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Testing EPC for precise LTE/4G billing structures

Posted: 21 Dec 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:LTE? offline charging systems? evolved packet core?

LTE is rapidly altering the way mobile services are utilised. It is spurring development of rich new broadband services, and triggering the deployment of new handset features such as higher screen resolution and better battery technologies through increased capacity. Traditional services like SMS and MMS are morphing into rich communication services to include features such as real-time video calling.

While these advances are great for the end-user, service providers require their network to support a variety of applications not traditionally seen on mobile phoneslike advanced web surfing, streaming video, peer-to-peer networking, and machine-to-machine communications that consume large amounts of bandwidth for longer durations. Smartphones and increased backhaul traffic have already created nightmare scenarios for carriers, including the need to regulate the traffic flows and the need to monetise new services. Moving forward, LTE will be available for notebooks, ultra-portables, cameras, camcorders, mobile broadband routers, and other devices that would benefit from mobile broadband.

With this surge, mobile services providers are not only faced with finding ways to optimise the performance of their networks, but simultaneously creating billing structures that drives revenue for these enhanced services. Should the person who is streaming HD movies from Netflix be billed at a different rate than someone simply sending out text messages? Most service providers believe so, since downloading a YouTube video uses 100x more bandwidth than voice, and not to mention that the average iPhone uses 400MB of data per month. 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. This can be a huge challenge when you consider the millions of concurrent mobile users any one network has at any given time.

As LTE starts meeting key 4G capacity requirements, infrastructures will be designed simply for easier deployment and operation, while at the same time becoming flexible enough to adapt to frequency band constraints. 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.

Role of the evolved packet core
As such, providers' best option is to validate and optimise the performance and accuracy of the charging system components of the evolved packet core (EPC). The EPC is the all-IP mobile core network for LTE, allowing the convergence of packet-based real-time and non-real-time services. It not only provides a simpler, flatter, and cheaper network infrastructure, but also adheres 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 C 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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