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Network intelligence: The Four Dimensional View

Lyn Cantor

Considering the big picture of the mobile telecommunications market today, it is clear that the growth in popularity of smartphones and tablets has had an enormous impact. Over the past few years, consumers have been upgrading to devices with more native intelligence and connectivity, which has imposed a seemingly limitless demand on the network. Consumers’ habits have changed; they want more of everything; more video, social networking, audio, gaming, voice and more data, and they want it faster than before.

But with such huge volumes of traffic moving across networks, access infrastructure is being challenged by spectrum limitations. So supplementary technologies like small cells, backhaul developments and innovative ways to optimise the RAN are being deployed to help operators get data through the network more efficiently. But these technologies are complicated and operators need visibility of what’s happening end to end on their networks in order to troubleshoot. This means taking the raw performance data and organising it in a way that it is summarised as KPIs and can be turned into actionable information.

“Operators have to make the customer happy so they can keep their net promoter scores high and keep their customers on the network. So they have to provide quality in a way the customer sees real differentiation from competitors and want to stay with the brand,” explains Lyn Cantor, president at Tektronix Communications.

Cantor says that in the past, when operators thought about network issues, the solution focused on adding more capacity to the network and putting enough switching infrastructure in to cover the volume of calls. Carriers would simply flood the network with capacity, and that would ensure quality. But that approach is no longer effective, he argues, because of how fast networks are growing, and the vast volumes of data that smartphones and tablets are creating.

“In the past an operator would say: “My network infrastructure is giving me a green light, but my customer complaints are going off the charts. How can my network nodes be telling me everything’s fine but my customers are calling in raving mad telling me things are broken? I‘ve got a massive mismatch here”,” he says.

“The fundamental telco mentality has had to shift from throwing enough gear on the ground to how do we become more incident oriented? How do we make sure we’re looking at things through the lens of our customers? Our customers are telling us they have a problem, how do we make sure we have a mechanism to see and understand that user experience? We saw early on that you can’t see and understand how to drive incident improvements without the ability to understand it effectively. And it takes four things to do that.”

Cantor goes on to explain the four dimensions operators need to understand their network and what is going on inside it: subscriber behaviour; the technologies they use; the services and applications they consume; and the network environments they occupy.

“You have to cover all parts of the network end to end in order to create visibility of the subscriber’s session in the access, core and datacentre networks in order to understand subscriber behaviour,” he says. In terms of the technologies subscribers use, these tend to evolve in the telecoms space every two to five years, says Cantor. This puts operators in a position where they are supporting several generations of technology at once.

“Many of our carrier customers have a 2.5G network, 3G and now a new LTE network and they’re always trying to move their 2.5G network users to 3G or 4G so they can move them off the old networks and close them down,” he says. “They can’t abandon them and the carriers realise that it is critical that they must cover multiple technologies: 2.5G, 3G, 4G, wifi networks, IMS networks and so on.”

After operators have gained visibility in those two dimensions; the subscribers and the technologies they use, carriers then need to understand what services are being used on the network. Cantor says that because of this, Tektronix Communications had to develop technology around deep packet classification in order to get a view all of the traffic streaming across the network.

“We can identify over 700 types of application that move across the network in real time and now we can associate where in the network it affects— the access, core or datacentre; what technology the subscriber is using; what service they are using, be it YouTube, Skype or Facebook. And then there is the last mile, which is who is making the call, in terms of the person and the device type. That’s the only way you can really get to a clear point of view to solve a trouble ticket when it opens and reduce resolution time.”

Cantor warns that without having a total view of the network across the four dimensions identified, an operator will often find itself in a position whereby an end user calls up customer care and explains that they have a problem and the carrier has no effective way to solve or even know about it. Sometimes those trouble tickets can stay open for a very long time, he warns, and if that happens, operators wind up with unhappy customers who then churn because they don’t feel the carrier cares about their individual customers.

But it is not just in satisfying customer service that operators can stand to benefit from having a view of their networks in the four dimensions. Operators can also use that information to open up new revenue streams. By analysing the operational data collected from the network, a carrier can look at the subscriber’s experience and usage patterns to become proactive in suggesting upsell opportunities for new packages and bolt-ons. For example, by taking a holistic view carriers can see the services that their subscribers most rely on. They can see that an individual spends a huge amount of time on Facebook and can offer that subscriber a package based on their usage. If they spend $5 more per month, the operator could offer an unlimited volume of Facebook access and could also guarantee quality of service for them while using Facebook, because that is the subscriber’s most important app.

“There’s a link of being able to provide the quality of service to drive upsell of more bandwidth, and increase ARPU by $5 to $10 because you know that person’s user habits and you can see their activity based on their usage and service experience,” says Cantor. The revenue opportunities do not end there. By getting greater visibility of the access networks, operators can get closer to their subscribers to monitor and understand what they do when they are on the move.

Operators can use that information in a location based services play, for example. If a subscriber is walking or driving, the operator knows where they are geographically, and some location based service technologies can give accuracy to around three metres. Therefore, operators could strike partnerships with retail brands to run location based marketing campaigns.

“The subscriber could be driving by or walking past a Starbucks, for example, and they could push a notification to the subscriber that says stop into Starbucks and we’ll give you 50c off your next coffee. They can use that as a way to create demand for individuals to go buy things. We’ve seen similar promotions at big sports events, where the technology is being leveraged to create upsell opportunities for the partner. Starbucks would pay the operator a cut of the gross margin they see from the campaign.” This information can also be instrumental in proactively preventing churn, if the operator has enough visibility of what’s going on with its subscribers and their usage of the network.

For example, an operator can see how much an individual used their smartphone over the course of the month, how much data they used and also see that they have experienced some connectivity or service quality trouble. Operators can see how many people have churned in the past, what their service experience was like and use that proactively by comparing it with the other subscribers’ experiences. They might then identify that this subscriber’s experience is following a similar pattern to 12 other subscribers who left the network over the past two months.

The carrier can therefore contact the subscriber directly and show them that they are aware of the subscriber’s issues and can offer credit or at least explanation of what they are doing to solve those problems.

“This is called churn propensity. Now the data we collect becomes one of the fundamental lynchpins for enabling that conversation. This is the kind of sophistication going on with the carriers to help combat the problem of people leaving,” says Cantor.

However, while operators can implement the technology needed to monitor what is happening with their subscribers and their networks, Cantor argues that this is such a huge undertaking that operators need help from an intelligence service and solutions provider, or what Tektronix calls a Telecom Intelligence Provider (TIP).

“We’ve been working to reposition our business in the market to become a Telecoms Intelligence Provider, or TIP. This is, in essence two things. Our origin in how we deliver value for our customers has been primarily in the assurance market—largely around quality of service and quality of experience; helping mobile, fixed and multi-service operators manage the onslaught of all the technologies that roll out. But over the last few years, as we’ve seen the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, we have put a lot of focus on mobility,” he says. As a result Tektronix has taken an end to end approach to monitor all of the activity that is important to an operator, and report it back in simple ways so that carriers can see and understand problems and perform complex troubleshooting.

“If you look at network intelligence and what defines it, it’s the collection, management and utilisation of data and information to provide unique insights for a carrier to be able to make intelligent decisions out of data we call this Actionable Intelligence. So because of what we do around end to end assurance, we’ve become extremely entrenched in the network intelligence market,” Cantor says.

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