Gaining Traction with PCRF

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

With mobile technologies moving ahead at a brisk pace, a recent highlight being the public launch of iPhone5, subscribers seek to get the maximum value out of data services available for their smart devices. For operators, this translates to an exponential increase in cellular data traffic which can only lead to deteriorating quality of 3G services in network-congested regions.


The onset of Wi-Fi technologies has become a panacea for operators as Wi-Fi standards enable integration with mobile packet core infrastructure to give operators an excellent opportunity in extracting revenues from mobile data services, thus, proving its worth as a preferred offload platform.

However in order to simplify the Wi-Fi user experience and align it as closely as possible with the mobile experience, CSPs require an additional component-the Policy Manager.

According to Gartner's predictions, the number of Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide is slated to increase from 6.2 mn in 2011 to 11.7 mn in 2015, with the proportion of smartphone traffic over Wi-Fi hotspots expected to grow from 12% in 2011 to 28% in 2015. 3G-LTE customers have an inherent need for speed, which is becoming a major concern for operators as consumption skyrockets in the face of huge smartphone sales, scarcer spectrum, and flattening revenues.


Wi-Fi technology has thus, emerged as the most popular solution for cellular offload from 3G-LTE because it is inexpensive, unlicensed, omnipresent, and has been widely adopted. At the same time, the challenge does not end here as mobile operators and network equipment vendors must ensure carrier-grade performance for non-voice traffic on Wi-Fi networks, which were previously thought of more as a convenience, not the necessity they have become today.

As mobile operators re-examine their strategies around Wi-Fi, they are finding it to their dismay that getting both the network interoperability and user experience to work perfectly, remains a major pain point.

Basically, the application of Wi-Fi for smartphones and tablets represent a different set of challenges to that traditionally seen on PCs and laptops. This is because these devices tend to be linked to a specific mobile data plan, which comes with carefully-designed pricing and usage policies. Unregulated Wi-Fi usage offers no monetary benefits to the operator.


Introducing the Role of Policy Manager in Wi-Fi

Policy management solutions (PCRF) were originally deployed by multiple systems operators to manage broadband usage. However, as Exhibit 1 shows, deployments in the wireless space are rapidly outpacing deployments in the largely mature fixedline market, which means wireless revenue as a percentage of the entire policy management market will continue to increase over the forecast period.

Today, there is growing interest in using policy in Wi-Fi to enable value-added capabilities such as advanced subscriber control or variable charging based on time of day or subscriber profile.


To explain its role in detail, with PCRF, operators can bring in various innovative plans based on quota management, bandwidth management, and QoS monitoring. It allows the slicing and reservation of quota (based on application, device, location, etc) and also notifies the subscriber once they reach threshold quota or on quota exhaustion. It also enables CSPs to define various Wi-Fi policies like Wi-Fi usage caps and overage use, policies for differential QoS and much more over Wi-Fi network.

All above service provisions help CSPs towards better monetization of rich services, growth in ARPU, generating loyalty of customers and offering differentiated pricing bundles along with better user experience at reduced costs.

Policy Use Cases in Detail


With the increase in complexity, there is a route to policy use cases (see Fig 2) which operators can offer. It includes services like fair access policies, tiered plans, multi-device policies, differential policies for home and enterprise use, application based, location based, differential QoS for Wi-Fi and 3G, centralized policy manager.

Many a times, when an individual is at Wi-Fi hotspot, he will wish to download multiple HD videos due to his unlimited Wi-Fi plan as downloading similar data on 3G will be a very costly affair. The user may enjoy his multiple download but this may cause poor experience to other users due to continuous downloads. Such an issue can be easily tackled by policy manager which helps in enabling time and volume based fair access policies wherein operators can put predefined quota limit exceeding which will notify user and throttle bandwidth.

To elaborate on another use case, there is a growing concept of having multiple SIM cards for home and corporate usage in order to keep professional and private lives different. In such cases users have 2 different plans for the same mobile account (both places have Wi-Fi support). Policy manager can define different time and volume based access policies for home and enterprises wherein billing for both can be done separately.


At the same time, several device based, application based plans, location plans, and so on can be offered wherein the user can enjoy converged as well as separate plans with differential policies for Wi-Fi and 3G as per their demand in each case by which operators can easily optimize network resources by balancing 3G traffic and monetize from such offerings.

Future Outlook

There are a few myths in Wi-Fi rollouts such as operators wondering whether or not deploying an increased number of hotspots or partnering with hotspots will reflect in operator revenue figures. Also, some users still have a wrong impression of Wi-Fi being an unsecured network, and hence prefer using cellular networks on their smart devices which results in to less usage of free spectrum and congestion in cellular networks.


If these myths are addressed well, the Wi-Fi business model will be establishing itself as a genuine wireless access technology capable of delivering a ubiquitous internet experience.

Vaibhav Mehta

The author is senior VP, new business

development, Elitecore Technologies