that the subscriber values the services provided by the operator. Thus the ability to tightly integrate the system managing the subscriber (charging system) with the systems delivering policies (PCRF and AAA) is the only way to safeguard success. Operators must ensure their software and platform providers are aligned with their goals and capable of delivering on this vision.
Please share some of the cases where your AAA solution / product is being used?
Fast time to market is enabled by the ICP solution’s pre-configured charging and policy use cases out-of-the-box. These include shared wallet capabilities across families, organisations, or devices; service value add such as QoS shaping and location based QoS, as well as bill shock and fair usage management; and of course upsell opportunities, such as device or location content promotions and point of use upsell such as bandwidth turbo boost upsell.
A relevant example of service convergence is one CSG client that offers rich and diverse innovations in order to attract new customers and to keep existing ones engaged and satisfied. CSG’s AAA solution helps them support a convergent offering of Data/Voice and TV. Within this service, the operator uses CSG’s AAA solution to define and create user profiles, service profiles and billing options, and to deploy these throughout the network. CSG’s solution manages user authentication and service setup, before collecting traffic data and aggregating this into accounting records for downstream revenue assurance and charging purposes.
What does the future hold for this segment? How will it evolve ahead – once we start looking at robust 4G / 3G and 2G scenarios from operators on one side and users opting to select multiple service experience for different use cases, on the other side?
We predict that policy and charging will continue to play a central role in an operator’s toolkit. The business need for coupling charging with policy management is already well established and operators that have successfully done so have a competitive advantage over those operators that have so far failed to fully realize the vision. This advantage will become more pronounced as we move forward into a more entrepreneurial, fast-changing and interconnected world with rapidly evolving business dynamics.