Network Infrastructure

How Policy-based Networking is Advancing and Facing Challenges

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  July 23, 2012

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

Policy has become a central theme of networking recently, and as wireless service providers invest in their networks with new 4G technology, there is talk about their interest in bringing new value-added pricing and packaging of wireless services along for the ride. Policy, vendors in this realm say, can help them do all that. But just how to implement policy in the network infrastructure and to what extent wireless operators will leverage policy to offer differentiated services remains to be seen.

To date, network operators have used policy primarily as a stick as opposed to a carrot, indicates Chris King, senior director of product marketing at Oracle (News - Alert) Communications.

“As carriers scramble to meet growing demand for data services, they are running into spectrum limitations, severely reducing the amount of total bandwidth they can offer subscribers,” King notes. “This creates significant challenges for network operators working to ensure a problem-free service experience for existing customers as well as sufficient network capacity for new or upgrading customers. Further compounding this issue, consumers are increasingly turning to over-the-top providers, whose applications place an additional strain on the network while delivering little to no revenue to the CSP (News - Alert).”

Indeed, 70 percent of mobile application revenues are going to over-the-top players and not to the operators, says Joanne Steinberg, director of strategic marketing of Tekelec.

Oracle’s King adds that to overcome these challenges, many carriers have rolled out first-generation policy products that throttle users when they exceed bandwidth.

“These first generation ‘punitive policy’ solutions lack the flexibility and extensibility that CSPs require in today’s competitive marketplace,” King says. “What CSPs should implement is a flexible policy management solution that facilitates real-time, personalized policy controls, which help improve the customer experience. With this type of solution, CSPs can optimize data usage and ensure a fair allocation of network resources.” 

Service providers can benefit from the increased flexibility afforded by policy controls to create customized service plans that are tailored to each individual’s mobile preferences, enhancing customer service and creating new, value-added revenue opportunities, he says, adding that it can also enable carriers to more easily implement and enforce regulatory requirements.

Jonathon Gordon, director of marketing at Allot Communications, says that his company has definitely noted some advancement since last year in service providers’ innovation in charging and policy.

Steinberg of Tekelec agrees, noting that Telefonica (News - Alert) offers structured mobile data plans based on subscribers and what applications they use. For example, you could have a social networking plan and pay $30 a month for Facebook and Twitter (News - Alert) social networking, so the service provider would zero-rate those apps, but assign other services a quota, she says. Meanwhile, U.S. wireless operators have been using policy to define service tiers and shared data plans. That means they have to track how much bandwidth is used by multiple devices in the family, total that and match it to the service quota. There’s a need for policy to enable that, she says.

Allot’s Gordon adds that some service providers also are beginning to charge differently for video, or HD video, by using policy to ensure video doesn’t buffer, for example. Gordon adds that it’s really about improving the customer experience, and he notes that consumers wouldn’t put up with buffering if they saw a movie at a theater.

To help its carrier customers move into differentiated mobile services, Allot in May announced plans to acquire Ortiva Wireless, which specializes in mobile video optimization. The incorporation of Ortiva’s technology within the Allot Service Gateway will allow mobile service providers to manage the increasing volume of video traffic on their networks, which according to Allot’s latest Global MobileTrends report represents 42 percent of mobile data traffic worldwide.

“This acquisition is an important building block in our Service Gateway vision,” comments Rami Hadar, Allot’s president and CEO.  “Since the introduction of Allot Service Gateway in 2007, our goal has been to leverage our unique technology to enable the broadest range of cost-saving and revenue-generating services on a single intelligent network services platform. By purchasing Ortiva, we will own an innovative video optimization solution, one of the major value-adds that our customers are seeking today. As video becomes an ever-increasing challenge for mobile networks, this acquisition will allow Allot to offer a robust and tightly integrated video optimization service within Allot Service Gateway.”

But Gordon says it’s still early days on this front for LTE.

 “We’re a little disappointed on how that’s being priced,” he says, noting that all-you-can-eat packages still dominate.

Tekelec’s Steinberg says one challenge is that new policy requirements (related to VoLTE and IMS application control, for example) for LTE are someone different and more complex than the one we saw with 3G. Another challenge service providers have in implementing new services is that it sometimes just takes too long to launch policy to enable them, she adds. To address that,  Tekelec outfitted its rules engine with preprogrammed, preconfigured, and table-based features that makes it easy to modify policy.

There’s also the question as how best to implement policy from a network architecture perspective, adds Don Bowman, CTO of Sandvine (News - Alert).

Sandvine believes policy is something that should be done in the IP domain, as opposed to in the access router, he says. That’s because if it’s done in the access router, you need different policy for each kind of access – whether it’s DSL, Wi-Fi, 3GPP wireless connectivity, or whatever, he explains. Supporting policy in the IP domain, meanwhile, allows for a consistent experience, and integrated and consistent analytics.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi