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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Accedian at MEF17: Technology Innovation Panel Speaker, Booth

Join us at MEF17 (going on November 13-16, 2017, in Orlando, Florida); our President and CEO, Patrick Ostiguy, is speaking on the November 14, 12:05pm Technology Innovation Panel. We're also exhibiting at booth 205. Here are the details!

Event: MEF17

Event Dates: November 13-16, 2017

Booth: 205

Panel Date: November 14, 2017

Location: Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Panel: Technology Innovation Panel

Panel Time: 12:05pm

Panelist: Patrick Ostiguy, President & CEO

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Real-time Network Monitoring: What Progress Have We Made Globally?

According to GSMA Intelligence, the number of mobile subscribers in the Asia Pacific region will rise from 2.7 billion at the end of 2016 to 3.1 billion by 2020. Countries driving this rapid growth are China and India.

This rapid increase in the number of mobile subscribers stresses the need for real-time network monitoring. As today’s mobile network operators (MNOs) increasingly rely on performance to differentiate themselves in an already crowded market, quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) have never been so important.

Efficient LTE networks will become a major priority for mobile operators everywhere. Managing complex, high speed, and multipurpose networks is not the only challenge; operators must also prepare for new services such as connected cars and other Internet of Things (IoT) features. At the same time, operators also need to develop and put in place methods and practices that will support their imminent move to 4.5G, and ultimately 5G.

Faced with the task of navigating this complex landscape, it’s essential that mobile operators have a greater level of network visibility to help with management and troubleshooting. Accedian's solutions are helping mobile operators across the globe keep up with the growing demands of their networks. Here are a few examples of how we do it:

  • South Korea’s SK Telecom turned to our SkyLIGHT Performance Platform and Nano smart SFP Modules for a standards-based, network performance assurance solution capable of providing end-to-end QoS and QoE visibility across a sophisticated, multi-vendor mobile network. This enabled SK Telecom to drive its software-defined network (SDN) management system directly with the real-time metrics from our solution, automating network configuration and optimization to deliver the best possible experience to its customers.
  • India, one of the main drivers behind the rapid growth of mobile subscribers in Asia, is in position to capture the benefits of reliable virtualized real-time network assurance. Our SkyLIGHT Platform and Reliance's data analytics Jio Coverage Platform were used together to optimize network quality and user experience in real-time for approximately 100 million mobile subscribers in India. Reliance Jio used our SkyLIGHT solution to provide near complete visibility of its network. This resulted in being one of the best practice examples of providing total network visibility, with zero hardware dependency, around the globe.
  • Boasting a customer base of more than 341 million subscribers, Telef√≥nica’s requirements for a comprehensive performance assurance solution had to cover its global footprint and looked at ubiquitous coverage to localize issues, planning network upgrades, and optimizing performance, among many others. Real-time metrics covering network QoS, as well as voice and video and QoE, for trending, alerts and reporting had to be considered in order to address its highly asymmetrical network. Additionally, fast and easy instrumentation deployment with a virtualized, centralized control platform was also incorporated, and in the end, our solution, comprised of SkyLIGHT performance assurance platform, Nano smart SFP Modules, 1GbE and 10GbE Network Performance Elements, delivered the best possible QoS and reliability for Telef√≥nica’s customers.
In North America and Europe, where LTE is more established, operators are already moving toward virtualization generally--including virtualized instrumentation, which is less expensive to deploy and use than traditional, hardware-based methods.

Areas like Asia and Latin America are investing much more in performance monitoring and assurance for greenfield LTE deployments. However, in most of the developed and western world, 3G and earlier technologies continue to play a key role and so the need to solve significant and basic issues, like large-scale outages, is still present. The reality is that Asian and Latin American operators often have higher performance networks than their counterparts in Europe.

With the market becoming more digitized, active (synthetic) monitoring is starting to show its value. Active tests allow service providers to assess network readiness before deployment, avoiding the impact of new services on existing applications when they go live and begin to consume the network.

Therefore, by providing a comprehensive view of end-to-end performance, service providers can use this detailed “network state” as real-time feedback to automate SDN control, and use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) for root cause analysis, predictive trending, and business and customer journey analytics. Exceptionally granular, precise data with a wide diversity of statistical perspectives means analytics can converge and correlate multi-dimensional events an order of magnitude faster than coarse, passive monitoring data permits.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

6 Truths About QoE Monitoring for Virtualized Networks

A third of mobile networks are not fully monitored end-to-end. Let that sink in for a minute.

It’s a surprising figure because most operators use three or more vendors for each major function in their radio, backhaul, and core networks. Being able to piece together a consistent monitoring layer end-to-end is necessary to manage quality of experience (QoE) over these discontinuous domains.

A lack of end-to-end visibility isn’t sustainable. Especially since network performance is rapidly becoming the key differentiator. As operators seek out and implement ways close their visibility gap, they are discovering the following six truths about managing QoE over next-generation networks.

1. Best-effort QoE assurance is no longer good enough

While best-effort QoE assurance has been the accepted standard for typical internet applications and services, that’s rapidly changing with the on-demand nature of usage today. Customers are no longer tolerant of services being “okay” rather than “excellent.” Even a bad experience with Netflix or YouTube can impact customers’ perception of network quality and lead to churn.

This truth translates into huge changes in terms of what’s required for real-time service instantiation, as well as service monitoring and assurance. Operators must now be able to perform per-application level quality assurance for a vast number of services and QoE requirements, as well as meet the need for automated processes in virtualized networks.

2. QoE management for virtualized networks is a whole new ballgame

The shift from traditional to virtualization networking significantly impacts how operators manage QoE. Traditional networking was, for the most part, static; thus, understanding the impact of Layer 2 and 3 issues on QoE was relatively straightforward. Virtualized networks, on the other hand, are very dynamic; thus, QoE optimization must be driven in real-time by emerging technologies like machine learning. Also, in such networks, the data plane is often split across various network slices (even for the same service), making it even more complex to understand service delivery.

Specifications for backhaul network metrics—such as throughput, latency, and availability—are becoming more stringent. As a result, traditional monitoring techniques may not be sufficient to see the types of performance issues that result in QoE problems.

In Accedian’s experience, we have seen cases like the one below where an operator was experiencing more than 100,000 call drops, with an obvious negative impact on QoE, even though classic quality of service (QoS) metrics (e.g. packet loss, delay) were well within spec. Only by analyzing millions of Layer 2 and 3 KPIs was a periodic relationship observed that led to discovery of the root cause. Without the ability to manage QoE in this way, the impact of such a situation would have been catastrophic to the operator. 

<click image to enlarge>

Source: Accedian slide from Heavy Reading webinar, “

Given the dynamic nature of virtualized networks, and the inability of traditional tools to assure virtualized services, it’s hardly surprising that operators are less confident in their ability to monitor QoE or the service experience.

3. Understanding the relationship between QoS and QoE is critical

Operators are still more comfortable monitoring QoS than QoE, a holdover from traditional telephony performance monitoring. The problem is, customer satisfaction is largely driven by QoE and not QoS. Being unable to monitor QoE puts operators’ business models at risk. And, as customers come to rely even more heavily on mobile connectivity as a way of life, QoE will become the competitive differentiator.

This is not to say that QoS and QoE are unrelated. Our work with South Korean operator SK Telecom, helping them develop a performance assurance strategy for their LTE-A network, highlighted some interesting relationships between QoS and QoE metrics. For example, it was found that even a small packet loss event—say, 0.1%—could lead to a 5% decrease in service throughput and a 2% loss could lead to as much as an 80% decrease in throughput. 

<click image to enlarge>

This type of surprising relationship is not limited to obvious issues like packet loss, either. In another example, it was shown that a 15ms latency increase on a critical path in the network could cause a throughput decrease as much as 50%.

In both cases, the biggest impact is seen in the application layer protocols managing service delivery, not the QoS monitoring. Monitoring only the resource and network layer is not enough.

Which leads to another inconvenient truth: with next-generation networks, there are simply too many services streaming through tens of thousands of network components to manage QoE manually; automation is required.

4. Next-gen performance assurance is beyond human control

Generating QoS metrics in a traditional network involves large, centralized test suites and network interface devices (NIDs) at the edge. It also requires a lot of engineering, planning, and provisioning work. Imagine that level of activity for a new network with 100,000+ eNodeB sites and 100,000+ aggregation and cell site routers. Clearly, the traditional networking approach won’t scale.

While operators are rolling out software-controlled, programmable networks—using intelligence to govern resource allocation as applications come online—they are still largely managing those networks in a way that’s unsustainably manual. The next step is to do all this in an automated way, using intelligent algorithms for a real-time view of network topology paths.

Automation enables operators to:
  • Relieve hotspots and avoid unnecessary upgrades, by balancing link utilization 
  • Ensure bandwidth is available when it’s needed, for each application
  • Satisfy customer bandwidth requests without negatively impacting other services
  • Determine the best links to place each new workload
5. Active, virtualized probes are the future of QoE assurance

Implementing software-defined networking (SDN) is a priority for mobile operators, and just about every operator now has a plan to virtualize at least part of their network—starting with the mobile core.

The reason for this trend is that existing network architecture is failing to enable the type of innovation operators need to make the foundation of their business strategies, especially as they roll out LTE-A networks and plan for 5G. They find it hard to create new revenue streams, because with proprietary hardware, management, and IT systems it’s difficult—and takes too long—to deploy new services.

But, this shift does require a new approach to QoE management.

In an effectively-managed virtualized network, the test suite becomes a virtual network function (VNF) that can be instantiated as needed, either to address a large geographic area or to scale compute power required for a large number of endpoints.

This setup does still require an endpoint to test toward, but that’s relatively straightforward given that most routers and base stations are now compliant with standardized test protocols such as Two-Way Active Measurement Protocol (TWAMP, RFC-5357). Sometimes there will be reasons to deploy purpose-built endpoint solutions (e.g. smart SFPs) when a common test standards are not supported, but in most networks this represents less than 10% of sites. The increasing popularity of x86 towards the mobile edge means that standards-based VNFs can be used as well.

What makes VNF-based performance monitoring even more compelling is the fact that either part of the equipment needed for service delivery is a software solution that can be easily orchestrated in a virtualized network; a QoE solution for a network of 100,000 eNodeBs can be deployed, up and generating KPIs in weeks, rather than several months, with very little capital required.

For all the reasons discussed so far, and given the economics of virtualized networks, mobile operators are moving away from centralized probe appliances and toward active virtualized probes. 

<click image to enlarge>

Source: Accedian slide from Heavy Reading webinar, 

6. Effective QoE management is possible, with analytics and automation

What is the best use for the potentially billions of KPIs generated daily by end-to-end network monitoring using active, virtualized probes? Big data analytics makes light work of this problem, allowing correlations between layers and events—through predictive trending and root cause determination—to be automated, and displayed in real-time.

Since the next generation of mobile networks requires automation to run optimally, having centralized network performance and QoE metrics in the operator’s big data infrastructure provides the necessary feedback for SDN control to make network configuration decisions that deliver the best experience to each customer, at any time.

That’s the ultimate goal for LTE-A and 5G: breathtaking performance over a highly dynamic, virtualized network, without humans getting in the way.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Virtualized Networks: What About Performance Assurance?

Around the globe, pretty much every telecom service provider is either running a network functions virtualization (NFV) proof-of-concept, or has already virtualized some areas of their network. In doing so, a major concern they have is how to effectively perform test and measurement (T&M) of these dynamic network environments which, if not properly assured, threaten carriers’ main competitive advantage: network reliability. Here, Accedian’s VP of International Sales, David Dial, explains what it takes to fully assure virtual networks, and how our solutions uniquely address this need.

What’s required to fully assure performance and user experience in a virtualized environment?

DD: Network performance assurance for virtualized networks goes far beyond traditional T&M. Essentially, what’s needed is an advanced operations support system (OSS) designed for an IP world, capable of providing real-time performance information at a very granular level to meet the challenges of quality of service (QoS) assurance in complex network environments.

That’s what Accedian provides in our software-based SkyLIGHT solution that covers Layer 2 and Layer 3 performance monitoring, service activation testing (SAT), bandwidth utilization monitoring, and distributed packet capture information—unified in a single platform for multi-service network environments.

How does the convergence of mobile and fixed networks affect performance assurance?

DD: As networks converge to serve wireless, business, and residential customers—and performance parameters for IP-based services become less tolerant of faults—QoS assurance is becoming increasingly challenging. It’s not viable to continue spending significant CapEx and OpEx for costly handheld test gear to attempt identifying network issues during scheduled maintenance windows. Nor is it cost-effective to continued placing hardware in a network that is increasingly more distributed and multi-vendor.

The pressure on service providers to provide a high quality customer experience is growing, and network quality is becoming a differentiator in ‘quality wars’ heating up around the globe, as well as a requirement to realize objectives for costly LTE investments.

The use of NFV need not be synonymous with loss of quality management. Accedian’s virtualized performance monitoring and assurance solution is typically placed in a service provider’s data center environment to provide microsecond-accuracy for TWAMP sessions created for different classes of service as well as different packet sizes. Further enhancing this setup, our “smart SFP” modules can originate test sessions in a distributed fashion and support a full or partial mesh quality testing environment depending on the operator’s QoS requirements.

The SkyLIGHT solution is deployed at scale by major Tier 1 operators globally, with several of them planning to move to a completely virtualized version of the platform.

What else makes Accedian’s approach to virtualized performance assurance unique?

DD: In head-to-head competition with traditional handheld test sets, as well as hardware-based solutions, SkyLIGHT has been proven by major Tier 1 operators to be superior in multi-service, NFV network environments—no degradation in performance metric accuracy!

In short, SkyLIGHT provides real-time network state visibility for NFV environments. It serves as the virtualized instrumentation feedback loop required for software defined-networking (SDN) control and NFV orchestration based on OSS policy.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Cable MSOs Leverage DOCSIS 3.1 and NFV for Performance-Assured Business Services

With the advent of DOCSIS 3.1 deployments starting to accelerate in the U.S. cable MSO market, the significance it brings to operators like Comcast and Cox—making it possible for them to deliver gigabit broadband using existing HFC infrastructures—is enormous. MSOs are leveraging the technology as a means of expanding up-market to deliver sophisticated business services to enterprises as well as enhancing their residential services.

DOCSIS 3.1 is “cheaper to deploy than all-fiber networks because it makes use of legacy infrastructure, and the technology vastly expands cable broadband capacity, making it easier to introduce new gigabit-speed services,” explained Light Reading Senior Editor Mari Silbey in an article outlining the effects of the technology over the past few years.

Further, a lot of what’s possible with DOCSIS 3.1 (more capacity and speed, expanded capabilities for managing bandwidth and delivering higher-bandwidth services) feeds into the virtualization trend that has come to the forefront of the MSOs’ technical arsenal. This ties directly into the need for sophisticated performance assurance required to meet commercial service level agreements (SLAs) and retain residential customers.

DOCSIS 3.1 and Service Assurance

To compete with telcos in the premium business services market requires MSOs to establish a reliable means of SLA-grade performance assurance. Further, DOCSIS 3.1-based GbE services need to be on par with fiber-based offerings as most businesses are more concerned about reliability and performance than pure bandwidth. Connectivity to the cloud, for software as-a-service (SaaS) applications, is operationally crucial for enterprises.

Committing to guaranteed uptime, bandwidth availability, and rapid mean time to repair (MTTR) are therefore prerequisites for MSO success in the enterprise market.

The conundrum facing MSOs is that current DOCSIS modems don’t offer integrated performance monitoring, service turn-up testing, operations and maintenance (OAM) demarcation, and other key features needed for business services delivery. These capabilities must somehow be added, in a way that has minimal impact to the cost of deploying such services.

Accedian has been extremely successful in working with the MSO market to use network functions virtualization (NFV) for delivery of network interface device functionality in a small, programmable device—enabling end-to-end OAM visibility, hardware-based demarcation, performance monitoring, troubleshooting, and service turn-up. This type of virtualized instrumentation simplifies and assures the full business services over DOCSIS service delivery lifecycle.

How Accedian Can Help
Accedian’s ant module—a small form factor, FPGA-based device that works directly with network elements to provide advanced performance assurance capabilities, centrally managed using the Accedian SkyLIGHT VCX controller software—fills the gap for MSOs looking to expand their service assurance and delivery capabilities. In addition to standard cable modem/ant module deployments, MSOs are now embracing what can be done by installing a virtualized version (software only) of the ant module onto a universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) x86 box, or by partnering with manufacturers to include the ant module functionality in their cable modems.

The latter option is finally possible because of the potential inclusion of Accedian’s agent in cable modem DOCSIS 3.1 silicon, rather than requiring the addition of ancillary hardware daughterboard(s) or SFP port(s). With the “room” now available in the DOCSIS 3.1 silicon, cable MSOs are encouraging modem manufacturers to revisit the inclusion of an Accedian agent in their hardware.

This opens up a large set of new opportunities in the commercial—and conceivably also residential—cable market. Further, embedding the Accedian agent into the cable modem and/or uCPE dovetails directly into the MSO trend toward adopting SD-WAN for business services delivery.

Beyond performance monitoring metrics like delay, delay variation, and packet loss, the latest generation of ant modules (and the ant agent) introduces advanced assurance capabilities like granular bandwidth utilization metering, remote packet capture, and generation of standards-based testing (e.g. RFC2544 SAT, Y.1731 performance monitoring) between sites/branch locations. These capabilities deliver tremendous OPEX savings for MSOs, as well as the ability to differentiate their products and upsell additional services.