Hanging by a thread: subscriber experience in the hybrid network world

January 09, 2018 // By John English, Netscout
Change is inevitable in technology, and operators are no strangers to it. 2G to 3G to 4G and now onto LTE-Advanced and 5G; each evolutionary change in the mobile lifecycle has made network management an increasingly complex feat of engineering. The shift to LTE has undoubtedly been the biggest so far, and has put pressure on operators to deliver a consistent quality of experience to a data-reliant user base. Now that OTT applications are gaining more and more interest from subscribers and therefore having direct impact on operator revenue, this has become a complicated competitive issue. However, it isn’t a new one by any means.

The challenge of reducing operating costs, whilst increasing the speed of the creation and delivery of new services has long been faced by operators. In this IP-based, mobile world the challenge is set to grow further. Price pressures, along with managing network capacity demand for next-generation services are challenges, but the rigid telecoms landscape is another.

Progress – needless to say – is slow.

So what can operators do? Embrace the revolution that is Network Function Virtualisation (NFV).

 

Virtually invisible

The greatest benefit of NFV (relying on COTS and distributed software functionality) is also its biggest weakness (NFV and the cloud obstruct visibility); its precarious position in terms of maintaining a consistent and high level of Quality of Service. Mobile operators are finding themselves in an increasingly software-defined environment due to NFV, just as Enterprise IT has found itself in recent years. Network node functions such as firewalls, session border controls and now packet core elements are being virtualised where application and storage has been transferred from hardware to software control.

A virtualised environment means highly increased agility, which also means mobile operators can adapt their networks quickly, and operator branded services could be added in minutes rather than days. However, along with this the complexity of running and troubleshooting a network still exists. Agility only adds to the equation. Having a best-in-class service assurance solution is now a paramount need, no longer confined to “nice-to-have” status. An increased potential for disruption to service has greatly increased, putting operators in a precarious position with NFV adoption. Whilst NFV giving operators the opportunity to improve user experience by deploying new applications and functions closer to the network edge, anything less than consistently outstanding performance will mean churn and reputation loss.

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