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Testing EPC to prepare for LTE/4G billing

22 Mar 2013  | Joseph Zeto

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One of the benefits of LTE to consumers is the complete overhaul of the way mobile services are used. Traditional text messaging is being replaced with rich communication services like real-time video calling, especially as screen size increases with higher screen resolution and phone batteries are lasting longer. These improvements are great for the end-user, but they are causing service providers to support a variety of applications not traditionally seen on mobile phones. Everything from web surfing, streaming video, peer-to-peer networking, and machine-to-machine communications that consume large amounts of bandwidth for longer durations are moving from 'nice-to-haves' to 'must-haves.' Not to mention that moving forward, LTE will be available for notebooks, ultra-portables, cameras, camcorders, mobile broadband routers, and other devices that would benefit from access to wireless.

As such, mobile services providers will be tasked with creating billing structures that drive revenue for these enhanced services. Smartphones have already increased backhaul traffic and created nightmare scenarios for carriers. Now, they must regulate the traffic flows and monetise new services, as well as optimise network performance. Besides, it's no surprise that downloading a YouTube video uses 100x more bandwidth than voice, and the average iPhone uses 400MB of data per month. But does this mean that the Netflix HD movie streamer should be billed at a different rate than your average texter? Most service providers believe so, considering there are millions of concurrent mobile users on any one network at any given time. Solutions must not only recognise the applications and services each individual is using, but also decipher their different billing plans based on a variety of criteria.

In order to maintain profitability in a climate of ever-increasing backhaul network costs, operators will need to move beyond a flat data rate model. Infrastructures will need to be designed simply for easier deployment and operation, while at the same time becoming flexible enough to adapt to frequency band constraints.

EPC: The key to billing accurately
The best option for service providers to create accurate billing structures is to validate and optimise the performance and accuracy of the charging system components of the evolved packet core (EPC), the all-IP mobile core network for LTE. It allows the convergence of packet-based real-time and non-real-time services to provide a simpler, flatter, and cheaper network infrastructure, and the ability to adhere to new, stringent LTE requirements for high bandwidth, reduced latency, and 2G/3G interoperability. Therefore, the enforcement of quality of service (QoS)-related parameters, such as jitter and delay, is critical. EPC components include the serving gateway (SGW), packet data network gateway (PDN-GW), and the online (OCS) and offline charging systems (OFCS). The important component definitions you need to know here are:

Serving Gateway (SGW)
The SGW is a user-plane node providing data paths between eNodeBs and the PDN gateway. One of the essential functionalities of the SGW, beside routing and forwarding packets, is as a local mobility anchor point for inter-eNodeB handovers, as well as managing mobility between the LTE, 2G/GSM, and 3G/UMTS networks. The SGW also provides charging for user equipment, PDN, and service classes.

Packet Data Network Gateway (PDN-GW)
The PDN-GW is the termination point of the packet data interface. It provides the anchoring function for sessions with external packet data networks. A critical function of the PDN-GW is enforcement of per-user-based packet filtering, allowing gating and rate enforcement policies as well as service level charging.

Online Charging System (OCS)
The OCS allows service providers to charge their customers based on service usage – in real time. It is applicable to all subscriber types and service types, offers unified online charging and online control capabilities, and can be used as a unified charging engine for all network services, which makes it a core basis for convergent billing in the network.

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