Leading telecoms research firm Heavy Reading recently ran a survey with 80 telecoms operators asking where Policy management is going. The results show that what started off as a niche system designed to provide network controls and implement fair usage limits is now seen as a strategic component that supports an ever increasing range of use cases. Policy is increasingly used by the marketing and business side of an operator as well as the network side. Most of the operators in the survey said that service innovation was the main reason for investing in Policy management, with 75 percent saying that the bought Policy to “help introduce new services, price plans and options”, while the remaining 25 percent see “managing network congestion” as the primary use for Policy. It’s not a case of either or, but both, as more network and marketing Policy use cases get rolled out.
As for planned future uses of Policy, the survey indicated increases in deployment in 2014 and 2015 for use cases such as shared usage plans, analytics, differential QoS and subscriber-level video optimization. Just a look at the success and roll out by operators of shared data plans and the increasing demand for real-time business intelligence would suggest these results are spot on.
But the problem is that an increasing number and sophistication of Policy use cases may lead to more complicated Policy environments which, according to Heavy Reading, “will test the capabilities of some Policy platforms”. The survey highlights the increased roll out of “next-generation use cases such as short-term passes, sponsored promotions, RAN congestion control and support for VoLTE”.
VoLTE is a good example of such a next gen use case and can be used to show the limitations of some current Policy systems. Of the 80 operators survey, 60 percent said that they would need “to upgrade their PCRF to handle VoLTE,” with 10 percent saying that even upgrades wouldn’t solve the problem and that they’d need to replace their PCRF to cater for VoLTE.
With policy management moving from niche to strategic, operators will be using Policy to support more and more use cases. The survey reported that the average telecoms operators will be running 22 use cases by the end of 2016, and more that 75 percent of mobile operators said they would be running more than 25 Policies by 2016.
Policy, like other OSS/BSS systems, seems to making its way into marketing land within the operators – which is no bad thing for the OSS/BSS industry. One of the challenges OSS /BSS players have had to deal with in the past few years is large equipment vendors giving away OSS/BSS software as sweeteners for bigger deals. I’ve spoken to some CTOs about this and getting a BSS component, such as Policy, free of charge and whose service contract is part of a bigger equipment service contract is attractive to operators. But, if the dedicated investment is not made to ensure that these software solutions keep up to date and the systems don’t cater for all the use cases that marketing is demanding, then it’s a bit of false economy. These systems are free for a reason, and free won’t pay for the R & D, engineering and testing costs that next generation OSS/BSS needs to enable support for the type of advancement from niche to strategic as outlined in Heavy Reading’s policy use survey.