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Tag Archives: Network Management

From 4G to 5G, keys to digital transformation

The journey of digital mobile communications began with the inception of 2G technology in the 90s. In retrospect, the technology evolved multi-fold, mainly due to the promising growth the industry witnessed. One of the prime reasons for evolution was the constant progression of technological enhancement to overcome legacy technology challenges. One such challenge that has served as an impediment for a smooth technological transformation has been the need to do a hard transition from one standard to the next. I personally witnessed it as the technology evolved from 2G to 3G, as well as 3G to 4G, throwing multiple challenges to network professionals as we sought to ensure service continuity while maintaining user experience targets.

More recently, with the inception of 5G technology, the approach of network standard replacement has vanished away.  Early adoption of 5G technology doesn’t need 4G replacement. As a matter of fact, it gradually builds upon the LTE network. Let’s get into a little depth on this:

  • 5G technology primarily has two deployment strategies, refer to figure 1. Non-Standalone (NSA) is the first version currently being used by all existing 5G networks. NSA has its own limitations when compared to full standalone or SA, the other version of 5G.
    Setting aside the limitations and noting the fact that the time span taken for complete transition of previous generation technologies was quite high, I see the introduction of NSA deployment strategy as a good pragmatic move. 5G NSA lays a strong foundation to prevent such a repeated flaw in standards development, facilitating smooth transition from 4G to the full 5G SA standard.

standalone deploymentFigure 1: Non-standalone and standalone deployments

In practical terms, the early implementations of 5G will use a combination of 4G and 5G technologies to function. This combination will evolve across geographies and the ratio will vary across the regions, depending mainly upon the availability of spectrum and CSPs’ digital transformation strategies.

  • The latest GSMA mobile economy 2019 report predicts that by 2025, 4G will remain the predominant technology with a market share of 59%. 5G will continue to grow but will only cover a market share of 15% by that time. The fact that 4G will remain the dominant technology by 2025 is not surprising, considering 3GPP standards for 4G is being developed and enhanced to LTE-advanced pro, which is often termed 4.9G (or the more dramatic “Road to 5G”).

This will lead us to a very interesting phase in the mobile communication industry and eventually to a very important question: “How should a CSP plan for 5G networks or most importantly how should it plan the transition from 4G to 5G technology?”. Frankly, there is no fool-proof guiding principle but there are some real-world use cases that I would like to take you through.

  • Case 1: Rakuten network in Japan will not initially offer 5G services. Instead, it will leverage its 4G LTE network with macro and small cells. Most interestingly, it will be fully virtualized from the radio access networks (RAN) to the core, with end-to-end automation for both network functions and services. This approach is intended to construct a network quickly and cost-effectively, which should put them in the pole position when it comes to launching and monetizing 5G. Obviously, Rakuten has had the luxury of being a greenfield operator, however, there are still some key lessons that other CSPs can take from their approach. These will come handy towards balancing the Capex lift of 5G while fighting an uphill ARPU battle.
  • Case 2: US operator AT&T, from the current state of 5G deployments, is encouraging the upgrade of 4G networks to its most advanced versions. LTE advanced and LTE advanced-pro have been available for some years now and CSPs like AT&T in the US are referring to it as “5G Evolution” (5GE), even though it is most definitely not an official 5G standard, but rather the latest version of 4G.

Each of the above cases demonstrates that consolidating the existing LTE network and gradually making it 5G ready may be the most optimal and cost-effective way of evolving from 4G to 5G. Moreover, as the technology itself provides this smooth and seamless transition capability, CSPs should leverage it.

The bottom line is, while 5G clearly points the way forward, it’s the foundation of 4G that will be a critical part of its planning, operation, and success. Additionally, the strength of the current 4G foundation depends on how seamlessly and smoothly content on LTE networks (primarily data-driven) is delivered to the end-users. Mobile users want both smooth experiences and obvious incremental improvements in network speeds to feel satisfied with network performance. Evolving networks toward 5G is crucial to keeping up with the appetite for higher speeds and quality user experience.

Subex network analytics offerings take into account the key aspects of digital transformation and help a CSP consolidate its current 4G LTE network and plan for 5G network in a most cost-effective way with focus on enhancing the customer experience and maximizing returns on network investments.

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Actionable predictive analytics: overcoming the analysis paralysis

Why standard forecasting analytics models fail to deliver in today’s world of complex digital networks and why telcos need a domain-specific analytics solution.

“Your analytical dashboards and visualizations look good, but I prefer actionable reports and insights”, said the deputy CEO of a Southeast Asia-based telecom service provider during one of our meetings last year. This was not just one odd instance. We have heard this many times in the past year from other CSP executives. There are many domain-agnostic AI/ML based analytics solution providers in the market, but what telcos really want is an analytical solution which provides end-to-end domain-specific actionable insights. Forecasting traffic or pointing out anomalies is one thing, but how to incorporate those recommendations into capacity planning? What is the root-cause for that anomaly so that it could be prevented in future? Instead of getting lost in analysis paralysis amidst thousands of fancy statistical metrics; a simpler, actionable and reliable predictive analytics solution is the need of the hour.

With the right mix of domain knowledge and analytics advantage, centered around the actual requirements of the network planners; Subex has come up with the concept of actionable predictive analytics. Network planners should be enabled for efficient, reliable and cost-effective capacity planning. Hence, here the focus is more on what matters to the telco network teams, i.e. the business values such as capex optimization, network performance improvement, customer experience enhancement and operational efficiency; rather than on underlying analytical components such as configured models or feature engineering.

Here are two of the most important aspects about Subex’s approach to predictive analytics which are different from the traditional forecasting models –

Multi-variate analysis

Unlike the traditional forecasting systems which predict the future trends for a metric based on the historical pattern of that given metric, in multivariate approach, the system understands the lagging or leading effect on the given KPI from other KPIs. With this, the telco can predict, in near real-time, what is going to happen in the future and adopt appropriate measures to prevent capacity issues. A multi-variate, self-learning forecasting model which runs on the in-house machine learning platform is complemented by domain-specific configurations and expertise which is equally essential for intelligent forecasting.

The figures below compare a multivariate model scenario that considers the lagging effect of KPI1 (e.g. customer complaints) on KPI2 (e.g. capacity utilization) with that of a traditional model that does not give such insights. In the first case, the operator does not get accurate results as yielded in the second case because there is a direct relation between traffic and customer complaints. For example, if there was an aberrant increase in traffic, the operator can take that fact into consideration for accurate prediction of future customer complaints.

One more use-case could be accurately predicting the time to capacity exhaust for a site if one of the neighboring sites is planned for decommissioning soon. In this case, with the help of geo-spatial analytics, the additional load on the given site due to decommissioning of the neighboring site would also be considered for calculating time to capacity exhaust.

capacity exhaust

Domain Specific Insights

Be it wireless or hybrid fiber-coaxial networks, even an accurate capacity forecast is incomplete without the required domain-specific insights. Without a proper root cause analysis for a network element exhausting soon (in terms of capacity), the network planners won’t be able to make the right decision about its proactive mitigation.

These are some questions to consider when developing your network augment action plan:

  • How many customers will be impacted when a given network element hits a capacity exhaustion threshold?
  • Will prioritizing the given candidate for capacity augment above other options result in the best customer experience improvement and maximized ROI?
  • What is the reason for this capacity exhaust? Is it because of seasonality, periodicity or cyclicity? Is it an anomaly due to some one-off event?
  • Will new Capex be required to address the capacity bottleneck, or are there alternatives to new spending?

Some of the insights that could be useful for the planners leveraging predictive analytics for capacity planning and management are shown below –

capacity planning

Predictive Analytics

Apart from the above two key differentiators, some other important aspects for a pragmatic, accurate and reliable predictive analytics solution are scalability and flexibility.

Multi-variate forecast models need to run thousands of simulations across the network to identify the correct correlated metrics for accurate predictions.  Such models need to be configurable, flexible and easy-to-understand for non-data scientists.

Network Capacity Planning – it’s time to stop getting bamboozled!

Network capacity planning is not a piece of cake! It’s a complicated effort that demands several considerations – not just the capacity of the network, but also the type and volume of the traffic at different periods. Network planners should also be able to estimate the current and future capacity needs and make investments wisely.

Capacity planning involves identifying the areas of network congestion and underutilization and distributing the traffic evenly across the available networks. Considering the sheer number of users across the network, it would require considerable effort from the operators to achieve the results. This is important because the ROI from your network investments depends on how efficiently you utilize the resources. Not just that, it also depends on how accurately you estimate future capacity needs.

Well, abnormal traffic scenarios crop up out of nowhere. A catastrophe, a sensational video or a political upheaval can be the cause of a sudden increase in network traffic.  In such cases, all your network planning strategies can go haywire. As you know, it is utterly impossible to predict such situations, but unfortunately, the likelihood of such instances is also very high. The only way out for Telcos is to prepare the networks to confront such challenges before they impact the customer experience.

On the contrary, there are scenarios when the networks remain underutilized for several hours a day or night. This pattern is often cyclic and driven by user habits. For example, network utilization is minimal during nights for almost all customers. For business users, the usage is less during weekends. For network planners, these idle hours translate into a significant business loss. Though they are aware of these facts, many Telcos are still not able to drive strategies to optimize the network during the idle hours.

Let’s now think about the investment. One of the major concerns for an operator is to identify and prioritize the investment areas. Well, you must have identified hundreds of coverage holes where investments are urgently required; however, you may not be able to throw money in all of them at one go, right? How do you prioritize them and pick the best area suitable for your budget? How do you ensure that these investments will yield immediate returns?

It’s a well-known fact that capacity constraints severely impact the customer experience. Today’s on-the-go customers do not compromise quality. Any network issues can result in customer frustration. Hence, identifying the potential areas of capacity constraints becomes a priority in network planning.

Come to the case of VIP customers. They are the elite group not just due to their social status but also because of their relevance in your business. With several thousands of followers, they make an impact with everything they speak or do. If the poor network affects their day’s activities, it will turn out to be a disastrous deal for you. Think how they will directly or indirectly boost your customer base if things happen as per their wish.

Next, is your capacity planning strategy designed in line with your marketing goals? Why should it be so? Well, the first and foremost goal in any marketing strategy is to identify the potential customers. Before launching a promotion, you should first determine who are the best targets for the products. This requires a proactive marketing approach, which means that you should have the products designed with these customers in mind. For example, before launching a 4G offer, you should understand the availability/affordability of 4G phones among your target group. How will you achieve this?

Gaining insights into network traffic, customer usage habits, marketing metrics, and market pulses require a dedicated network planning.

Stay tuned to know how Subex’s approach to capacity planning helps Telcos address these challenges.

Smart Performance Indicators — Redefining the KPIs

What is measured, is managed. Are you measuring the right metrics?

While driving, most of us would want to reach our destinations on time. An unexpected congestion on the way can easily turn a nice Friday evening into a frustrating start to the weekend. As the world progressed, it changed a lot the way we planned our journeys. Instead of going with the route that we took yesterday; we listened to the traffic updates on radio, kept ourselves updated with any special events around, based on the evening plans we tried to estimate our start time etc. Sounds better than driving with nothing but rear-view mirror & front view, but still too many things to monitor. Then came the Google Maps — one stop solution to get accurate real-time updates based on multiple data sources, scenario planning capability based on different available options & routes. You are still on the driving seat, but you have all the means to make the right decision. Friday evenings are no more frustrating.

This got me thinking – in our work, aren’t we too trying to reach our destinations — in terms of performance, goals & objectives — on-time every day, every quarter, every year? Having worked at two of the largest Telcos in the world, I thought that the performance management systems, in their current form today, need smarter metrics than just measuring what is easy. On their road to 5G and future technologies, Telcos would need something as smart as Google Maps to guide them to their destination.

With this idea and a small team of talented software engineers & data scientists, we have built — what we like to call it — a machine learning based Smart Performance Indicator framework. Using some of the multi-variate principal component analysis techniques, this framework creates meaningful Smart Performance Indicators out of the available metrics.

Telcos today are sitting on enormous amount of data and measuring thousands of KPIs but –

  • Are they measuring the right metrics?
  • Are they combining several metrics and analyzing their correlations & causations instead of just looking at some simple metrics?
  • They are surely measuring the past performance and comparing it with today’s, but are they looking ahead?
  • Instead of looking at the current values, are they looking at trends and statistics?
  • Are they measuring their KPI responses for an unexpected scenario?
  • Are they able to store enough amount of past historical data to be able to predict the future?
  • And most importantly, are the traditional KPIs learning from the changing trends, anomalies and proactively acting to it?

The traditional KPI dashboards today indicate more about how the network performance has been than about where it is going. The focus is more on short-term operational performance rather than long-term strategic performance. We manage what we measure, hence it has become more important than ever to measure the right metrics, smart metrics. Telcos need to measure what’s important, not just what is easy.

SPI-outcome

Sample dashboards with SPI outcomes

If you are working with a Telco and think that the above problems need to be addressed in your organization, we exactly know what you need. Your Fridays should no more be frustrating, feel free to reach out to me at anshul.bhatt@subex.com

Converged Partner Management: Will It Address Telco’s Concerns?

Over the past decade, we have seen how the growth of IP-enabled networks has impacted Telco’s business models. The competition from Over-the-Top (OTT) players brought drastic decline in their traditional voice and message revenues. The discussions on improving Average Revenue per User (ARPU) for Telcos thus chiefly revolved around enabling new service models around Digital, but without compromising the overall budget. The transition of Telcos from traditional Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to Digital Service Providers (DSPs) thus became indispensable but at the same time challenging. One of the top challenges faced by DSPs during this transformation is to manage the diverse ecosystem of partners linked to their business.

Why Converged Partner Management is Important?

Considering the complex business environment a DSP operates in, partner management becomes crucial not only to simplify operations but also to optimize revenue streams. Legacy partner management systems have limitations especially due to their lack of flexibility and automation capabilities. By implementing a converged partner management strategy, Telcos can maximize profitability and minimize partner disputes. By integrating the service with ERP and other connected processes, they can also reduce the operational costs considerably.

Before going deep into the converged partner management solution, let’s explore the scenario in a DSP partner management landscape. The complexity in partner management starts right from “defining the partner business.” Here we have the traditional partners like wholesale and roaming providers whose contracts may revolve around setting bilateral deals for defining traffic and event details for voice, data, and SMS services. On the other hand, there are digital partners like OTT players, VAS/content providers, and IoT players whose contracts may revolve around other metrics such as clicks/impressions, downloads, meter readings, etc.

The wide variety in partner businesses also brings associated challenges in partner settlement, another major worry for DSPs. Each business entity requires different sets of rules, which need to be applied to the events to generate the final revenue reports. This is not easy considering the exhaustive DSP ecosystem comprising the traditional  interconnect, wholesale, and roaming providers  as well as the new digital partners for services like OTT, content, VAS, IoT, and M2M. Then, there is another set of entities like MSOs, integrators, dealers and resellers who require different types of contracts and settlement rules.

The dynamic and evolving DSP ecosystem also makes partner onboarding a tricky affair. There needs to be a system that can track frequent partners and in multiple formats, and build mediation capability across them in a seamless manner. Attaining real-time visibility across each platform is important for accurate rating and charging, without which the DSP ecosystem will not work smoothly.

The concerns over partner management prompted us to think about a converged partner management solution that could deliver an all-in-one package for DSPs. The innovation aimed at delivering real-time visibility into DSP’s end-to-end wholesale business and revenue sources. Our interaction with stakeholders in the telecom landscape helped us sort out the pain points quickly. With the insights gained from the industry, we have now come up with a new ROC Partner Management solution that addresses all aspects of partner management including partner onboarding, partner self-care, end-to-end revenue visibility, and communication under one umbrella.

As mentioned in the beginning, converged partner management strategy helps Telcos gain end-to-end visibility and drive cost optimization across its service channels. The scalable partner management architecture makes partner onboarding hassle-free. It also enhances the DSP’s service capabilities as it allows them to identify, test, and analyze different contracts before they are implemented.

To understand more about Subex ROC Partner Management offering, please download the whitepaper.

Telecom World Asia 2018: Here we come!

Digitalisation. This is the wave which has hit everyone across geographies and in our quest to help the telecom world embracing it and making it real, we are reaching the ‘Land of smiles’- Thailand.  The 2018 edition of Telecom World Asia is taking place in Bangkok on the 19th and 20th of March and I am excited to be a part of Subex delegation. This year, the conference is revolving around four key themes of digitalisation- wholesale, networks, the digital customer, and Telco 4.0. Let me tell you how and why these themes are close to our heart.

Our product ROC Partner Management is a unified platform which caters to the entire gamut of partner needs of a telecom operator for providing both traditional and digital services and it aligns with the first theme of the conference- “wholesale”. We have two products under the ‘Network’ theme- ROC Network Asset Management and ROC Capacity Management. ROC Network Asset Management is an Asset Lifecycle Management solution which provides standardized processes for managing and optimizing network assets. ROC Capacity Management solution help CSPs to strategize and plan their network expansion & capacity augment investments to improve Customer Experience, increase RoI, optimize Capex, reduce Churn and increase Net Promoter Scores. Hence both these products are aimed at providing capex optimization and customer experience. Our advanced analytics solution ROC insights provide actionable insights about products, risk, revenue and customers and hence aligns well with the themes of digital customer and Telco 4.0.

The conference is going to cover interesting strategic topics such as the future of wholesale operators, the road to 5G, SDN/NFV etc. which are the favorite coffee table discussions at Subex. Overall, Telecom World Asia 2018 looks a very good opportunity for us to share knowledge, network with industry peers and learn how Telco are addressing the digital transformation. Don’t forget to visit us at booth #20 at the conference. Wai Bangkok!

..but that’s not my responsibility!

Now that’s something that we’ve all heard at our workplace at some point..and believe it or not, its not entirely incorrect.

Traditionally most organizations have been created with a vertical structure having clear demarcation of responsibilities and identified handoff points for communication and information interchange between verticals. This was thought to be the most optimum way of assigning limited resources within the organization while allowing for specialization within verticals. Think of this organization as an architectural structure with three key layers:

 

  • Apex of the structure represented by executive management and strategy layer of the organization
  • Pillars represented by different verticals within the organization
  • Strong base represented by organizational infrastructure which acts as a common foundation

While efforts are made by every organization to eliminate ‘silos’ in functioning, the inherent nature of this structure results in unidentified hand-offs, ineffective information sharing during hand-offs and compartmentalized view of processes leading to challenges in measuring, improving and most importantly identifying ownership of cross-functional processes. In many instances, different verticals end up shifting accountability of such cross-functional processes at the expense of progression. The pace at which technology, markets and customer demands are changing in present times demand a level of agility within the organizations to respond and keep pace with the market and competition. This places an enormous stress on the organizational structure, particularly on the handoffs between verticals.

Managing millions of dollars’ worth of Network Capex within a Telco is a cross-functional process which experiences similar issues of ownership, handoffs between verticals and lack of a common, centralized view leading to ineffectual Capex tracking much less calculating effectiveness of these Capex investments or return on investments. Typically, Finance is the identified owner of Capex investments in a Telco but most Finance teams struggle with deployment of Capex in the network and more importantly tracking and calculating the return on network Capex investments as they are heavily reliant on Operations team for this information.

Solving this Network Capex conundrum calls for a two-pronged approach, creating a cross-functional Network Capex Assurance team and enabling a supporting technological component to create a Network Capex Control framework. Lets have a closer look,

Network Capex Assurance Team

A cross-functional team which acts as the owner of Network Capex investments within the Telco – typically lead by the CFO or CTO. This team delivers critical insights and drives actions to enhance capital management practices in all phases of the business and comprises of representation from Finance, Planning, Procurement & SCM, Deployment, Operations and IT. The key responsibilities of this team would comprise of,

  • Custodians of Capex management processes
  • Capex planning and validation
  • Ensure data integrity across supporting systems
  • Capex tracking and analysis
  • Standardization & Reporting

Network Capex Control Framework

An enabling technological component which supports the Capex Assurance team in delivering their responsibilities by providing a centralized end-to-end view enabled by Network intelligence. Key insights from the framework would cover,

  • Centralized view
  • Standardized processes
  • Utilization and effectiveness
  • Capex & Opex optimization
  • Insights & Analytics

Enabling strong capital management practices is much more than operational or process changes in the organization; it is a fundamental change in the outlook of an organization. Embracing this change will enable agility, data integrity and measures for optimization, better equipping Telcos to respond to the rate of change in the industry..and that should be everyone’s responsibility!

The Pot of Gold at the End of the Network

Along with a thawing of the ground, March brought St Patrick’s day, a traditional Irish day of festivity in which everything Irish is celebrated. It’s also a great excuse to make green cookies and for the kids to dress up as leprechauns wearing shamrocks. In Irish mythology leprechauns are mischievous characters who love to play practical jokes, and keep a pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow. It takes a shrewd person to trick a leprechaun into giving up his gold. The search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has become a popular way of describing the search for wealth and reward at the end of a journey.   In the world of network management there are rainbows everywhere, since networks are often full of stranded or underutilized assets at the far edges of the network.  Assets that are of great value, but hidden from view. The assets are hidden because they have been moved or not properly registered in inventory or Fixed Asset registers, and so they have become unusable since no one knows where they are.   The knock effects of this are felt throughout a service provider.

Finance

Don’t know the value of assets in the network so cannot provide accurate financial statements

Marketing and Sales

Don’t know what services the network can support or predict the cost will be for implementing new services

Network Management

Can’t manage the network optimally because assets cannot be re-purposed to augment network hotspots

Order drop out from inconsistent and unreliable records

These challenges not only affect the individual functional areas, but can result in open warfare between the groups. Network managers feel they must request ever bigger budgets to compensate for the extra demands being put on the network by new marketing initiatives, and finance fear they are being asked to throw money into a black hole with no possibility of understanding the return on investment. Without cross functional visibility of the companies network assets then suspicion and mistrust can develop between groups, which can cripple a company. Finance need to know if the assets they are purchasing are providing value to money, and marketing need to know if they can confidentially sell new services that will bring in extra revenue. Network managers want to know how they can provide the service required with ever tighter budgets.

By utilizing automated network discovery network managers could re-build, or even create, an inventory that would give them a true picture of what was available in the network. A network discovery tool that could also understand how those assets were being utilized, which services were running on them, and how the network was connected together, could provide a way to optimally utilize every asset to provide a robust network for the least possible cost. When combined with an asset tracking and life cycle management tool such as Subex ROC AA then network discovery can give unprecedented level of visibility of where assets are located, how they are being used and what value they are bringing to the company.  ROC AA with network discovery can uncover the pot of gold hidden at the end of your network.

Resources : pot-of-gold on Free pictures

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