Broadband Usage Solution Sets Stage for Service Personalization

Marc Price, CTO, Americas, Openet

Marc Price, CTO, Americas, Openet

August 27, 2012 – Cable operators, motivated by the need for new approaches to managing subscriber bandwidth usage, are taking steps to exploit the vast amounts of account data at their disposal in ways that set the stage for a much broader range of personally targeted applications.
 
One example of the phenomenon is steps taken by an unnamed major MSO utilizing the data management technology supplied by Openet, which, according to Infonetics Research, is the leader in market share among providers of policy management platforms worldwide. While much of the growth in demand for use of data aggregation and policy management tools to facilitate one-to-one interactions between service providers and subscribers has been on the mobile side, fixed service providers are now beginning to follow a similar path, starting with the need to optimize network efficiency, says Marc Price, CTO for the Americas at Openet.

“We are working with one of the largest broadband providers in the U.S. to ensure its customers can closely monitor their broadband consumption and make an educated decision about what type of plan is best suited to help maintain a desired level of online activity,” Price says. “We’re leveraging capabilities that haven’t been used before and that networks would be challenged to use, because the information resides in the IT domain.”

The Openet platform consists of a variety of modules that perform functions such as policy management, profile management and balance management orchestrated in real time by a low-latency high-powered transaction engine. The multi-layered framework interacts with a broad range of subscriber- and service-related data repositories and various third-party systems such as database managers, configuration processors, statistics reporting and security/user management.

“By working with adjunct systems and gluing everything together we’re able to retrieve and cache information in real time that can be used by operators to provide a more meaningful and personalized experience for their customers,” Price says.

These capabilities open a path to a vast array of personalized applications such as upsell recommendations based on personal viewing preferences, advanced advertising and interactive apps. So far, the applications in mobile, the biggest market for Openet’s and other policy management platforms, have been largely focused on usage management, but this is changing, notes Shira Levine, directing analyst for next-generation OSS and Policy at Infonetics.

“The worldwide policy market is growing quickly, and the majority of that growth is concentrated in the wireless policy space,” Levine says. “Mobile operators are no longer simply equating policy management with bandwidth management; they’re increasingly viewing policy as a tool to monetize their next-generation networks by enabling value-added capabilities and new service models.”

In a typical utilization path, Canadian telecom TELUS is putting the Openet platform to work initially in the mobile space, but it could be applied in fixed services as well, although there have been no announcements in that vein. “What we’ve announced is an open-ended mobility policy manager with the capability to provide unparalleled subscriber experience,” Price says. “The primary value is for mobile subscribers, because they have more variables around usage than fixed subscribers do. The big challenge is around data usage.”

For example, he says, if a subscriber is about to exceed a condition that would result in an additional charge, a notice can be sent. “That real-time interaction allows the subscriber to make choices they wouldn’t otherwise be alerted to, which improves the subscriber’s perception that the operator is looking out for their interests,” he adds.

The new LTE-ready strategic policy platform at TELUS provides a foundation to improve subscriber roaming experiences through real-time updates while allowing the operator to enrich its identity-oriented services, says TELUS CTO Ibrahim Gedeon. “Today’s policy management solutions need to be flexible and easy to configure, and Openet Policy Manager meets those demands,” Gedeon says. “The product provides a best-in-class PCRF (Policy Charging and Rules Function) solution that is the driving force behind our ability to offer a better experience to our customers.”

Many more use cases are in store, says Chris Hoover, vice president of marketing at Openet. “TELUS is prepared to keep up with the ever-changing PCRF demands,” Hoover says, noting the new tools allow the company to drive incremental revenue right out of the gate.

PCRF is the set of functions defined for the mobile industry in the 3GPP Policy and Control (PCC) standards. The Policy Manager can perform similar functions for cable operators as a combined Policy Application Manager (PAM) and Policy Server (PS), as defined in the PacketCable MultiMedia (PCMM) Common Open Policy Service (COPS) standards, Price explains.

Usage notifications such as the unnamed MSO is planning are the starting point for applications of Openet’s data management platform in the cable space just as they are in mobile, although obviously the context and content of the notifications is different, he notes. “But in the video environment, use of the technology can lead to other things like search and discovery or the aggregation and delivery of information to the platform that can be used to support other types of proactive treatment or care that wouldn’t otherwise be available in the session path,” he says.

A key factor in MSOs’ ability to utilize the real-time capabilities of the Openet framework is the IPDR (Internet Protocol Data Record) Streaming Protocol, which is the mode by which data collected by the CMTS (Cable Modem Termination System) from cable modems or OpenCable-enabled set-top boxes is delivered to back-office platforms. “A handful of operators are able to use our platform for these types of applications because they have converted over to IPDR Streaming Protocol,” Price says. “It will be increasingly the case that operators move their networks in that direction.”

This allows cable providers to react to nuances in user behavior as soon as a session starts. “Where bandwidth usage is concerned, an initial application will be to display what the user is consuming throughout a session,” Price says. “Whether or not a particular operator wants to adopt usage based billing, having this level of awareness and communication capability opens the door to many ways to develop management plans.

“In the case of the MSO we’re talking about,” he continues, “there’s an incentive where users who don’t exceed their service limit get a discount on their fee. There appears to be a growing appetite among operators for the flexibility to offer these kinds of options.”

Complementing the Policy Manager is another module, the Profile Manager, which allows operators to support multiple applications of the policy management capabilities by segmenting subscriber information for a variety of personalized services, such as parental control rules, loyalty programs, personalized rate plans and much else. These applications can be extended across operators’ wireless and fixed networks by virtue of the ability of the platform to coordinate fulfillment with systems from different vendors that are meant to work exclusively with one type of network or another, Price notes.

“We can deliver information from these multiple access networks to solutions that may not be able to use them otherwise,” he says. “The platform gives visibility into real usage and supports triggers for action on a particular application related to that information wherever the user might be.”

The need for better ways to manage broadband bandwidth usage can be seen as a godsend to cable operators when it comes to motivating them to act on the personalized service mandate. “We’ve never had an operator come to us saying we want this solution for personalization of our services in general,” Price says. “But once they have identified a specific need for these capabilities they start to see all kinds of areas where they can dynamically apply policies based on real-time subscriber behavior.”

For example, once contextual information is amassed within the platform’s Profile Manager, “that information can be used to drive rules from the Policy Manager that trigger actions on the network and external solutions, such as an ad manager talking to a campaign manager,” he says. “That’s one of the functions proposed for our platform.”

Personalization of applications is much harder to do in the account management environment of cable, where subscriptions are assigned to households, than is the case for mobile, where the relationship is individualized. “The challenge for cable operators is to be able to provide an offer or make a user aware of a service or app that might be interesting to them,” Price says. “This solution makes that possible.”