PARTNER INTERVIEW: 5G has been talked about for years but it’s now ready to generate revenues for communications service providers (CSPs). 5G promises multi-party business models, limitless flexibility, dynamic service orchestration and the ability to provide and charge for compelling new services with enhanced charging models such as specific network slices, in-session boosts and adjacent services. This sophisticated new era demands a refresh of charging and policy control as Mayoor Mahendra, Vice President of Network Solutions Product Line at CSG tells Mobile World Live.

Service providers are transforming their policy and charging capabilities to be fit for purpose to support the new service delivery environment enabled by 5G. Why is this upgrade needed to enable 5G B2C and B2B2x services?

As the 5G ecosystem matures, there will be an uplift in performance with higher speeds and wider coverage, especially indoors. There will be more devices connected per cell and edge computing will become more prevalent, supporting greater processing at network edge with increased device proliferation. This introduces a new wave of services composed of real-time, automated and mission critical applications. These will be charged differently and will place new demands on network resources.

The policy and charging capabilities seen in previous cellular generations cannot support these new models and 5G itself introduces a new policy and charging framework in which policy and charging are net new functions. Operators have no choice but to have these on their networks.

Beyond foundational demand, market expectation is to have cloud-native apps, faster 5G-enabled downloads, and reduced latency. All of which mean increased pressure on total cost of ownership (TCO) for operators and pressure to ensure apps and services can scale independently. Only modern policy and charging solutions can support these requirements.

What are the specific challenges that centralising charging and policy in the 5G environment presents? How does this create a different level of complexity than encountered in previous generations?

The challenge for CSPs today is to sweat their existing assets and invest in new network functions, but they cannot do that by literally switching off legacy networks, moving to 5G and changing the entire OSS/BSS stack. CSPs are therefore looking for partners to support them in their gradual move from 2G to 5G NSA and ultimately 5G SA networks.

Don’t forget that 5G is far from ubiquitous. For example, Bangladesh is world’s eighth-largest telecoms market with no 5G, but we know 5G will be needed in the future. In Indonesia <2% of subscriptions have 5G today, so there is enormous growth potential in similar markets.

In these and other markets in which 5G is widely deployed, operators need a partner who can help support coexistence of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G.

How are CSPs addressing these challenges? Which approaches are most efficient and what does best practice look like?

The goal is to move from a state of having legacy policy and charging to a state where an interworking function can translate the legacy interfaces and add them to a combined policy and charging function that also adds 5G policy and charging. By using the interworking function, CSPs can route traffic between legacy network and 5G SA network.

The next transition should then be to add billing helping operators to monetise the B2B2X use cases. Once the transition has happened, CSPs should be able to turn off the legacy networks. A significant advantage here is to be able to purchase this multi-generation platform from a single vendor which would accelerate time to market and reduce TCO. In addition, CSPs will benefit from having a single product catalogue.

As the 5G ecosystem matures, how do you see policy and charging systems evolving to become much more than revenue management tools and core to the overall success and profitability of 5G networks and services?

Policy and charging will play a crucial role not only in managing network services for 5G but also for generating more revenue. The challenge CSPs have is that 5G standalone will increase speed and reduce latency, they need dynamic service orchestration to allocate resources on-demand to meet requirements of each network slice, for example.

This allows granular support of services in which each slice has its own characteristics and needs. For example, a critical IoT communications slice will demand an uninterrupted ultra-low latency slice for a limited period and network must be able to orchestrate this effectively.

Simultaneously we will also see differentiated charging based on quality of service becoming a reality along with edge computing integration whereby policy will make decisions to route data to the nearest edge server for processing.

On top of this, CSPs will add advanced charging models based on real-time charging and billing down to seconds for services like augmented reality and IoT applications. As complexity increases, policy and charging will have to use machine learning to make real-time policy decisions to help deliver a better user experience.

To achieve all of this, CSPs need expert partners who know how to deploy a product into a multi-vendor environment and enable charging and policy in these new ways. We have that end-to-end offering and the skills to take our policy and charging capabilities and augment them with our billing expertise for customers to fully monetise 5G, sweat out legacy networks and to help them digitally transform.

Mayoor Mahendra, Vice President of Network Solutions Product Line, CSG