Quality experience requires holistic network management

Worldwide mobile data services continue to soar with global traffic expected to grow 131% annually through 2013, according to Analysys Mason. Revenues for next year alone are seen to increase by 17%, based on an ABI Research forecast.

These numbers come up as providers launch 3G networks in emerging markets and LTE technology will be available in most mature markets in the next few years.

With this growing demand for data services that provide access to any content on any device at any time, providers cannot afford poor quality of experience (QoE).

A key aspect often overlooked is that the actual transport of that data is done by the underlying IP wireline infrastructure rather than the wireless network facilities. By bringing together the QoE perspectives from these two domains, providers can comprehensively assure end-to-end quality.

Moreover, with more of the wireless network becoming IP based, it is vital to have a converged view to troubleshoot service degradation proactively, comprehensively down to every infrastructure sub-element, and in real time.

A holistic approach to mobile data service quality management, therefore, involves several key considerations. This requires service topology awareness for troubleshooting and network capacity planning. Management tools should track the connectivity between packet core elements. and between serving GPRS support nodes and base station controllers/radio network controllers. This enables operators to sectionalize traffic as well as impairments across downstream elements.

Operators also will need modeling of all the critical transport elements supporting the packet core elements, enabling complete end-to-end visibility. This helps operations teams isolate impairments in the exact switching/routing equipment that might have caused the packet core not to provide the required services.

With advanced analytics over the right utilization indicators, such modeling also aids in comprehensive capacity planning. Predictive reports for switches and routers on indicators such as interface saturation and time to saturation, together with corresponding reports on mobile infrastructure, help ensure that design decisions are not made in a silo fashion.

Once the service topology is modeled, the capability to monitor end-to-end quality on the service delivery paths comes as a natural benefit. This is achieved by leveraging built-in vendor instrumentation to measure and report end-to-end quality parameters like latency, delay variation and packet loss on data delivery segments all the way to the end-users.

With wireless networks becoming increasingly IP-based, it is critical to assure the mobile network infrastructure together with IP infrastructure, and provide one view for doing that. Traditionally, one set of tools is used for operating the mobile infrastructure while another set is used for engineering the IP infrastructure, and these two different tool sets are operated by two different teams. Particularly when it comes to delivery of mobile data services, there is inherent inefficiency in two interdependent teams using separate solutions to manage different domains.

The ability of these two groups to confer with each other benefits service quality and troubleshooting. Having the visibility to report on end-to-end service quality parameters with a historical as well as current view helps answer key questions related to service quality. In terms of troubleshooting, productive hours can be lost, for example, if internal teams are going back and forth before eventually discovering causes of problems.

Another key aspect of visibility is that mobile service providers are achieving significant revenue from partnerships and wholesale subscriptions. By offering a dashboard for corporations that purchase enterprise data services, service providers can enable these corporations to view the performance of the respective private data service they have purchased from the carrier.

Another aspect of this involves offering a high-level view of packet core performance to mobile virtual network operators. These abilities provide an additional offering for high-value customers, in addition to helping build trust among these critical customers.

Traditionally, mobile carriers have tried to manage mobile data services by extending existing performance management solutions — a strategy that is no longer sufficient due to the increasing volume and complexity of today’s mobile data environment. Today, holistic management tools are required to equip service providers with the intelligence and service topology awareness needed to proactively manage mobile data network infrastructures and to assure the performance and quality of data services.

While commitment to QoE must be genuine, ultimately it must also be cost effective. This requires holistic engineering perspectives to plan and size supporting network infrastructure. This will become even more critical over the next several years as LTE technology is deployed.

Ranga Thittai is product manager for InfoVista