By David Dial – Accedian’s VP Sales LATAM and APAC
Quality is the new black
For mobile operators, competing based on quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE)—rather than price—is often easier said than done. Yet, the stakes couldn’t be higher for operators building out into new territories and growing their share of revenues, especially in very competitive markets.
Example: A wake up call came to Mexico, when AT&T decided to enter an otherwise stable market. Networks there were adequate, but perhaps not outstanding. This left an opening for AT&T to target quality, performance, and reliability as their competitive strategy. Quick to respond, incumbents instrumented and optimized their own networks, benefitting all subscribers. Another ‘Quality War’ had begun.
This scenario is playing out across the globe, for several very good reasons. No longer seeking ownership of content—that all went to the cloud—mobile operators have driven themselves into positions of precariously thin margins as they compete nearly exclusively on what’s left: price.
The threat of over-the-top (OTT) services has turned up the heat, driving utilization to the breaking point, and bringing new traffic behaviours to the network that make managing QoE much more difficult.
But some glimmers of hope shine through the doom and gloom for operators, if they can differentiate themselves with an exceptional user experience. Service providers with a programmable, quality-optimized network find themselves with newfound extra capacity, allowing them to capitalize on short term, yet lucrative revenue opportunities—such as T-Mobile USA’s Pokeman Go data package for teens. They also build loyalty and dependency with their ultra-reliable networks, which end up being favored over unexceptional free WiFi connections.
Such is the fuel for the Quality Wars, where, as in any form of warfare, information is the true strategic advantage. Operators with intimate knowledge of their network’s behaviour, their subscriber’s experience, and the mechanics of bringing these together to build the best possible outcome, will win over subscribers one call, one video at a time.
The Quality Wars have come to India. It’s not a skirmish. It’s a large scale conflict that positions newcomers like Reliance Jio against formidable networks in their own right. The spoils are worth fighting for.
Driving digital inclusion for more than 1 billion people is transformative at a scale unimaginable anywhere else. History will repeat itself, and all sides are arming themselves to deliver the best network to everyone.
Given declining smartphone prices and economies-of-scale driving down infrastructure costs, it’s hardly surprising that all major Indian operators recognize the importance of QoS/QoE as the major 4G differentiator.
Vodafone India, Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, and Reliance Jio each has a different approach to long-term competitive sustainability, ranging from leveraging existing infrastructure to complete greenfield standalone network deployments. Ultimately, though, subscribers don’t care about what technology was used, as long as they get reliable, high-quality service.
LTE poses new quality challenges
Why is assuring consistent, high-quality service for LTE subscribers so challenging? LTE radio parameters are much more sensitive than any prior generation of radios. As operators with experience deploying and managing LTE and VoLTE services can attest, the performance of transport and core elements in these networks must be precisely aligned with LTE radio parameters to successfully monetize LTE investments.
In the latest generation of virtualized networks, microscopic effects—like tiny amounts of packets lost or delayed—can now have significant, large scale consequences. Small issues that could be ignored without much impact, can now interact and cascade across a network. The result is large scale, sudden failures that are unpredictable, and difficult to diagnose and troubleshoot—the price for a system that can offer exceptional performance, when a delicate balance is maintained.
Accedian has helped leading operators around the globe overcome issues with LTE programs that failed or delivered disappointing results because subscribers were unable to differentiate LTE performance from 3G and other services. Subscribers will not pay a premium for a disappointing LTE experience; operators must substantially improve QoE with this new generation of mobile service or they won’t achieve sustainable ROI.
Working with 19 of the world’s largest mobile operators has taught us how networks need to be instrumented, controlled, and analyzed to get the most of out of them.
With a rapid expansion into India, Accedian is now enabling a new level of visibility that operators are using at scale—hundreds of thousands of cell towers, and all segments in between, delivering billions of checkpoints and measurements a day—to drive up reliability and QoE. It’s taking hold, having an effect, and doing so very quickly.
Virtualized instrumentation to the rescue
The major challenge in the Indian LTE market is how operators will address QoE as it relates to LTE services. That requires a very advanced, software-based solution that supports end-to-end visibility into network QoS and user QoE. Without this, Indian operators (or, for that matter, operators anywhere) can’t hope to lure subscribers away from providers offering only ‘lowest price, good enough performance’ services.
That means deploying a uniform, network-wide, instrumentation layer that’s centrally managed and tracks performance in real-time to enable dynamic resolution of issues—the type of solution Accedian has provided to many mobile operators around the globe to achieve their own QoS/QoE goals. Virtualized/software-based solutions in particular have the potential to make deploying this instrumentation layer a quick and relatively affordable endeavor, compared with traditional hardware approaches.
Virtualized Instrumentation integration with big data analytics
With a granular, real-time view of the network’s health, and a complete picture of how well services and applications are performing, it’s possible for big data analytics platforms to reach meaningful conclusions and for control systems to make intelligent decisions about network resource allocations.
Each Indian operator’s marketing and technology approach to QoS will be different, but ultimately QoE for subscribers themselves will determine the 4G/LTE winners and losers in this market. It will be interesting to observe the quality wars as they unfold, and as QoE drives results and success. It may be a large-scale war, but we expect it will play out quickly, as winners emerge with new strategies that put the customer first.