The telecommunications industry has hundreds, if not thousands of terms and abbreviations that are used on a daily basis. And as the industry evolves, that number is set to grow. In this A-Z we drill down to some of today’s top terms in Mobile Network Analytics. From the well-known ones like Big Data and Hadoop, to the lesser heard terms such as Topology and Drive Trials, we cover everything, from A -Z!
Unsurprisingly at the top of the list is analytics, the interpretation and communication of data and patterns. With new technologies to monitor, and new services to optimise, every second counts for mobile network operators. In mobile networks, analytics are key to enhancing network performance, rapidly fixing faults and identifying new opportunities for growth. In fact, mobile network analytics now encompasses so much more than just the network – it also involves monitoring and analysing drive trials and probe data, customer experience metrics, complaints and IT systems, within an increasingly virtualised network. Without good analytics, communication service providers (CSPs) could not survive in today’s competitive marketplace. Every letter on this A-Z involves analytics in some form or another.
Hand in hand with analytics goes big data. With ever decreasing revenues from traditional sources, CSPs are successfully leveraging data as an asset to derive valuable intelligence to optimise business, creating new sources of income and improving their brands. In the telecoms industry this means billions of data records daily; network performance stats, subscriber information, billing calculations, customer tickets, network inventory etc. In fact, in telecoms Big Data has now become synonymous with just data! To actually make use of all of this data, CSPs have a plethora of tools to collect, enrich and visualise data, enabling impactful business decisions from it.
Customer Experience Management (CEM) in telecoms is now a strategic business objective for all CSPs. CSPs have been seeing declines in revenue and operating profits of up to 30% over the last decade, making retaining existing customers more important than ever before. CEM directives do this by offering customers personalised services, reducing call centre on-hold times and improving the network performance through customer-centric optimisation.
Drive Trials are the process in which a vehicle carrying a number of SIMs and handsets is driven around the country, testing the voice and data services from an operator. Complex measuring equipment enables the continual measurement of voice call quality, data service stability, YouTube performance and download speeds. Drive Trials are often carried out by CSPs themselves to better understand their network, as well as independent bodies, for example, the upcoming P3 benchmarking trials, which measure the performance of the big four in the UK; Vodafone, O2, Three and EE.
End-to-end network visibility
The mobile network analytics environment is currently in a stage of transition. Traditionally, CSPs would analyse each network domain (radio, transmission and core) independently of each other. However as new network generations have launched, and new services have accompanied them, this no longer works efficiently. There is now a drive towards end-to-end network visibility, in which CSPs can visualise and monitor the performance of a service across all domains, rather than the network domains themselves. This is especially key within a virtual world where end-to-end services are spun up automatically.
Modern day operators have integrated their fault management with their network performance management to enable better insight into what faults are actually impacting the network performance, and in turn the subscribers’ experience. As subscribers interact with their devices significantly more often than other communication channels, customer care teams are focusing on drilling down on network performance data, network faults and planned network maintenance, in real-time.
Generation (Next Generation)
The next generation of mobile technology to hit the telecoms market is 5G. Initial trials are already demonstrating speeds of up to 20GBps, and some operators are claiming a launch as early as 2018 for the Winter Olympics in South Korea. When it comes to mobile network analytics, 5G is set to introduced more complexity, with more network data to manage and analyse to get a complete understanding of how the network is being used.
Hadoop has become synonymous with Big Data, offering a vast amount of storage for both structured and unstructured data. In the telecoms environment, Hadoop plays a part to help store and manage the vast amounts of data generated, but it does not act as a stand-alone solution. To enable operators to get the most out of their data, they need advanced visualisation, complex querying ability and real-time analytics capabilities provided by specialist solutions, often in conjunction with Hadoop.
Internet of Things (IoT)
With billions of devices already connected, and even more on the way, CSPs are preparing for a real-time data flood that cannot be ignored with The Internet of Things (IoT). The number of sensors and volumes of gathered data can range wildly depending on the application, so excess data will come into the network at varying frequencies, and in multiple formats, adding to the complexity of mobile network analytics. Operators who are rising to this challenge best are the ones that already have strong network management platforms in place, and who were already using these tools to handle big data as well as to optimise network performance.
Jitter is a voice metric commonly measured to understand the quality of a call. It is the variation in the latency on a packet flow between two systems, when some packets take longer to travel from one system to the other. Jitter results from network congestion, timing drift and route changes.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
There are a huge number of mobile network performance KPIs which are monitored in real-time and on an hourly, daily and weekly basis. Some of the most common KPIs measured by CSPs include availability, latency, packet loss and dropped call rates, all of which give a better understanding of the mobile network performance.
LTE Advanced (known as LTE-A or 4.5G) is a step-up from LTE, which builds on the LTE standard to offer improved network capacity and faster download speeds. LTE-U is very similar, except that it proposes to operate within the unlicensed 5GHz spectrum, which has caused some controversy due to potential interference with Wi-Fi. In fact, some say that this controversy has meant the clock is ticking on LTE-U, and it may well never take off.
Big data monetisation is the process of generating new revenue streams through leveraging data as an asset. There are two key branches to data monetisation, the first is the process of selling data, for example contact details or customer insights. The second is using data internally to identify upsell opportunities to increase customer value.
Network performance management
Network performance management is the analysis of network data to understand how the network is performing, and how it can be improved. This forms a major part of Network Operations Centres (NOC), which often run 24/7. Network engineers analyse data such as dropped call rates, call setup failures and bit error rates. This data is used to plan network maintenance schedules and optimise the performance of the existing network infrastructure.
The term OSS transformation has been rising in popularity over the past 10 years. As new network generations have been introduced, the network architecture and associated tools to manage it have increased in complexity. Traditionally operational support systems would specialise on a specific technology and network domain, for example 2G RAN. Today, as CSPs transition from network focused to service focused organisations, these legacy OSS systems are no longer fit for purpose. OSS transformation aims to change the way in which networks are manged, with a centralised tool for all network generations across all network domains.
When measuring the detail of a customer’s end-to-end service performance, passive and active probes can help. Combined with other data sources, such as mobile agent statistics, they can be an effective way to gain service performance insights, enabling real-time and historical end-to-end call tracing from the user device to the core network. In essence, they watch all the traffic that flows through the network, and filter out individual transactions to compute the service quality experienced by each call or data transfer. They provide granular data that allows service operators to determine the service quality at a per-service (QoS) and per-user (QoE) granularity, across multiple transport technologies.
For many major CSPs, quad-play represents a significant new revenue stream with great potential for growth. It is the latest offer to attract customers and conquer the market, by combining fixed line telephony, broadband, and paid TV with mobile services. Operators that can successfully offer ‘the fantastic four’ could realise several times the revenue of a basic access service. It is predicted that by 2020 UK quad-play revenues will triple. Quad-play brings its own challenges to ensure the best customer experiences as churn can affect all services and not just mobile.
Real-time, or near real-time data is essential for CSPs to successfully manage and optimise their networks. Some network elements push out data as regularly as every 5 minutes, and network engineers need to see this as soon as possible. It allows them to monitor the real-time availability and quality of the network, and rapidly schedule maintenance on network elements having the greatest impact to service.
Self-Organising network (SON) is an automation technology which analyses mobile network data and automatically responds to it to enable rapid planning, optimisation and maintenance. SON enables CSPs to reduce their operational costs and protect revenue by eliminating human error.
Topology is the physical and logical map of all network elements and the links between them. Physical topology demonstrates the physical location of network elements, whereas logical topology demonstrates the flow of data between them, regardless of physical locations. Accurate topology is essential to CSPs for efficient network planning, optimisation and maintenance.
Umbrella performance management
The term Umbrella Performance Management is sometimes used to refer to OSS Transformation. When we talk about OSS Transformation, we are talking about a carefully planned process to reform the vast and costly operational support systems infrastructure. This transformation may take considerable time to achieve and have many intermediate steps.
Voice over LTE(VoLTE) has seen some delays in launch, which can be attributed to both technical challenges and a justification to the cost, as well as challenges surrounding customer experience. Last year, VoLTE deployment across the globe went from 16 to 40 deployments, indicating that is still a priority for many operators.
Wi-Fi offload is the process of transferring mobile traffic over onto a Wi-Fi connection when cell reception is poor, or to free up bandwidth on the mobile network. The surge in mobile data traffic has increased the need for Wi-Fi offload, and brought about the rise in Femtocells – low power base stations for the home and office, which re-route calls over a local broadband connection.
X-domain (cross domain)
Cross domain (or X-domain) refers to the ability to manage data across multiple network domains, such as radio, transmission and core. This is an important part of OSS transformation. It allows CSPs to stitch together the different components of a call to get a single view of the service performance, no matter what network elements it passes through. This enables a single ‘voice call’ experience metric, which helps CSPs further understand how their subscribers experience their services.
YouTube…and other OTT services
Over-the-top (OTT) services deliver video, audio and messaging over the internet, without the involvement of the CSP. YouTube is a prime example, in which subscribers utilize their mobile data subscription to access videos, turning the CSP into a pipe as opposed to a leader in content delivery. OTT messaging service such as WhatsApp and Facebook have had a dramatic impact on CSPs bottom lines, by reducing the amount of SMS/MMS messages subscribers send. As such CSPs have been looking at alternative ways to offer competing functionality.
Zero down time
CSPs need to access their data 24/7 to successfully ensure high quality of service. While zero down time may seem an impossibility, operators must at least be aware of the true costs of downtime, outages and failures. Today’s network management platforms can help operators get as close to zero down time as possible, and to better understand what is going on across their networks so that they can fix what is wrong and get new products and services to market ahead of the competition.