VoLTE Challenges: The Case for Integrated Policy, Charging and Diameter Signaling

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VoLTE Challenges: The Case for Integrated Policy, Charging and Diameter Signaling

By: Peter Bernstein, TMCnet Senior Editor

Hopefully, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) has arrived or is coming to your preferred mobile service provider.  As mobile networks transform into end-to-end IP ones, the business case for VoLTE as a means for mobile operators to provide differentiated services, including high definition voice and multiple media ones, has become compelling and taken on a sense of urgency. 

Indeed, it is being viewed strategically as a way for service providers to distinguish their services on the basis of Quality of Experience (QoE) from 3G and OTT voice apps. It is also seen as providing competitive advantage because of its ability to enable end users to seamlessly move from a voice call to a video call, or shift from one device to another in the midst of the conversation.  It is why interest in accelerating VoLTE deployments is so high. 

However, network transformations are not easy.  VoLTE deployment and operations is an interesting case in point.  It brings unique challenges for service providers related to policy control, charging and Diameter signaling control.  Steffen Paulus, Director of Product Marketing, Alcatel-Lucent has some interesting insights worth sharing on the need for integrated policy, charging and Diameter signaling in a virtualized solution, as the path forward for VoLTE success.  This is particularly relevant in light of Alcatel-Lucent’s recent launch of its End-to-End Voice over LTE (E2E VoLTE) solution that is an integral part of the Rapport multimedia real-time communications platform which has been architected specifically to me service provider and enterprise needs.

Paulus has a few tips and suggestions on how to get VoLTE rollouts optimized in those three critical and interrelated areas of policy, charging and signaling. 

The first one concerns the value of network analytics and personalized offers as the means for service providers to achieve nice adoption rates when launching VoLTE.  Network intelligence can be leveraged with the application of sophisticated analytics to understand which markets and customers will benefit most.  This translates into the ability to offer self-service capabilities to customers and enables service providers to proactively target specific customer segments based on rich contextual information and be more responsive to changing market conditions. 

In fact, the ability for the sharing of analytics across lines-of-business, assuming part of the network transformation includes the upgrading to a more flexible and adaptable underlying rating and charging capabilities, is critical for enabling rapid competitive responses.  The reason is obvious but important, creative marketing can only work when new packages and business models are ready for prime time.

Second, when it comes to creating compelling VoLTE experiences is the getting the policy and signaling plumbing VoLTE-ready for ensuring the QoE.  On this score Alcatel-Lucent with deep expertise in VoLTE implementations worldwide, knows that VoLTE can expose significant shortcomings of legacy Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) solutions. Plus, there be limitations in scalability and performance, this can include features such as full geo-redundancy, session binding and correlation.

The scalability issue is not just one for handling the data traffic expected from VoLTE adoption.  A surge in VoLTE subscribers is also going to significantly increase in diameter–based IMS-related control plane traffic.  As Paulus explained, with this surge will  comes a need to properly manage that signaling traffic, offer load-balancing and enable interworking capabilities. He explained, “This area is often referred to as diameter signaling control (DSC), and in combination with the IMS and policy & charging solution is a critical piece of the puzzle. “

Last and not least are the challenges for VoLTE regarding cloud readiness along with the value of using network functions virtualization (NFV) as foundational for next generation service creation and delivery.  Part of this is based on the value of moving to software defined networking (SDN) and NFV capabilities in general as the most cost effective and agile way to run a network going forward.  As if not more important is the ability for service providers to me fast-to-market, fast-in-the-market and incredibly fast to accommodate changes in market conditions be they competitor or user driven. 

As Alcatel-Lucent points out, and recent studies have confirmed, most operators have not upgraded their policy engines and moved to NFV to   enable a scalable and high-speed data layer that can be used to quickly create and manage differentiated data plans based on real-time information about subscriber preferences, needs and lifestyles. This is critical in a world where demands will increase for the unpredictability associated with the ebb and flow networking and signaling flows caused by the introduction/need for more flexible data plans and such things as providing real-time subscriber notifications about data usage.

Where all of this leads in terms of VoLTE success is that each one of the tools for success needs to be well-orchestrated and integrated to achieve, scalability and agility to assure both service quality and speedy responsiveness.  All of this places a premium on having an integrated solution that incorporates all of the tools necessary for the operational efficiency and effectiveness that achieving optimal VoLTE demands.

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