4G means change, especially in the back office. Because the story isn’t just about bandwidth and innovative services; it’s also about infrastructure. With 4G, legacy BSS will be hard pressed to keep up.
Voice over LTE (VoLTE) – the crown jewel of the new network – proves the point. The “Skype on Steroids” reality of voice becoming just another application riding on a data network turns the OTT services we’re now familiar with into something that delivers faster, better data-network calls and a myriad of other desirable extras (like video chat, on-the-fly information sharing) as well, all tied to your mobile service. The paradigm is changing.
VoLTE gives communications service providers an edge in competing with the likes of Skype, due to the services’ tighter integration with a network that tracks location, device type, controls quality of service, and billing information.
Pricing for VoLTE is particularly interesting. Early movers in the market have executed family plans that give customers unlimited voice and messaging with a bucket of data that can be shared across multiple devices. Since VoLTE acts simply as an app, this can hasten the end of the “minutes” approach to billing and charging. But it creates a new problem: Figuring out how much (and what) data is being consumed is a lot more difficult than figuring out how many minutes a voice call lasts. To leverage the real potential of VoLTE, however, SPs have to do this.
The challenge here isn’t billing. It’s policy control. This is the area where BSS is likely to quickly find itself coming up short as VoLTE takes off.
Why? LTE means radical increases in transactions per second (TPS) over the network, a significant proportion of which come specifically as a result of the introduction of VoLTE and IMS services. Handsets will allocate more bearers, and with more services to monitor (and control), another application function speaking to the policy control domain is added, meaning the need for policy signaling will increase rapidly.
Furthermore, a significant data challenge follows. Session correlation over multiple information sources will become prerequisite with Application Function/IMS sessions (Rx) correlating to Gx sessions and interconnect traffic carried over an S9 interface (for VoLTE roaming) also requiring policy control. For example, think about a situation where an individual subscriber is outside his or her home network while others within their group are not, meaning S9 sessions will need to correlate back to Rx and Gx.
There is a paradigm shift in billing, too. As voice becomes all-data based, simplified billing architectures where the onus is on counting and service bundling rather than per-event rating follow. Time-to-market and service differentiation now become key; move slowly and you’ll miss out – move quickly if you can handle the increase in data that will result. Policy Control will be the key enabler.
How Policy is configured and managed is crucial, something that has to be addressed in an adaptable environment, given the frequent changes that will be faced. Policy for VoLTE won’t work via the traditional HQ software development process approach. Rather, with LTE it is vital to handle the Diameter interfaces involved in service provision in a flexible way. There are also multiple partners that operators need to exchange signaling information with via interfaces that have to be aligned to different versions of the specifications depending on the maturity and the capability of the architecture at the partner’s location.
When introducing other networks into the regulated environment (like WiFi) it will be a diameter gateway (Gxx) interface to these networks that will be required. Thus, understanding, managing and transforming diameter signaling and then it is important to have the ability to integrate quickly new bearer technologies into a Policy environment.
In all these areas, R Systems and DigitalRoute’s policy control solution, with its LTE-ready performance, offers answers. Policy control’s state-of-the-industry scalability (on commodity hardware) is proven. Its ability to support IMS and VoLTE is already proven in live deployment. Its intelligent decision engine has the ability to correlate any session information, as part of a coherent policy enforcement process. Flexible diameter transformation and routing are built-in. VoLTE looms and threatens to change the communications game in the process.
R Systems and DigitalRoute Policy Control VoLTE solution can quickly put service providers in position to fully tap the opportunity at their fingertips by integrating the solution lightning-fast in the existing infrastructure.
As final acknowledgement on how our solution is a perfect fit for future IMS and VoLTE scenarios, we managed to install and configure a fully working trial environment for VoLTE at a large tier-1 European operator in one week.