The telecom space this year has been abuzz with talks relating to various concepts of ‘customer-centricity’. Discussions often dominated by emerging network technologies and new services are now seeing increased attention being paid to the customer, in particular, on measuring the actual service delivery and outcomes from the customer’s point of view.
And why not? New networks bring faster speeds and enhanced capacity, and new software helps Mobile Network Operator(MNO)s manage those networks while facilitating the creation of increasingly innovative services and data plans in the market place. However, all these combined represent only the supply side of the MNOs’ profitability equation. The other part of the equation, i.e. the demand side, is influenced by a set of completely different factors, which is why customer-centricity is expected to continue seeing increased traction over the coming years.
The Experience Factor and .... Network Analytics and Policy Enforcement
Customer-centricity is obviously a concept that is built around the fulfilment of customers’ needs and wants, and most importantly, experience. For an MNO, this translates to being able to ensure that every subscriber is receiving the highest level of service quality possible at all times, not only during the usual peak hours of the day or the week, but also covering traffic outbursts caused by completely unforeseen events, and more importantly, the occasional invasion of some rich content apps that can devour large portions of network bandwidth in no time.
Exploring the topic of customer-centricity and subscriber experience further, Prushothma Rao and Tara Neal of The Fast Mode, in the run-up to the Carrier Network Virtualization event taking place this week at Palo Alto, California, spoke to Bill Beckett, Founder and CEO of Saisei, the leading provider of network visibility, analysis and control for next-gen networks, on how network analytics and policy enforcement are emerging as key areas within network management, empowering MNOs to deliver the highest level of service quality at all times for all its subscribers.
Network analytics or visualization of the network, along with policy enforcement can provide MNOs the very tool that enables them to manage subscriber experience across their networks, said Bill. Network analytics serves to help MNOs understand their network performance, not just on a macro level, but also on a micro level, which then assists them across a number of network functionalities, from feeding their existing Operational Support Systems(OSS) with more insightful data, providing inputs for network planning, helping to trouble-shoot and resolve network issues, for example, perform packet capture, to helping MNOs deliver newer and more complex services for subscribers. To enable all these functionalities, Bill said that network analytics must support a high level of depth and granularity, all the way to providing visibility to individual subscriber’s sessions. Network analytics that zoom into this level of detail is required today in any functionality that depends on network intelligence, as meaningful remedial actions can only be instituted if there is a complete understanding of the performance of the network in various scenarios and circumstances.
Sharing Saisei’s own offering in this space, the FlowCommand Network Performance Enforcement solution, which provides extensive real-time visibility, analytics and control of application delivery, user experience and security posture, Bill said that the solution, which boasts patented flow management technology provides MNOs the capability to break down information from individual sessions on the network by various attributes, for example by user groups, application types and locations, providing real-time insights on those facing performance issues or those causing them.
According to Bill, "The performance of a single app, for example Netflix, is achieved by looking at millions of sessions of Netflix. Whenever a session experiences issues, we are able to measure that session individually by looking at its throughputs, the errors - if it’s causing packet loss for example, the retransmission and timeouts. We count every failure towards the performance of the application, and doing so, we are able to pinpoint applications, locations or users which are failing. We then correlate all those together and instead of saying that Netflix isn’t working very well here, maybe Netflix is not working well for just a group of users and maybe they ended up in the same type of location."
Policy Enforcement and Network Utilization
At the same time, policy enforcement, which can be integrated to network analytics or deployed separately, enables MNOs to actively manage the performance of individual sessions on the network, a feature that is critical during network congestion. "Making networks perform better when they are under extremely high loads depends on how we allocate bandwidth or network resources based on what’s available to users and individual user sessions. By doing this, we achieve a very high utilization for the network, and still enforce policies without impacting user experience," said Bill.
Policy enforcement not only manages the network autonomously according to preset policies, it also helps MNOs offer more targeted and customized plans for subscribers. Bill explains, "We are able to classify users into a policy, or a plan, for example Gold, Silver or Bronze type of users so that if we have a premium subscriber, we can specify, during congestion that the subscriber should be guaranteed a certain amount of bandwidth."
Referring to Saisei’s solution, Bill adds that, "We are able to give every single session a guaranteed minimum rate and it is implemented dynamically based on the load measured on the network. We can therefore allocate, based on policy, these individual session rates and enforce these in a very TCP/IP-friendly manner so that it doesn’t create a bad user experience."
Network Analytics as a ... Virtualized Network Function
Saisei’s FlowCommand Network Performance Enforcement is a pure software solution, delivered on commercially available hardware. It is a virtual appliance that is typically installed in the first contention point in the network, for example, points experiencing heaviest loads during peak time. According to Bill, the fully virtualized solution that leverages the Intel Software DPDK is scalable up to interface speeds of 40GB, with the company gearing up to deliver 100GB speeds in near future.
According to Bill, Saisei’s solution examines every flow – millions persecond, an approach that differs vastly from the usual sampling method used to gather network analytics. The solution hence performs its own flow collection, leveraging memory and CPU that is very scalable and capturing 100% of the traffic in small chunks of data.
Commenting on MNO’s investments in real-time analytics and policy enforcement for their networks, Bill said that MVNOs are set to benefit the most from their deployment. For MVNOs, bandwidth is a limited resource, and the ability to maximize subscriber’s service experience on every byte they deliver determines their subscriber’s take on the service. It is therefore very important that MVNOs have strong visibility into their networks and are making well-informed decisions about how they are allocating their network resources. At the same time, given today’s mobile data usage trends that point to continuous proliferation of rich content on every mobile network, the ability to most efficiently allocate bandwidth between subscribers, applications, locations and many other attributes will prove indispensable not just for MVNOs but for all MNOs.
And Finally, Analytics to the User’s Device
Moving forward on network analytics and policy enforcement, subscribers too can expect to be provided with their own visualization tools to manage their service experience, including mini dashboards and notification services that help subscribers understand the state of the connectivity and service quality. This is easily achieved via APIs and integration with the existing technology, said Bill, adding that today, technologies, tools and frameworks are readily available for MNOs to further develop their network analytics as powerful means to deliver a high level of subscriber experience for their customers.