Here’s what operators need to do to get a revenue lift from VoLTE

VoLTE places new requirements on policy, charging and billing, meaning current systems may not be able to ensure service quality, or charge users for services correctly. Niamh Dundon looks at how BSS can support network investments to make sure operators can monetise VoLTE.

VoLTE presents a huge opportunity for mobile operators to meet the digital challenge with a premium product. To stand any chance of monetisation, operators must ensure VoLTE is executed correctly – delivering on promises of better call quality and innovative offers. Yet with inadequate business support systems (BSS) currently in place, this is going to be a struggle for many mobile operators.

Operator Strategy – VoLTE
Operators have spent years heavily investing in their network infrastructure – 422 operators have deployed LTE networks in 143 countries, according to the GSMA. Yet with this rapid growth, LTE is fast becoming the norm and offering high-speed is no longer a differentiator among operator and OTT competitors. Instead operators must start to roll out wider range of valued LTE services for customers that can be monetised, as they transform to become digital service providers.

Despite delivering a large proportion of operator revenue, voice has been increasingly demoted to commodity status. However the focus on LTE has pushed operators’ plans for voice services into the spotlight – this includes Voice over LTE (VoLTE).

The intention to pursue VoLTE is backed by the significant advantages offered to the operator community. The biggest benefits are monetisation through service differentiation and efficient use of spectrum; and compelling cost savings through consolidation. Juniper Research recently predicted that VoLTE will account for $100 billion in revenues for operators – with more than one billion VoLTE users globally by 2018. So it isn’t hard to see why a flurry of global launches have been hitting industry headlines of late.

Operators must understand the impact of their existing business support systems (BSS) on the delivery of VoLTE; and why their current systems may not be equipped to meet new policy and charging requirements.

This year alone, EE, Vodafone UK and O2 UK have all announced trials; while Three became the first operator to officially launch a VoLTE service in the UK. Yet the UK still trails in comparison; having already commercially launched VoLTE, T-Mobile US showing early signs of success. This month the carrier announced that 33 per cent of its voice calls are now transmitted using VoLTE technology, having only launched its service in late 2014, giving UK operators a glimpse of what’s to come.

Yet to extract true business value from VoLTE, operators must understand the impact of their existing business support systems (BSS) on the delivery of VoLTE; and why their current systems may not be equipped to meet new policy and charging requirements.

The Impact of BSS on VoLTE
Legacy billing systems were designed to collect, rate and charge for circuit switched voice calls. In some cases they were upgraded to handle data, and rate and charge based on KB and MBs: the operator went and bought a separate system for data charging and billing.

BSS needs to be able to zero rate the data element of the VoLTE call – not charging the customer for any data used – and then rate it as it would a normal voice call

Voice and data are both now data centric; so while from a network perspective VoLTE is a data event, from a customer’s viewpoint it’s a voice call. Therefore BSS needs to be able to zero rate the data element of the VoLTE call – not charging the customer for any data used – and then rate it as it would a normal voice call (e.g. based on minutes, destination, etc). BSS needs to have the flexibility to mix and match. For example, for a video call using VoLTE, the operator may charge for data (video) as this is what customers expect.

Quite simply on its own an LTE network is not enough to make VoLTE commercially successful. It requires a PCC to co-ordinate policy and charging control elements imminently, based on based on service, subscriber, or usage context. With this operators can ensure that they are able to control network capacity and QoS consistently – delivering innovative packaging, pricing, partnerships and call quality – whilst also being able to harness new business models and  rapidly scale to meet the growing demand in subscribers and signals.

VoLTE QoS and BSS
Operators are under intense competition from OTT players and other service providers, all vying for the same customers. Therefore to avoid being just a “dumb pipe”, it’s essential that they focus on QoS as a differentiator – in the hope that this will help win back subscribers who have migrated to cheaper or free OTT services such as WhatsApp and Skype.

Operators need BSS that allows rapid detection of failures – they need to know if there is an issue with a call and why it has occurred, fast

From a customer viewpoint, superior voice quality is key to the VoLTE proposition. Compared with circuit switch voice and OTT applications, Signals Research Group found that VoLTE connects faster, consumes less network resources and uses less device battery power. In addition the service leverages a native dialler, delivering the same user experience as making a call on a cellular network. However to truly offer this, operators need BSS that allows rapid detection of failures – they need to know if there is an issue with a call and why it has occurred, fast.  For example; flag issues around latency, loss, and jitter – all not normally associated with data services – or ensuring that LTE coverage, accessed by customers to make voice calls, has sufficient bandwidth to deliver an acceptable QoS.

One of the fundamentals of policy is to manage and control QoS. A policy rules function enables the operator to easily configure policies related to IMS applications and QoS profile and charging. This includes defining the QoS to be set on the P-Gateway on the LTE network and creating the dedicated bearer that carries voice traffic, thus ensuring QoS.

VoLTE Charging and BSS
Calls generated through VoLTE leverage the data network which is charged per megabyte/gigabyte consumed. However subscribers are unfamiliar with this; traditionally paying for voice calls by duration and number dialled. Therefore operators must ensure consistency when billing for VoLTE – continuing customers to be billed by the minute rather than eating away at their allocated data bundles.

This capability is possible thanks to advancements in BSS technology to which can ensure VoLTE is billed as voice calls made on a data network. Operators are able to deliver services like VoLTE at zero-rate to deliver an optimal service and apply the recognised voice rating rules instead.

It also gives the operator the flexibility to charge extra for video calls that legitimately consume more data and charge these with other data services. Whether they choose to or not, their ability to be open and transparent with customers can only facilitate greater trust and a longer, more valued ongoing relationship.

Takeaway
VoLTE systems should be simple to deploy and manage. Scaling must be straightforward. Delivering and charging for VoLTE services must be simple to manage. Given these vital requirements some legacy BSS systems may not be adequate to deliver commercially successful VoLTE.

About the author: Niamh Dundon is Marketing Director, Openet.

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