Survey Results: How are Mobile Operators Approaching Test and Measurement?

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Sunday, December 11, 2016 with No comments
Mobile network operator (MNO) test and measurement (T&M) strategies vary from region to region around the globe, but in general market forces are making virtualized solutions attractive, especially in areas where price is no longer an effective competitive differentiator. That’s what Heavy Reading found in a September, 2016, Accedian-sponsored survey. More results from the survey will be published soon, but for now here are some of the noteworthy conclusions it highlights.

What’s quality worth?

On average, MNOs spend 35 cents per year per subscriber on performance monitoring and assurance. 

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This varies by region, though; areas like Asia Pacific (APAC) and Latin America (LATAM)—where 3G and earlier technologies still play a big role—are spending more on performance monitoring and assurance than more developed areas like Europe, Middle East, and Asia (EMEA) and North America (NA). 

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Why? Because less developed areas are spending more in their efforts to solve significant and basic issues, like large-scale outages. In regions where LTE is more established, operators are moving more toward virtualization generally, including virtualized instrumentation which is less expensive to deploy and use than traditional, hardware-based methods. Overall, then, T&M is an investment operators make optimize new networks, and to improve existing networks so they can be transitioned to LTE. But, instrumentation often isn’t the first thing operators think of.

Instrumentation afterthought?

When they are first establishing subscriber bases for new networks or services, operators generally do not invest in T&M. However, once they’re well-established in a region, and services become commoditized, price becomes an ineffective way to compete and the focus shifts to quality instead. That means operators need tools to efficiently identify and resolve performance issues. 

In other words, instrumentation continues to be an afterthought, even though increasingly it can be used to identify and implement actions that increase capacity, sometimes without much investment at all. 

As operators move toward 5G, there two strategies they may choose to employ:

  1. Create a self-optimizing network from the start
  2. Overlay next-generation technology on top of 4G and optimize it later
Because traditional monitoring methods are difficult and expensive to deploy, operators looking for more elegant techniques are investing heavily in virtualized, active probes; this is the fastest growing segment of the T&M market:

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Active virtualized probes, deployed along with software agents at endpoints, make it possible to gain a truly end-to-end view of what’s happening with each subscriber, all the way to the network edge. Both parts are needed: virtual probes can test to existing network elements (physical network), while virtual network functions (VNFs) are needed to test virtual infrastructure.

The role of analytics

Finally, let’s take a quick look at analytics, which you’re likely to think of as a proactive, sophisticated endeavor that takes T&M to the next level. In that context, lifecycle automation and machine learning are among the areas with the most future potential. 

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It should be noted, however, that the way operators are planning to use analytics also varies by region, again affected by the reality of technology in use and how well-established or developed the networks are. 

For example, in LATAM the most promising analytics applications are root cause identification and capacity planning—fairly basic uses.

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Whereas, in APACwhere networks are more advanced—operators are looking to analytics for lifecycle automation and machine learning.

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The good news is that, although the way MNOs use instrumentation vary, with virtualized solutions the same technology can serve developing and developed network equally well, scaling and transitioning along with networks. The investment grows with network evolution; it isn’t necessary to invest in one kind of instrumentation now to improve 3G reliability and something else later to optimize QoE and capacity for LTE-A and 5G. 

“Virtualized instrumentation and analytics are not just for 5G networks,” concluded Scott Sumner, Accedian Director of Business Analytics, in his analysis of the Heavy Reading survey results. “It can be used to get all networks up to par. After all, SDN won’t ever happen if operators can’t solve basic network problems. The same monitoring base can also serve during the migration from legacy to 5G networks.”