How policy control and charging NFs harness 5G potential

 

March 30, 2022

The importance of 5G policy control and charging function

With 5G implementations around the world becoming a reality, operators have one pressing concern: where will 5G ROI come from? 5G opens a host of revenue-generation opportunities through advanced services for consumers as well as enterprises. These services span across connected devices, industrial and manufacturing applications, immersive experiences using AR/VR, and more. To maximize their ROI potential, operators need to efficiently charge for all these services, and this means reimagining their charging infrastructure with two key next-gen components: policy control function (PCF) and charging function (CHF).

As 5G evolves, the services it enables will be more granular and differentiated, supported by all the new data sources to which networks will have access. More data means operators will have a far more detailed understanding of customer behavior and traffic patterns than ever before. In effect, 5G policy and charging functions will also need to be more granular to ensure networks can introduce highly contextual offerings that they can fully monetize.

What 5G policy control and charging provide

Next-gen architecture

Its cloud-native and microservices-based open architecture enables support for complex B2B2X use cases, giving CSPs control over how different services interwork in the partner ecosystem. It can be deployed at the edge. Operators can swiftly and easily implement new use cases and streamline charging.

Monetizable partner models

Partners can be rapidly onboarded for a wide range of use cases, further simplified with custom predefined templates for various configurations. 5G policy control and charging (PCC) also enable operators to implement complex and granular business models in real-time with dynamically changing prices and partners.

Advance charging capabilities

PCC lets operators launch and monetize innovative offerings and charge accurately in real-time for different services based on QoS, access network, SLA, and more.

Open framework

Open APIs let operators easily monetize their network and infrastructure services, charging partners based on usage and different SLAs. They can also provide charging as a service, granting partners control over their own pricing.

How policy control and charging have evolved in 5G 

Next-gen use cases, by nature, are complex and granular, demanding a far more nuanced approach to policy as well as charging functions. Policy and charging play far more advanced and architecturally different roles in 5G.

In legacy architecture, the Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) performed usage monitoring; the Online Charging System (OCS) + Offline Charging System (OFCS) separately performed charging functionalities and had multiple interfaces for different service operations. The next-gen, modular, and cloud-native microservice-based architecture (SBA) of 5G allows all network functions to communicate with each other using a simplified APIs, enabling Policy Control Function (PCF) and Charging Function (CHF) to communicate using a single more open REST-based interface.

The 5G policy control function manages demands that are more focused on network capabilities. The PCF governs network resources in entirely new ways, across devices, radio, and the core network. The 5G charging function helps evolve business operations and operates across enterprise systems and networks to implement advanced and innovative service monetization methods. This powerful combo of PCF and CHF together helps operators support diverse high-value 5G use cases.

The role of PCF in the 5G core

5G PCF provides a convergent platform to manage 4G and 5G services. Operators can configure and manage converged policy use cases for data and voice services by using a common 4G/5G core to integrate with 4G and 5G networks. It is compliant with 4G, 5G-NSA (non-standalone), and 5G-SA (standalone) deployments. It enables operators to support private and public networks.

The 3GPP standards-defined PCF helps CSPs to:

  • Implement end-to-end policy management, from devices to applications
  • Define policies for different slices, supporting diverse 5G use cases such as enhanced mobile broadband (EMBB), ultra-reliable and low-latency communication (URLLC), massive IoT, and more
  • Enable service exposure to external applications
  • Gain advanced BI insights with real-time analytics, altering the business strategy and creating new offerings on the fly
  • Leverage data to create custom differentiated services for retail and enterprise customers

How CHF redefines charging

As defined by 3GPP, the CHF provides convergent online and offline charging. It replaces the Diameter-based integrations used in previous-generation networks for real-time rating and charging with REST APIs. However, as 4G and 5G will coexist for the foreseeable future, it’s important for charging to continue to support Diameter as well as RESTful interfaces. By implementing this future-ready infrastructure, operators can improve the customer experience, continuing to provide their legacy offerings alongside new ones.

The CHF enables operators to charge for anything, moving beyond conventional units of measure. These can include Quality of Service (QoS), service availability, latency, SLAs, bandwidth slice-based, location-based, data volume, throughput, reliability, security, energy efficiency, API exposure, speed tiers, and much more.

The 3GPP standards-compliant CHF enables operators to:

  • Scale to support charging of massive volumes
  • Enable charging in partner hierarchies as well as charging on behalf of partners by providing charging as a service (such as for IoT services)
  • Enable charging for non-telco services across sectors such as immersive shopping experiences using AR/VR, immersive media at sporting events, and more
  • Implement different charging parameters for multiple parties involved in B2B2X business models
  • Ensure accurate invoicing and settlements in real-time

Benefits of 5G PCF and CHF

Scale up or down based on traffic

Microservices-based architecture and Kubernetes enable the system to easily scale up or down to support dynamic traffic growth. This traffic-based auto-adjustment optimizes resource usage, provides consistent connectivity, and saves processing costs.

Ensure a vendor-agnostic environment

3GPP standards-compliant 5G NFs like PCF and CHF can work with network infrastructure and equipment from any vendor, enabling operators to choose the most cost-effective options.

Leverage existing BSS investments

5G PCF and CHF are part of the5G core and can be implemented alongside an existing digital BSS. This gives operators the flexibility to gradually transition their networks without having to overhaul their BSS.

Deploy a unified platform

Operators can configure, launch, monitor, and control all charging policies and services from a converged system.

Reduce costs

The NFV- and cloud-compliant charging functions help maintain a low resource footprint, keep initial investment and operational costs low.

Drive revenue

Operators can open new revenue streams through the introduction of modern and advanced services. And by ensuring accurate charging, they can prevent revenue leaks, further improving revenue.

Support slice-based charging and monitoring 

Operators can perform charging and usage monitoring for network slices, granting certain users access to a dedicated set of resources for use cases like IoT, V2X, URLLC, and more.

Supports legacy and next-gen charging

As operators transition from 4G to 5G, CHF helps them meet both legacy and 5G charging needs. CHF makes operators future-ready while effectively supporting legacy services.

Conclusion

Seizing 5G opportunities means introducing advanced next-gen services. This demands granular and convergent charging functionalities that allow operators to rate, charge for, and bill events. And as services become more differentiated, charging must also take a more needs-based approach.

The PCF and CHF enables operators to charge based on the value they deliver to customers rather than charging a flat rate for service use. They need to fundamentally shift focus from providing connectivity to facilitating CX-driven services.

Partnerships play a huge role in 5G – another aspect where charging takes center stage. As they build an ecosystem of partners to enable a multitude of services, CSPs also need to have the charging infrastructure to ensure accuracy in billing and diversity in the business models they support. Say, for instance, a telco partners with a content platform. From the customer’s perspective, it makes sense to pay for a bundle of the content service along with 5G connectivity needed to access that service. It benefits the operators as well as the content platform by expanding their potential reach. Defining the charging policies and seamlessly charging for these services is possible with a next-gen PCF and CHF.

Operators with 5G on their roadmap even a few years down the line should begin preparing their networks today to ensure that they can fully monetize 5G once they implement it. The first step in this direction is BSS transformation.

Prathamesh Malushte

Prathamesh Malushte

Principal Solution Architect

Prathamesh is a PDM and solution integration specialist with expertise in 5G core network functions and protocols. He specializes in creating user stories, call flows, and designs for 5GC as well as legacy networks, as well as in handling OSS/BSS intricacies. After hours, he loves sports, enjoys trekking, and is passionate about playing different musical instruments.

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