When it comes to mobile video, it's the classic good news/bad news story for operators. On the plus side, the explosive growth in mobile video represents a significant new revenue source -- one than can potentially offset shrinking voice revenues. A look at the numbers paints a picture of the market potential. YouTube, now the second largest search engine, hit the one million per day video mark in July 2010 with its mobile apps and mobile website. Considering that fewer than ten percent of people are currently watching mobile video on any given day, this number is just the tip of the iceberg. Industry pundits predict that video will account for 66 percent of all mobile data traffic by 2014.
The bad news: Mobile video viewers are hogging network bandwidth. In the first half of 2010, according to the Mobile Trends Report from Allot Communications, video streaming consumed nearly 35 percent of all mobile broadband bandwidth -- a whopping 92 percent over the previous year. The increasing bandwidth being consumed by mobile video is straining network resources, impacting quality of service (QoS) and driving up network investment. And, with its low tolerance for congestion, video requires relatively smooth delivery to look and sound good, making it not only a large contributor to network congestion but less tolerant of it as well. It's clearly in every mobile operator's best interest to find ways to mitigate video's impact on the network while still meeting consumer demand.
The operator's challenge
Mobile video consumption rates are outpacing revenues. And, as the number of video applications and access screens grow, the gap will widen. To close that gap and convert growth into profitability, operators have to tackle two challenges: aligning revenue contributions with traffic consumption patterns and managing network congestion to improve customer satisfaction.
Static provisioning has been used to manage and control services in legacy data environments. With this approach, provisioning systems like authentication, authorization and accounting (AAA) are used to configure profiles. The profiles are applied just once -- when the user establishes a data session. This static approach works for a one-size-fits-all, flat-rate model. However, video is a highly personalized service, which requires the ability to tailor the service to fit individual subscriber needs. To do so, operators have to be able to make real-time adjustments -- at session start up and during the middle of a session –to react to differing service levels, subscriber tiers, roaming and location status, network conditions, and applications.
Closing the gap with intelligent policy control
Policy control, which the 3GPP defines as the policy and charging rules function (PCRF), is a relatively new technology that gives operators the flexibility to dynamically control how and under what conditions broadband network resources are allocated to subscribers and applications. The controls are applied based on operator-defined business rules, which take in account subscriber, network and application conditions as well as other factors such as time of day or day of week. To implement the controls, the PCRF gets a policy request from a system or application, processes the policy rules for that particular type of request according to the conditions at the time, and then, if needed, instructs one or more other network systems to change the behavior of the service. In this way, the network performance, charge and consumption allowed for each user can be personalized, according to the services the subscriber has chosen.
Early uses for a PCRF have typically been for controlling bandwidth and notifying heavy use subscribers, but a growing number of mobile operators are now using the PCRF to manage specific applications like video. The main advantage of a standards-based, PCRF approach over earlier static service provisioning is the ability to selectively manage a wide range of network treatments to deliver the best service possible to the maximum number of subscribers given a certain set of network constraints. Using the PCRF, operators have a wide variety of options at hand for controlling mobile video. For instance, during periods of congestion when video is consuming too much network resource, an operator can throttle video traffic on the congested nodes. That capability preserves network and service integrity and prevents video bandwidth demand from overwhelming the network.
Another example is using policy control to enable subscribers to opt into different service tiers -- no video allowance, optimized video only, video only in off-peak hours, or video just for work-related applications. Or, an operator can implement policy control to block or optimize video when a subscriber exceeds a specified usage threshold to prevent the bill shock caused by overage fees.
To enable this level of service personalization, the PCRF works in conjunction with a number of network functions. It acts as the central coordinator of policy actions, serving as the 'brain' for the main gateways in the network. This coordination is critical so that the treatment of data sessions and applications is not handled in isolation. When decisions are made locally in individual “boxes,” there's no consideration for the bigger picture of what's happening in the network, which can severely impact the subscriber experience and impair network performance.
Faced with a largely flat mobile voice market, operators are welcoming the uptake in mobile video usage. Feeding subscribers' growing appetite for the service has the potential to boost revenues and cash flow. However, existing static provisioning systems don't equip operators with the flexible tools they need to effectively manage and monetize the service's explosive growth. With intelligent policy control, operators can define the way in which they allocate resources to subscribers and applications to maximize revenues, reduce costs by optimizing network resources and create a personalized service experience that attracts and retains customers.
Tekelec's Policy Server/PCRF provides policy control and real-time management of subscriber, application and network-related data elements. At the Policy Server's core is a high-speed rules engine, which providers can configure to manage and control QoS, charging, quota, optimization, and admission control. Using the Tekelec Policy Server, service providers can balance network utilization and ensure optimal conditions for any application, resulting in a scalable, efficient infrastructure that controls cost and increases revenue.