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Right-Sizing Networks to Meet the Needs of Today & Tomorrow

Tue, 06/16/2009 - 8:00pm
Ranga Thittai

Wireless service providers continue to fare well despite the global recession, thanks to the continued consumer demand for smartphones and data plans. While this growth sparks the need for critical decisions to properly manage the increasing demands on data services, there is a growing realization in the mature markets that revenue from mobile voice may have reached a plateau. Because of this, service providers are looking to entice subscribers to submit for additional data oriented services, such as real-time gaming and mobile TV. It’s where the opportunity exists to differentiate and make that extra incremental revenue needed in this tough market.

The challenge being faced is providing the infrastructure needed to meet new requirements without expending already stretched budgets. This “right-sizing” requires advanced analytics of mobile data traffic on a network to be able to accurately and efficiently build the infrastructure for today’s needs and tomorrow’s growth. When considering how to achieve this, service providers must consider several key issues:

Ranga Thittai
Thittai
1. Achieving tool convergence to bring down operating and capital expenses. With wireless networks becoming increasingly IP-based, it is critical to plan mobile network infrastructure together with IP infrastructure and provide one view for doing that. Traditionally, one set of tools has been used for operating the mobile infrastructure and another set is used for engineering the IP infrastructure—and these two different toolsets are operated by two different teams. Particularly when it comes to delivery of mobile data services, there is inherent inefficiency in two interdependent organizations using separate solutions to manage and troubleshoot different domains. And this can lead to disputes and confusion when a service disruption occurs. For example, a customer complaint may make the mobile group suspect there is something wrong in the IP network, but they have no real visibility into it.

Another huge advantage of tool convergence is a provider only needs one team to operate, upgrade and maintain the entire system. Typically, it’s the IT groups that manage these tools. Therefore, by converging tools, providers can not only save on capital expenses by investing in only one solution, but also save on operating expenses in terms of reducing headcount.

2. The need for proactive and holistic capacity monitoring. The growth in the traffic rate in mobile data services is reported by some analysts to be somewhere between 400 percent and 800 percent every year in some locations, spurred by innovations such as the iPhone. So it’s essential to have advanced and sophisticated over-time analytical tools to identify and analyze data down to every infrastructure sub-element to make the right decisions about growth.

Additionally, it’s vital to be able to plan a network or analyze the data in a proactive, comprehensive manner. This is where the value of the single toolset comes into play. With more and more of the wireless network becoming IP based, it becomes essential to have a converged view on advanced analytics and planning as well as convergence in reporting.

3. Maintaining the Quality of Experience. When it comes to quality of service, the mobile network infrastructure may be handling the data traffic from a mobile perspective, but actual transmission of that data is done by the underlying IP wireline network. Therefore, the quality of this IP network clearly impacts the Quality of Experience (QoE) of the customers. By bringing together the reporting of these two domains, providers can measure the end-to-end quality constraints imposed by the underlying IP network.

This is increasingly important considering the need to offer more streaming and real-time data services like mobile TV, push-to-talk and mobile-to-mobile games. Providers cannot afford latency of more than a few milliseconds with these services or you risk losing customers to other providers.

While the commitment to QoE must be genuine, ultimately it must also be cost effective. So how do you optimally size your network and at the same time assure superior end user QoE? The answer lies in investing in converged, proactive and holistic solutions for data services management that report on end-to-end service quality and simultaneously provide holistic engineering perspectives to plan and size the supporting network infrastructure. That would be a strategic, long-term approach toward service assurance.

Service providers need to take all these aspects into consideration when making decisions on right-sizing their infrastructure. If it’s not a critical decision now, it will be within the next several years, especially as we start to think about 4G with all-IP network architectures.

Thittai is product manager for InfoVista.

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