Managing QoE under disruptive conditions

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Scott Sumner, Director of Commercial Insight at EXFO, looks at the challenges of ensuring quality of experience in the current unique circumstances.

During times of crisis—pandemics, conflict, natural disasters—service providers face challenging conditions at a time when their customers are heavily dependent on telecom services. Abnormal, dynamic traffic patterns trip off seas of alerts.

When subscribers are forced into new routines, traffic volumes spike in locations and at times that would otherwise be relatively quiet. The population turns to social media, voice and video calls to check on loved ones and establish response plans with their employers. Remote working and streaming video consumption drive high utilization in residential areas.

While users may understand that networks are facing unprecedented demand, telecom brands will be punished if they fail to deliver consistent performance.

Net promotor score (NPS)—a key metric closely tied to churn, customer lifetime value (CLV) and profitability—is 49% influenced by mobile customers’ network experience. When quality of experience (QoE) is not perceived to be ‘very good’, promotors become detractors.

Telecom brands can be quickly damaged, but not quickly repaired: when subscribers leave their provider they will not return for at least five years. Retention costs rise, and margins erode. [sources: IPSOS, and Portevo, 2019]

Rising complexity

Addressing service degradation and outages is hard when operations staff are working remotely, and deafening alarm noise impedes their ability to isolate fault origins. Maintaining peak performance under these conditions strains existing processes that are largely manual and serial in nature.

Consider a recent survey by Heavy Reading that showed operations teams typically use six service assurance tools and require 12 experts from three different domains to resolve even minor outages. Lots of emails, SWAT teams, spreadsheets… it feels like wartime conditions even under normal circumstances.

Current crisis conditions foreshadow the traffic patterns that will be introduced by highly dynamic 5G services and the new enterprise and IoT applications they will support. The GSMA notes that by 2025 there will be five times more machine ‘mobile subscribers’ than humans, and network traffic growth is projected at 53% per year over the same period. We won’t be returning to the same normal we’re used to, no matter how we manage our way out of the current pandemic.

With an increasing degree of virtualization and orchestration adding to the mix, the complexity operations teams face is beginning to exceed their resources—both tools and staff. So, the vast majority of service providers are turning to automation and machine learning approaches to prepare for a continued state of ‘abnormal’. This strategy also gives their scarce experts superpowers to reveal and resolve issues proactively, even prescriptively.

Refocusing efforts

One key lesson learned is that the focus of operations teams needs to change. Instead of alarms, they need to focus on customer-impacting events. At first glance, this may appear similar: lots of alarms should indicate a fault affecting many customers. But there is often a shaky correlation between alarms and quality of experience.

Consider a cell tower that loses power from the grid. A series of alarms will kick off. Is this a major problem? It’s hard to tell. Cells are made to be redundant; neighbors can often pick up subscribers. Maybe the cell is still working fine on a generator. Maybe it’s totally down, but at a location or time of day where there are few people even using it.

This simple example illustrates why operations teams are learning they need to prioritize action based on the actual number of customers impacted, not simply network faults. It also means they need to detect degradations. These short term ‘silent failures’ are significantly more impactful to customers trying to ‘get things done’ than the rare outage.

In a recent incident at a North American mobile operator, a significant number of customers were unable to place or receive calls. What started as a small service issue rapidly ramped into a large-scale problem—but remained undetected by the operator for nearly three hours.

This is typical to degradations that occur under high utilization conditions. The issue affected a relatively small density of customers across a large geographic region—resulting in individual experiences that were effectively invisible to monitoring systems.

Example of geographically-spread impact that would be undetected by KPIs and alarms based on population averages.

Under highly dynamic traffic conditions, customer-impacting events can suddenly appear and rapidly escalate, often as the result of overloaded core network functions (e.g. authentication servers, scalability of vIMS functions).

This requires a new way of detecting, assessing and resolving customer-impacting events quickly, and directly—not inferred from network metrics—before they escalate into large scale outages.

It’s a difficult problem for traditional big data analytics. Certainly, this is a big data problem, but the approach of storing metrics and data feeds then looking for user experience issues is compute- and time-intensive.

Real-time analytics – reveal the invisible

Machine learning methods that use stream-processing platforms like Apache’s Spark are designed to overcome these limitations by analyzing data as it arrives, in real-time. This is where innovation is centering on a new breed of customer experience analytics. The wealth of available open-source analytics and machine learning platforms are redefining what is possible, and scalable.

Operations teams are now experimenting with real-time detection tools that use machine learning to detect QoE issues, assess the impact, and diagnose the root cause within minutes. This permits operations to see which issues are most important to address, and what action to take—without sifting through alarms or consulting multiple monitoring systems.

Machine learning is allowing them to see through a new lens that derives significantly more insight from existing systems. This allows operations teams to resolve issues faster and deliver an excellent quality of experience that drives loyalty, subscriber count and margin in challenging times. When things will unlikely ever be ‘normal’ again, it’s good that there are new tools emerging that will help us remain in control.

 

Scott Sumner is the Director of Commercial Insight at EXFO, covering strategy, sales enablement and analytics. Scott has extensive experience in wireless and mobile telecom, AI and analytics, and service assurance. He has over 20 years of industry experience, including in roles as Director of Strategy and Communications at Nuvoola, VP of Marketing and Analytics at Accedian, GM of Performant Networks, Director of Program Management at MPB Communications, VP of Marketing at Minacom (Tektronix), as well as project and engineering management roles at PerkinElmer (EG&G). Scott has led numerous acquisitions and industry partnerships, and has authored numerous patents and conference papers.

Exfo uses AI to reassure 5G operators

Testing and service assurance vendor Exfo has launched some new cleverness designed to take the stress out of managing a 5G network.

In case nobody told you, 5G is a lot more complicated than any of the previous Gs, so much so that it’s just too much for mere people to get their heads around. That’s where artificial intelligence comes to the rescue, with its omniscience and ability to learn on the job. Exfo reckoned it was about time its service assurance platform made the most of AI so it has launched Nova Adaptive Service Assurance.

The cleverest bit of it seems to be Nova SensAI (possibly a play on the word ‘Sensei’), which Exfo describes as its central nervous system. As you may have guessed, it’s all about using AI and machine learning to analyse the many layers of the network and offer a good view of them. Exfo claims it will uncover network issues no other equivalent platform can, possibly even before they’ve happened.

“The combination of more users, more connections, more apps and more convoluted networks has created a perfect storm of complexity for operators,” said Philippe Morin, EXFO CEO. “By delivering only the right data at the right time, Nova A|SA is a unique intelligent automation platform to provide operators with 100% visibility into user experience and network performance. We’re talking about operations teams being able to resolve issues in minutes rather than days—or preventing them entirely.”

We’d be lying if we said we had any way of verifying those claims, but as the nature of the launch implies, this is all very complicated stuff. We do know that Exfo is up against some pretty stiff competition in the 5G service assurance space, with all its competitors also claiming to take the stress out of 5G for operators. Telecoms CTOs would seem to have their work cut out picking the best one.

Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey 2019

As we move towards the end of another eventful year, Telecoms.com has once again conducted its Annual Industry Survey, inviting fellow telecoms professionals to look back on 2019, and look ahead towards 2020 and beyond. In this report, we share with you the key findings of the survey as well as our analysis of them, with topics including: industry update, 5G, digital transformation, IoT, and OSS/BSS.

Here are a few highlights from the findings:
• Over half of the respondents think 2019 has been good, and three quarters believe 2020 will be better
• 5G, IoT, Cloud are among the priority investment areas
• Although 5G will keep rolling out aggressively in different parts of the world, 88% of respondents believe the industry should continue investing in 4G
• Budget alone will not guarantee digital transformation success, but the lack of it can be a deal breaker
• 81% of respondents see smart cities as the biggest IoT opportunity outside of home
• 70% of respondents believe BSS should undergo major changes in order to enable custom network services

We hope you enjoy the read.

 

Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey 2018

Welcome to the 2018 edition of the Telecoms.com Intelligence Annual Industry Survey report. The findings from our signature survey continue to provide insights and foresight into the dynamic telecoms industry.

Once again well over 1,000 industry professionals from a broad array of backgrounds responded to the survey with their first-hand experience as well as their perspective views on the current status and future trends of the industry. As our customary practice, the report started with an overall industry landscape before we delved into six key areas pertinent to today’s telecoms industry: NFV, 5G, IoT, Digital Transformation, Security, and Test & Monitoring.

A few key findings from the survey:

  • 75% felt positive about the telecoms industry’s business outlook for 2019
  • 79% believed NFV is critical to their companies overall strategy
  • 61% believed emerging technologies and services are critical to telecom’s long-term success
  • 75% saw digital transformation as very important

Fill in the short form below to download your free copy now.

By downloading a copy of this report the information which you provide will be shared with the sponsor(s) for informative purposes and your mutual interest in the subject matter or similar subject matter (including initial follow-up regarding the content of this report).

Exfo set to snap up Astellia

Test and measurement specialist Exfo has announced it will acquire a 33% stake in Astellia, and will soon be launching a voluntary takeover bid of the company.

The purchase of Astellia will eventually take Exfo into new waters, as the organization is primarily focused on testing new solutions prior to commercial launches. With Astellia in its armoury there is potential for the team to move into the on-going network management space as Astellia focuses on performance analysis of mobile networks and subscriber experience.

Astellia describes itself as a provider of network and subscriber intelligence enabling mobile operators to improve service quality, maximize operational efficiency, reduce churn and develop revenues. The main focus of the business in recent months has been automated optimization, actionable geolocated insights and big-data analytics for operations, customer service and marketing functions of the business. In other words, it claims to give tips to operators on how to do things better. One of those ones.

“This investment in Astellia is in line with our strategy to increase our critical mass and our client base, and to expand our addressable market in the global analytics and service assurance industry,” said Germain Lamonde, Executive Chairman of Exfo’s Board of Directors.

“If our public tender offer is successful, we’ll be able to combine Astellia’s solutions and services with those of Exfo and become a world leader in the network monitoring and analytics sector and target growth opportunities such as network virtualization, 5G and the Internet of things.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Exfo will purchase the company from the three Astellia founders, as well as Isatis Capital. The deal itself is yet to clear the approval of French foreign investment authorities and the supervision of Autorité des marchés financiers. That said, Astellia’s Board of Directors has already given the thumbs up to the deal, which will total roughly €25.9 million. The deal is expected to close during the latter stages of 2017.