What is network policy management?

01 January 2010 |


Network policy management encompasses the setting of policies to control usage of a carrier’s network.

As demand for bandwidth increases, with users demanding faster speeds for services such as streaming video, IPTV and peer-to-peer applications, network capacity is becoming constrained and carriers need to ensure they can deliver such services profitably. Simply deploying faster networks on an “all you can eat” basis limits carriers’ ability to generate profit to justify the capital and operational expenditure such build requires, so network policy management enables them to set usage limits and prioritise types of traffic.

How is it an improvement on existing systems and processes?

Policy management has its roots in network traffic management and the systems that were used to ensure quality of service. A traditional example of this would be systems that ensured VoIP had priority over email traffic. This was a rigid approach and, although effective in terms of allowing carriers to prioritise certain types of traffic, allowed little flexibility. In addition, traditional bandwidth management provided only the scope to set highly limited policies that could be as basic as denying users access to bandwidth once they have passed a preset consumption limit. Network policy management addresses the functions of both these types of system and offers carriers the opportunity to be far more flexible in the policies they set. For example, with the latest policy management systems, carriers can control subscribers’ entitlement to network resources with real-time, dynamic policies based on each session. Such systems address relevant factors such as: what the subscriber is entitled to, what network resources are available, what applications they are entitled to use, what security policy is in place, the user’s location and what service level exists between the carrier, the user and third-party service providers.

How does it work to relieve congestion?

With a small number of users now creating congested networks and having an impact on other subscribers’ experience, carriers are starting to institute “fair usage” policies, especially when it comes to wireless data services. A clearly explained “fair usage” policy needn’t be seen as a way to alienate these high bandwidth users, but as a way to upsell them to a more valuable package. It’s not necessary to simply throttle back access to bandwidth when a preset limit is reached: carriers can, depending on the policies they set, address these users in a variety of ways. For example, they can send a warning SMS that indicates excessive usage, and they can throttle back bandwidth availability at times of congestion or for the remainder of the billing period so the customer can continue to use the network, they can disallow bandwidth-intensive services or applications during peak times and they can attempt to upsell by communicating with the customer about usage and offering them the opportunity to top up their package or upgrade the service.

What else can network policy management do?

It can enable carriers to provide tailored packages that offer different classes of service at price points based on a subscriber’s usage. These can be based on usage limits, speed, the time at which services are used, application type, device type and priority. It can also be used by carriers to provide greater value to their third-party partners and consequently greater revenue-generating potential for themselves. For instance, a premium television provider could provide prioritised quality of service to customers who access their content online by paying a fee to operators. Other possibilities include advertisers ensuring their video advertisements are viewed with the highest quality of service by paying a fee each time a user clicks on an advertisement.

So it’s all about preserving capacity and helping carriers monetise their bandwidth?

No. Aside from prioritising users that pay and apportioning capacity to specific applications, network policy management also addresses customer demands for more personalised services. Using such systems, operators can enable their users with parental controls to restrict access to content based on its URL, content rating and black and white lists, to allow browsing and SMS usage only before and after school hours, to limit SMS usage and the time spent on gaming sites and the ability to access detailed reports on their children’s usage.

For commercial users, carriers can offer business services controls so administrators can govern employee usage of data and mobile amounts. Such controls include; usage limits based on time, day of the week and volume, restriction or limitation of personal use, restriction or blocking of services, such as webmail or social networking, blocking of all personal usage while roaming and restricted usage of specific services.

Will network policy management create a two-tier internet with second-class surfers?

Feast has turned to famine in terms of bandwidth availability in many locations so carriers need some means to manage usage of their network resources. They also need to generate profits from their investments. Most users will not be negatively affected by network policy management and bandwidth limitation is aimed at a minority of extremely heavy users. However, those that pay more will get more from their providers. That’s nothing new, it’s just the commercial structure of networks feeding down to the consumer level. Where corporations used to get better connectivity than domestic householders because they invested in leased lines, users now have the option to purchase the quality and class of service they require.