Ditch the Online Charging System

YateUCN removes the need for an Online Charging System for new LTE operators by providing a minimum Guaranteed Bit Rate (GBR) for all subscribers.

In a typical mobile network, the Online Charging System (OCS) sets a maximum allowed bit rate based on available credit to prevent high demand users from congesting the network. The OCS needs to keep track of all the pre-paid accounts of an operator’s subscribers, making it complicated and expensive.

The YateUCN EPC is the alternative that lets the operators set a minimum GBR on the default bearer. This way, it ensures that the network is usable for everyone, even in congested cells, eliminating the need for the OCS.

How it works

YateUCN, through its MME/PGW nodes, allows operators to set a Guaranteed Bit Rate for the default bearer of an UE, so the bandwidth is divided fairly to the connected subscribers supported by the same eNodeB.

Though unusual, this feature works because the eNodeB does not care which bearer is the default bearer, and the UE follows whatever bandwidth scheduling it is given by the eNodeB.

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The Guaranteed Bit Rate is set in the MME/PGW components of the YateUCN EPC server though a JSON API. The bit rate is then implemented by the eNodeb.

The Guaranteed Bit Rate works for local data traffic, but not for data roaming, so it is a great solution for former ISP or cable operators switching to LTE, whose main customers are fixed, non-roaming subscribers.

A few final words

Small LTE operators, former ISP or cable operators or operators switching from WiMAX to LTE, have to deal with a lot of hurdles when installing their network. The Online Charging System is one they can forget about. YateUCN allows operators to lower their CAPEX without making any changes to their OPEX, while ensuring that their subscribers have continuous access to the data network.

Cable operators becoming MVNO: a win-win scenario

In our previous blog post we opened up the discussion about cable companies staying relevant in a day and time where the subscriber trend is to become more mobile, at the expense of home-based data consumption. As a 2014 report from Adobe already showed, more than 50% of browsing on smartphones and 93% of browsing on tablet comes from WiFi.

Even as they expand their offer, cable providers still see usage limited to home or office hours. On their side, mobile operators continue to upgrade their networks to 4G (and future 5G) technology to deliver more high-quality media content; this makes them competitive in terms of service quality but also results in rising infrastructure investment.

In this post we’ll see how cable companies and MNO can start providing data services using a shared infrastructure, with YateHSS/HLR and the YateUCN unified core.

Mobile data offloading can be an opportunity for both operators and cable companies to provide data access to more users without incurring large expenses. Offloading enables operators to reduce the traffic load on their networks and reallocate bandwidth to other users in case of congestion, by assigning part of the traffic to a WiFi network. For cable companies, it becomes possible to serve subscribers in-between existing hotspots, making them rely primarily on the WiFi network, rather than on the cellular one.

YateUCN and YateHSS/HLR in a cable operator setup

This can be done through MVNO agreements between cable operators and one or multiple MNO, so that the cable provider would share the network assets of the operator to provide carrier-class WiFi access.

As MVNO, a cable company will provide its own SIMs, and its customers will register to and receive data traffic from the MNO’s network. Though some MVNO may choose to also operate their own core network, they are usually likely to hold control over billing, subscriber management and policy control functions, in which case they will only deploy an HLR and/or HSS. In fact, reports suggest that it is preferable for MVNO who offer triple or quad-play operating to deploy their own HSS/HLR (to which they can integrate policy control and AAA), because they need to provide a ‘consistent treatment of the user’ across terminals and technologies.

Providing ubiquitous data access between 2G/3G/4G cellular networks and WiFi hotspots requires offloading to be done seamlessly. Most mobile devices today attempt to connect automatically to an available WiFi network, which they will remember after the first connection has been performed. To connect, once the device has detected the SSID, it proceeds to authentication, which must be done instantly and securely.

In a network using the YateUCN core and the YateHSS/HLR, acting as a typical Home Subscriber Server/Home Location Register with an integrated AuC, SIM authentication is performed between the device and the Access Point, enabling the subscriber a one-time registration to the network using the IMSI stored in their SIM and the secure encryption key Ki. YateHSS/HLR and YateUCN support EAP-SIM/EAP-AKA authentication specified in the IETF standard for WiFi inter-working, securing the connection on both user and network ends.

Once the device is known to the core network, YateUCN communicates with the AuC in the YateHSS/HLR using the SS7 or Diameter protocol, depending on the type of services the user has access to. As soon as the SIM is authenticated, the HSS/HLR takes over and manages the SIM and its services.

YateHSS/HLR supports all the interfaces needed to communicate with the SGSN, EPC, and IMS at the same time, and provides advanced subscriber management options. As a combined HSS/HLR, it allows a subscriber to be located in simultaneous networks if, for example, they are registered to 4G LTE and paging for a CS service is required.

Of course, there are also challenges for cable providers who redefine themselves as WiFi access operators. One of the main concerns is related to the use of non-SIM devices such as laptops, which, even if able to authenticate to the AP in the same way as SIM devices, have no way to then connect to a core network.

While such aspects still need to be approached, the possibility of ‘WiFi-first’ networks seems a venture worthwhile for cable companies.

New opportunities for cable companies: the MVNO route

Cable companies have had an increasing interest in tapping new market opportunities, as consumption of voice and data sees unprecedented growth.

For most cable providers, going from triple play to multi-play is the logical move on customer demand, so the MVNO route naturally seems the next step.

New needs and use patterns on subscribers’ end make the integration of home and mobile services anytime and anywhere necessary. But as cable operators opt to provide WiFi hotspots to their customers, they also need to offer mobility options if they want to turn them into dependable subscribers.

That’s why it goes without saying that rolling out small, private WiFi networks is not enough for most cable operators. If they want to stay in the competition and provide a mix of media services, voice, and data, they need access to the mobile network capabilities by associating with an MNO.

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Partnering not only between a cable company and a mobile network operator, but also between cable providers, is becoming more and more common. On their side, cable companies rally up to ensure they secure themselves a share of the market.

Major players on the US cable providers market, for example, part of the CableWiFi alliance, were estimating the deployment, early 2015, of as many as 10 million new WiFi hotspots around the country, in both homes and businesses. Dual-SSID access points in subscribers’ homes allow the provision of a separate signal for outsiders, who can use that home hotspot without slowing down the network or being granted access to the subscriber’ home network. All the members of the CableWiFi alliance allow their subscribers to use each others hotspots, so, between the five, this could act as a self-reliant WIFI network that uses cellular networks to fill in the ‘gaps’.

Major benefits are evident; cable operators will acquire more customers for their new offerings, while subscribers will gain from getting all their services in one place with reduced subscription costs. But the success of this model still depends highly on cable companies getting to partner with MNOs, who have the necessary network resources to make this model work.

As for mobile network operators, more connected subscribers equals more revenue, which for now may be more to work with than nothing.