Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Policy driven optimization

The video optimization market is still young, but with over 80 mobile networks deployed globally, I am officially transitioning it from emerging to growth phase in the technology life cycle matrix.

Mobile world congress brought many news in that segment, from new entrants, to networks announcements, technology launches and new partnerships. I think one of the most interesting trend is in the policy and charging management for video.

Operators understand that charging models based on pure data consumption are doomed to be hard to understand for users and to be potentially either extremely inefficient or expensive. In a world where a new iPad can consume a subscriber's data plan in a matter of hours, while the same subscriber could be watching 4 to 8 times the same amount of video on a different device, the one-size-fits-all data plan is a dangerous proposition.

While the tool set to address the issue is essentially in place, with intelligent GGSNs, EPCs, DPIs, PCRFs and video delivery and optimization engine, this collection of devices were mostly managing their portion of traffic in a very disorganized fashion. Access control at the radio and transport layer segregated from protocol and application, accounting separated from authorization and charging...
Policy control is the technology designed to unify them and since this market's inception, has been doing a good job of coordinating access control, accounting, charging, rating and permissions management for voice and data.

What about video?
The diameter Gx interface is extensible, as a semantics to convey traffic observations and decisions between one or several policy decision points and policy enforcement points. The standards allows for complex iterative challenges between end points to ascertain a session's user, its permissions and balance as he uses cellular services. 
Video was not a dominant part of the traffic when the policy frameworks were put in place, and not surprisingly, the first generation PCRFs and video optimization deployments were completely independent. Rules had to be provisioned and maintained in separate systems, because the PCRF was not video aware and the video optimization platforms were not policy aware.
This led to many issues, ranging from poor experience (DPI instructed to throttle traffic below the encoding rate of a video), bill shock (ill-informed users blow past their data allowance) to revenue leakage (poorly designed charging models not able to segregate the different HTTP traffic).

The next generation networks see a much tighter integration between policy decision and policy enforcement for the delivery of video in mobile networks. Many vendors in both segments collaborate and have moved past the pure interoperability testing to deployments in commercial networks. Unfortunately, we have not seen many proof points of these integration yet. Mostly, it is due to the fact that this is an emerging area. Operators are still trying to find the right recipe for video charging. Standards do not offer guidance for specific video-related policies. Vendors have to rely on two-ways (proprietary?) implementations.

Lately, we have seen the leaders in policy management  and video optimization collaborate much closer to offer solutions in this space. In some cases, as the result of being deployed in the same networks and being "forced" to integrate gracefully, in many cases, because the market enters a new stage of maturation. As you well know, I have been advocating a closer collaboration between DPI, policy management and video optimization for a while (here, here and here for instance). I think these are signs of market maturation that will accelerate concentration in that space. There are more and more rumors of  video optimization vendors getting closer to mature policy vendors. It is a logical conclusion for operators to get a better integrated traffic management and charging management ecosystem centered around video going forward. I am looking forward to discussing these topics and more at Policy Control 2012 in Amsterdam, April 24-25.