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Summary:

Openet has bagged $21 million in new funding. The vendor makes a mobile network element that most people have never heard of, the policy control and charging manager, but the policy manager is already having a huge impact on the way we consume mobile data.

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Dublin, Ire.,-based telecom equipment vendor Openet has bagged $21 million in new funding in a Series D round that includes $16 million in new equity and $5 million in debt. The vendor makes a mobile network element that most people have never heard of, the policy control and charging manager, but no matter how byzantine the name sounds, the policy manager is already having a huge impact on the way we consume mobile data.

At its heart, the policy manager identifies individual subscribers on the mobile network and applies rules and restrictions to the services each uses. For instance, the policy manager is what throttles back your data speeds if you exceed the soft caps AT&T and Verizon Wireless have imposed on their unlimited plans. The manager also manages the intricacies of tiered data pricing, making it a key element in handling Verizon’s new shared data plans. Platforms like Openet’s will track how much each device in a shared plan consumes and subtract that usage from the communal data pool.

The policy manager is going to have an even bigger impact as carriers start implementing more complex data plans. Verizon and AT&T are both enjoining content providers to start paying the carriage bills on their own content, essentially creating “toll-free” data lanes for specific services and traffic. The policy manager will not only identify which traffic is exempt from a subscriber’s data allotment, but it could also prioritize those services across the network, ensuring, for instance, that YouTube packets have the right of way over Vimeo packets.

In telco-speak this kind of traffic shaping is called “quality of service,” but what it really boils down to is favoring certain content over other. This technology will become especially important when carriers launch their own VoIP services over LTE. One of the key ways carriers will differentiate their core services from over-the-top services such as Skype and WhatsApp is by giving their voice and message packets access to a fast network lane.

Openet is competing in a crowded market. ABI Research estimates there are between 40 and 50 vendors selling policy platforms. They range from small specialist companies like Volubill and Tango Telecom to the big telecom infrastructure vendors, who have largely bought up the most successful policy players in the market. Tekelec picked up Camient in 2010, followed by Ericsson’s blockbuster $1.2 billion purchase of Telcordia last year. Billing giant Amdocs also scooped up smaller policy vendor Bridgewater in August.

Openet may be small but it has some impressive customers, including AT&T and Verizon, Bell Mobility, Orange, and Vodafone Netherlands. Given who led this latest funding round, Openet may be looking to use its new cash to expand into Asia. Japan’s NS Solutions, a subsidiary of Nippon Steel, was the lead investor in the $16 million equity infusion, which also included participation from Balderton Capital, Cross Atlantic and Kreos Capital. Since the company’s founding in 1999, the company has raised a total of $55 million.

Former Aircom CEO Margaret Rice-Jones is also joining Openet’s board, which could wind up being a strategic appointment. Wireless consultancy Aircom has relationships with operators around the world and has helped many of them set up the types of tiered data plans that would require the services of a policy management platform.

  1. This points to the future. But there is another approach: Toll-free mobile Apps with free bandwidth pre-bundled into the app itself. It’s called “FreeBand” and a new company called Box Top is leading the way, enabling customers to get free delivery of bytes on their mobile devices. To learn more about this technology and this business model, look up http://www.boxtop.tv.

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