Hopefully, nobody is really skinning cats these days, but the expression fits for measuring quality of service in the mobile data environment; there are so many ways to do it.
Depending on the cost of measuring quality from a particular point of view or the weight given to the relevance of certain performance data, mobile operators can look in their IP core, in the back haul network, in the radio access network, at the handset or through the billing records and usage data for the answers.
Companies such as AIRCOM International, InfoVista and InnoPath take different views of network services, but all have the same goal: help mobile operators deliver services over well-designed, well-managed and intelligently-leveraged networks and QoS will take care of itself.
InfoVista, for example, believes a lot of problems can be solved in the radio access network, but that the core is the place to focus. “The RAN is absolutely critical for the last mile. We see a lot of problems in that segment, but the core deserves closer attention because issues in the core are likely to become crises for the entire user population,” said Ranga Thittai, director of product management at InfoVista.
InfoVista’s pedigree is in IP network service assurance. In December it introduced a tool called the Mobile Knowledge Pack for its management platform. “The IP domain comes with its own dimensions of QoS and IP is becoming prominent in mobile data delivery,” Thittai said. “So we took our product a step above to monitor mobile data services as a whole instead of just IP packets.”
By that Thittai means that monitoring standard metrics such as latency, packet loss and jitter are not enough for mobile data services. “In a pure wireless data setting we believe quality is comprehensive ... and operators should have the ability to troubleshoot and plan their networks not only for network elements, but down to the level of Layer 2 and Layer 3 infrastructure.”
One of the features of InfoVista’s Mobile Knowledge Pack is that it tracks performance over time, learns expected behavior patterns and reacts to them when they’re not followed. InfoVista has recently put its solution to the test through a trial in Europe with a 3G wireless operator. There it monitored Internet performance on the operator’s wireless data cards as well as monitored private enterprise wireless networks.
InnoPath takes a distinctly different approach. It addresses mobile data QoS with mobile device management and goes so far as to incorporate the front line service rep into the process. In February it introduced ActiveCare, an MDM system that gives service reps the ability to access smartphone configurations. Operators may think customer care is far removed from network QoS, but InnoPath says otherwise.
“This can be adopted by thousands of frontline care people who can reach out and touch the device. That is very effective in first-time resolution and creating better customer satisfaction and loyalty,” said David Ginsburg, vice president of marketing at InnoPath.
The ability to access device configurations is of growing importance as smartphones proliferate and users access complex media applications. “Device settings for these applications are much more complex, so the propensity of users to call in with a problem goes up year by year,” Ginsburg said.
In addition to improving service quality, if not the “customer experience,” MDM capabilities have an obvious impact on operational expenses.
“In the current climate, being able to offer a solution that is immediately deployable, reduces churn and is capable of generating concrete returns on the investment is critical within the MDM space,” said Stephen Drake, program vice president, mobility and telecom at IDC.
AIRCOM’s QoS philosophy is that quality and optimization go hand-in-hand. Marty Smuin, president of AIRCOM in the Americas, said his company focuses on solving carriers’ fundamental issues. Most of them revolve around reducing the total cost of ownership of the network. And most can be solved through optimization.
“From a current network perspective, doing more with what you currently have is the theme of the day,” Smuin said. In January, AIRCOM launched its IQ optimization service, a platform that analyzes and optimizes cellular network performance. Smuin said the vast majority of the networks around the world are still 2G and it is there operators must look for inefficiencies and ways to improve service quality. One way is to maximize capacity.
“It’s all about improving the integrity of the network. Coverage and reliability are the end game and capacity has a lot to do with that,” Smuin said.
AIRCOM’s IQ optimization service analyzes and optimizes cellular network performance using tools such as hardware audits, a measurement collection function for characterizing network performance, an analysis toolset and automatic network configuration enhancer. From a QoS standpoint, Smuin said this service gives operators a better sense of quality at the network level, which helps them make better business decisions about where they need to focus their capex dollars.