Managing the NFV transition: Maintaining a consistent subscriber experience
In this article, Ravi Chittimoori, senior manager, Product Line Management, for NETSCOUT’s Service Provider Business Unit, explains how implementing NFV correctly will be a make or break for mobile operators:
After years of fanfare around Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and it being universally recognised as ‘the next big thing’ for mobile network evolution, implementation of NFV by European operators is starting to gain real momentum.
This has largely been driven by the growth of mobile data, as the range of services used by subscribers today means operators need more flexibility than ever before. Operators also realise NFV helps them to quickly launch their own apps and services, thereby enabling them to create new revenue streams. To be able to operate these new revenue generating services in a profitable manner, it’s hardly surprising they are now looking at virtualisation to utilise the investments in the most efficient manner but still meet the needs of the end subscriber, quickly scaling network capacity in-line with the demand.
In a mobile world that’s become centred around data, virtualisation has a key role to play in ensuring a consistent subscriber experience. Yet despite these benefits, operators are faced with fresh challenges when it comes to guaranteeing this level of consistent network performance in a new virtualised environment.
Operators have long practiced and perfected the best means to integrate and troubleshoot new services on their networks. However, as these services have been physically installed, it has required a considerably longer lead time and testing cycle than the virtualised services operators are looking to launch. The speed at which these services and network changes can now be implemented poses a challenge. Operators have perfected their ability to manage subscriber satisfaction and reduce disruption by using service assurance and measurement tools designed for physical infrastructure. However, they must now adopt a new set of tools capable of delivering the same reliability in a virtualised environment.
This is especially important given the flexibility and elasticity NFV offers. The virtualisation revolution allows operators to launch new services faster than ever before. But the greatly reduced testing and integration cycles associated with this approach means the chance of network disruption and user dissatisfaction is far greater too. This poses a significant concern, especially as operators run the risk of damaging their position as reliable service providers if they deliver a less than stellar user experience. Understandably this is counterproductive for keeping existing subscribers happy, while also attracting new ones to the network. NFV has the potential to generate tremendous growth for operators, but it could equally lead to subscriber churn if not managed correctly.
So how should operators ensure the transition to a virtualised environment doesn’t negatively impact the subscriber experience? Firstly, they must choose service assurance tools that are as dynamic and capable as the services they are looking to launch and the network changes they are planning to make. Virtualised networks give operators a tighter rein on network performance, but being able to identify issues on the network and react to them before they affect the end user is paramount. Secondly, operators should pursue a gradual approach to launching virtualised functions rather than opting for an immediate full-scale transition. By assessing the quality and capacity of each individual function, operators stand a much better chance of fulfilling their service assurance promise. Finally, operators must choose to partner with a player experienced in testing, assuring, and exploiting the opportunities that stem from NFV.
Ultimately, NFV presents operators with a massive opportunity, and one that all in this space are keen to capitalise upon. However, new opportunities mean new challenges and therefore new solutions. The operators that get this right will lead the way into a new mobile era, while those that fail to implement the correct test and service assurance systems will be signing their own fate.
The author of this blog is Ravi Chittimoori, senior manager, Product Line Management, for NETSCOUT’s Service Provider Business Unit.
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