Sergio Zveibil, Product Marketing Manager, InfoVista

Sergio Zveibil, Product Marketing Manager, InfoVista

This post is by Sergio Zveibil, Product Marketing Manager, InfoVista

One of the greatest accomplishments of the golden age of aviation occurred on September 28, 1924, when the “Chicago” and the “New Orleans” completed the world’s first airborne circumnavigation. When the planes landed in Seattle, completing a 175-day journey, Major General Charles G. Norton said that the flight was, “brilliant proof of expert flying and mechanical ability.”

To an experienced aviator, Norton’s assessment would ring true. But, to the average American in 1924, it would seem as though it took more than just “expert flying and mechanical ability” for those pilots to travel around the world safely. Some might have said it took a little bit of magic. That sentiment was later echoed by science-fiction write Arthur C. Clarke when he said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Indeed, even today, airplane flight seems a bit magical, even to frequent flyers. Even so, it’s surprising how little consideration passengers give to the advanced technology that makes global travel a reality. Most travelers don’t know the “how” behind flight – all they know if that they’re able to sail high above the clouds, crossing countries and oceans in a matter of hours.

Airlines aren’t alone in providing “magical” services to customers. Today’s mobile operators help people communicate around the world, with mere seconds separating their interactions, yet most customers do not understand the nuances that happen behind-the-scenes, nor do they care to know. They just want them to work. The best network services, like the best flights, are the ones customers don’t have to think about, the ones where the technology is virtually invisible.

As mobile technology accelerates forward, with the number of LTE subscribers expected to cross the one billion mark by 2016, it’s up to mobile operators to continue to innovate, while still meeting the quality of experience (QoE) expectations of their subscribers. Through it all, mobile services should continue to work just like magic!

To make that possible, mobile operators must have cross-domain network performance visibility into LTE mobile network performance, and must unify their service assurance practices. This way, when a mobile network encounters “turbulence,” mobile operators will be able to react quickly, correct the problem and then take their networks to even greater heights.

Building an LTE Network Dashboard

Each day, airlines manage hundreds and thousands of flights, zigzagging and intersecting through the air. It is an incredible logistical challenge for airlines to safely get planes from point A to point B, while still meeting passengers’ expectations for speed and safety. Airplane pilots monitor their own planes individually, while airline controllers on the ground provide oversight and, additionally, closely manage each part of the service delivery chain to see how various components affect customer QoE. If airlines fail to properly manage this chain, customers will book their next trip with a different provider.

For LTE mobile operators, the challenge is similar. In a way, the fact that they manage various networks simultaneously adds a deeper layer of complexity to the management process. Customers constantly jump between and traverse different types of mobile networks, from new (4G/LTE) to legacy (2G/3G) networks. Can you imagine, in a comparable airplane scenario, if passengers tried to switch flights midair?

To keep the magic happening amid changing network factors, mobile operators monitor all network domains to ensure individual links, as well as the entire chain, are working properly, and to quickly solve problems before they impact subscribers.

Just as pilots have a dashboard of tools to track a plane’s status, mobile operators often have multiple tools to manage and ensure the quality of different parts of the service delivery chain. However, while these tools offer some visibility and information about each particular network domain, they cannot provide the end-to-end information needed by mobile operators to help them create a seamless customer experience.

The best approach is for LTE network operators to consolidate their “in-flight dashboard” into one network performance monitoring system, to generate cross-domain network performance visibility. Once this raw, technical data is in-hand, mobile operators can process, combine and transform this information into more meaningful service quality indicators and apply it toward improving customer KPIs.

Failure to properly monitor the customer “in-flight experience” through one consolidated window increases the likelihood of more frequent and prolonged service outages, generating a strong negative impact on churn. A centralized performance view also enables different teams to collaborate within an organization, including operations, engineering and marketing, resulting in less network downtime and smarter OPEX.

Consolidating Service Assurance

Closely tied to end-to-end performance monitoring is unified service assurance. LTE network operators are managing new and legacy networks, as well as adopting next-generation technologies like Wi-Fi offload, pico cells, software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). Not only does all of this technology need to integrate with existing network infrastructure, but each new deployment also creates subsequent traffic and complexity concerns. The challenge for mobile operators is to get these network elements working in sync, as part of a cohesive service delivery chain.

To relate the challenge back to flights, airplanes tend to behave predictably, even though it may seem to passengers as though turbulence and other in-flight events happen unexpectedly. Data packets in a network, however, are not quite as predictable. Moreover, the convergence of mobile services to IP converged services such as VoLTE also adds to the complex statistical behavior of the network. Nevertheless, there are certain traffic patterns that can be detected within mobile networks and planned for, such as expected daily averages and peak traffic in busy hours.

The ability to learn these patterns is important for LTE mobile operators, as deviations from these statistical patterns can indicate mobile network performance degradation. So, the unified service assurance approach must be able to leverage historical data, automatically draw network baselines and flag any deviations.

Service assurance should also be proactive. As part of the process, historical data is leveraged to extrapolate into the future, so that mobile operators can predict bottlenecks and other network problems, and then act before they create negative ramifications. Operators can also use this trending capability to allocate CAPEX more efficiently within the network, investing only where and when it will drive significant returns.

For this reason, unified service assurance produces gains in operational efficiency, so mobile operators can keep LTE network costs under control, even as the service delivery chain grows in size and complexity.

 LTE Networks: Soaring Higher and Higher

Today’s airlines have transformed the extraordinary nature of flight into an everyday occurrence. Planes fly graciously through the air, even while transporting tons of cargo and passengers, but it takes a lot of effort to make flying appear so magical. Without advanced electronic control systems, these flights would not be as fast or as safe as they are.

For LTE network operators, the challenge is similar. They use end-to-end network performance monitoring and unified service assurance practices to offer the best service to customers, and it’s because of these two solutions that they’re able to continue offering new services to customers, without sacrificing the performance that users have come to expect.

As mobile operators look to the future, it’s important that they borrow a lesson from aviators. It’s natural for aviators to want to climb higher and move faster. Consider that in 1949, 25 years after the first full flight around the world, the “Lucky Lady II” made some history of its own by completing the same journey as the “Chicago” and the “New Orleans” – but this time, without stopping! And it finished the trip in just under four days, instead of 175 days.

So, what new heights will LTE networks reach?

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