Policy’s importance grows in line with its complexity
Developing policy on the hoof is generally frowned upon in administration, but it’s a survival skill in the constantly shifting CSP. It’s still a game changer though, writes Nick Booth.
All communications service providers (CSPs) need better ways to personalise the services they give each individual, if only to stop them from defecting to rivals. If they’re really lucky, they can bump up the revenue from the subscriber, through fair means or roaming charges. As a final added bonus, they may even cut the bottom line.
Policy has never been so important and it’s never been so complicated to devise. These two developments are related of course, the causal link being the profileration of variables and moving parts. Policy now has to cover everything through the entire IT stack from the databases, to the cloud resources, the subscribers and the over the top services they pay for. These are all a moveable feast, but policy shouldn’t feel like it was made on the hoof – even if it was, to a certain extent.
Sophisticated policy management has historically needed painfully large bets on hardware and software to support the system. But CSPs move too fast and too frequently for any CSP policy maker to want to weigh anchor with a massive proprietary system
To help address this issue, vendors such as Oracle Communications are now offering greater flexibility in the way service is delivered. The Oracle Communications Policy Management system for example, comes within a single pair of bog standard servers, which consume less than four inches in a data centre rack.
Based on Oracle Communications virtualisation technology, the product offers CSPs a quick but proven carrier-grade system which punches way above its tiny footprint, catering for audiences of between 500 and 500 million subscribers.
It promises to weigh up data consumption and demand for a more personalised and controllable communications experience. However, these days network policy use cases are both broader in scope and more granular in detail. This dynamic has caused the need for robust policy management functionality that is also scalable. This is what Oracle promises it can do with its Communications Policy Management.
Can one system cater for both the budget-challenged smaller CSPs and the multinationals, whose problems are more likely to involve scalability and cohesion across several data centres?
Yes says Doug Suriano, Oracle Communications general manager. Oracle started off catering to the world’s largest service providers but now the cloud gives its systems the elasticity to cater for smaller players, he argues.
“Now, we have combined this experience with our expertise in virtualisation to offer these same sophisticated capabilities to CSPs of all sizes and with varying policy management needs,” says Suriano.
Policy management in general is becoming more confusing as the size and importance of the challenge attracts more companies who think they have the solution, according to analyst Ron Westfall, research director of service enablement ecosystems at Current Analysis.
“A more diverse set of companies are launching digital communications offerings,” says Westfall.
One of the stalwarts of policy management, warns that this is a market where a legacy is a positive advantage. Start ups and disruptors aren’t a great boon in a situation that calls for continuity, says Ann Hatchell, the vice president of marketing at Amdocs Network Solutions. In the all-IP network, all things are not equal, she says, and there is something of a class system emerging.
“Data is no longer considered equal. Voice over LTE, video over LTE and rich communications are part of a new class of high definition services that are changing the way data is consumed,” says Hatchell.
Policy control is a much tougher competition to take part in, as the game has shifted from enabling basic fair usage and monetisation use cases to playing a pivotal role in the high definition experience. Taking advantage of high definition service quality is critical to driving new revenue from over the top partnerships, personalised consumer offers and high-growth segments. This is where experience of running systems for clients is invaluable.
“Service providers are looking for policy systems that don’t cost a fortune to run and that can efficiently manage increased signaling from high definition traffic, provide tight integration with charging systems for contextual offers and real-time quality of service changes,” says Hatchell.
That’s not to say the technical challenge is no longer important. There is still a critical need to align to management standards create a system whereby high definition voice and video services can be customised per enterprise and installed in minutes.
Policies and policy makers will have to keep pace with product and service proliferation and ever changing customer and enterprise demands. The Internet of Things, cloud services, content-based charging, quality of service based changes and cloud services business models will further burden the policy maker
But the subscribers don’t want to know that, says Ravi Palepu, senior director for global telco solutions at Virtusa.
“They want a seamless experience,” he says.
Standardising policy across regions will impose multifaceted challenges in future, he warns. But that’s a bridge to cross later.