Maintain visibility into the new mobile reality
The rapid explosion of over-the-top (OTT) services has forever changed the business model of mobile operators globally, writes John English, the director of marketing for service provider solutions at NETSCOUT.
A growing appetite for free voice calls from the likes of Skype and WhatsApp, free music from Spotify and Pandora, and free messaging from Snapchat and Instagram, has seen the erosion of traditional voice, messaging and data services as the primary source of revenue that once funded investment in mobile networks. The aggressive move by competitive mobile service providers to all-you-can-eat, unlimited data plans has only exacerbated the situation, forcing larger, more established operators to follow suit.
What’s more, by enabling businesses to rapidly deploy platforms, infrastructure, software and services via the cloud with agile, pay-as-you-grow, and on-demand pricing models, digital cloud-based players such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft have also changed the service delivery game.
And with cable/multiple service operators (MSOs) building fixed mobile networks, on which Wi-Fi access points and hot spots enable new services such as voice over Wi-Fi (VoWifi), it’s clear that mobile operators can no longer continue to run their businesses along traditional lines. In order to survive and thrive, they must identify the most effective way of transforming their businesses to meet the challenges of this new environment.
With its rollout imminent, the implementation of 5G may be the most pressing challenge currently faced by mobile operators. Tasked with the need to upgrade their networks and adding 5G technology for dedicated IoT services, operators are utilising virtualisation and cloud technology as a means of fundamentally changing their cost structure and increasing the velocity and agility of service delivery.
Holistic visibility and smart data
The ultra-low latency, expanded device density, and increased bandwidth offered by 5G are vital to supporting the growth of a range of IoT devices and services, including autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and mission-critical emergency and security applications. Assuring such devices and services remain connected, and realising the network performance and security expected of them, requires enhanced service and security assurance. Providing this assurance will require extremely scalable solutions that provide holistic visibility into these new virtualised infrastructures, in addition to legacy infrastructure, and that will deliver smart data insights in real time.
As network infrastructure moves towards virtualisation, traditional performance monitoring tools will no longer work. Instead, virtual probes, capable of providing visibility down to the virtual networks function (VNF) level while retaining the micro-service construct and subscriber session context are now essential if operators are to retain visibility and carry out proactive monitoring in their hybrid and virtualised network infrastructure. This visibility is not only required at every layer of an operator’s 2G, 3G, and 4G infrastructure and but also for virtualised functions. As 5G is rolled out, it will be required to effectively manage the necessary transition and interoperation.
However, to fully unlock the cost savings and agility promised by virtualisation, and realise the speed and efficiency benefits of automation, operators must first cut through the complexity of the orchestration. A key part of this involves utilising smart data derived from real-time IP traffic from closed-loop automation processes, which requires lightweight, virtualised instrumentation that ‘see’ IP packets at accelerated speed, creating real-time, actionable intelligence. By utilising these insights, operators can quickly identify issues anywhere in their network, while simultaneously being armed with the information needed to optimise infrastructure in tune with traffic demands. Indeed, this will become increasingly important with mobile edge computing and C-RAN forming part of the new 5G networks.
Support an ambitious transformation
The Internet of Things (IoT) represents a brave a new world; when introducing IoT devices and services, mobile service providers are essentially entering uncharted territory. These devices and services don’t fall neatly into a traditional voice, video or data bucket, so their operation and behaviour will be largely unprecedented. Machines will be talking with other machines on a scale never previously seen, for example, and it won’t always be possible to predict how certain IoT devices will behave on the network, or to know whether security was considered in the rush to get these devices to market.
Smart data that is extensible to service assurance, business intelligence and security is therefore essential to those operators embarking on this most ambitious and important transformation.
In order to support the ongoing transformation of the way in which they operate their networks, and compete in this new digital world, mobile service providers today need a software-based pervasive instrumentation model. Smart visibility, and smart data this provides, will allow operators providing voice, video and data services over physical, virtual and hybrid networks to ensure service assurance continuity on the journey to the cloud, while delivering lower costs, higher intelligence, and a continued carrier-grade experience.
Mobile networks have changed forever, and the business models of mobile service providers along with them. But, by avoiding past practice, and building in service assurance and security from the start of any new service deployment, operators will have the data, intelligence and actionable insight they need to manage and monetise traffic in their evolving networks, and regain their competitive edge.