Network performance management evolving in a troubled world
With the ongoing pandemic and the continuing demand to upgrade networks to accommodate new technologies around 5th Generation mobile communications (5G), the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), for instance, network performance management has never been more important.
Antony Savvas considers how network operators can square the demands of performance, profitability and subscribers’ quality of experience (QoE) as more of them work remotely during the coronavirus.
According to Global Market Insights (GMI) research, the worldwide network monitoring market will be worth US$5 billion by 2026, growing at 10% per year. In 2018, analyst house Gartner said the market was worth $2.1 billion and was growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16%. The extensive penetration of smartphones, cloud services and other connected devices is helping to drive the very steady growth, said GMI.
Key players in the network performance market include Cisco, Polystar, Arm, Infovista, Ericsson, Global Wireless Solutions, Ribbon, NTT Data, Accedian, AppNeta, Broadcom, NETSCOUT, Colasoft, ExtraHop, Flowmon, Kentik, LiveAction, LogicMonitor, Netcracker, Nyansa, Paessler, Plixer, VIAVI and Riverbed, among others.
Paul Carter, CEO of mobile network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions, says of the situation: “The pandemic has made people more reliant on their smartphones and networks more than ever before. Lockdown measures and ongoing social distancing have meant that voice and video calling have all but replaced face-to-face conversations in most aspects of our work and social lives during the past six months.” He adds: “As we continue to adapt and change our connectivity habits, so too will the demands and challenges placed on operators. They must continue to be diligent and focused on maintaining their networks to ensure they are meeting demand and delivering on customer expectations.”
Sameh Yamany, CTO of network test, measurement and assurance technology vendor VIAVI Solutions, comments: “As more people work and study from home, remote connectivity is more critical than ever. Yet, service providers are challenged to shift resources, maintain connectivity and manage bandwidth as networks are strained to breaking point.
“This situation is creating both performance and security challenges, ranging from VPN oversubscription, unstructured and dynamic network demand, bandwidth limitations and remote application performance, to security vulnerabilities such as phishing attacks and ransomware. If not addressed, these challenges will significantly impact network performance and QoE (quality of experience).”
The pandemic is having a direct effect on how operators can maintain their networks too, says Yamany. “The ongoing pandemic requires network operators to take precautions to keep employees and customers safe. Remote connectivity, workflow automation and virtualised network testing and optimisation are key to enabling service providers to install, upgrade and troubleshoot subscriber services. This, while being socially responsible and allowing front-line technicians to optimise QoE and limiting their time in the field.”
Yamany adds it is “critically important” for service providers to continue to optimise performance of networks to maintain remote connectivity and sustain dynamically changing traffic patterns, while simultaneously deploying tomorrow’s 5G networks to enable greater speed and capacity. But the demands were further complicated by the trend to disaggregate network architectures, he says.
As a result, service providers require test and measurement tools and processes that speed and simplify deployment and activation – such as fibre monitoring, virtual activation, test process automation and remote instrument access – to allow technicians to not only spend less time in the field, but efficiently execute and troubleshoot a myriad of tasks and protocols while reducing the underlying complexity.
Yamany says: “Mobile network technology is progressing toward a fully virtualised 5G standalone (SA) architecture. Therefore, the entire ecosystem supporting the network must evolve accordingly, replacing hardware-based solutions with containerised virtual machines which can respond dynamically as the network shifts.
“As operators embrace 5G SA architecture, new virtualised assurance and optimisation technologies will be needed to enable seamless visibility across the entire network.”
Mapping out network needs
Analyst house, Gartner recently published its Market Guide for Network Performance Monitoring and Diagnostics. Gartner confirms how new dynamic network architectures are impacting network monitoring solutions, as edge migration to the cloud and microservice / container architectures affect the efficiency of traditional monitoring stacks.
It says hybrid environments make it crucial for monitoring solutions to address an increasingly complex IT infrastructure, and noted the aims of network operations are aligning with security operations, which have to work together to ensure that a business network is performing securely and efficiently.
Gartner asserts that half (50%) of network operations teams will be required to “rearchitect” their network monitoring stack due to the impact of hybrid networking by 2024. As a result, the analyst says network operators must future-proof their network monitoring solutions by investing in systems that provide visibility across edge and cloud connectivity, including cloud-native architectures.
Addressing CSP needs
The evolving cloud, edge, 5G, IoT and AI automation and connectivity needs of communication service providers to address market demands, means network performance management vendors have to tailor their product offerings accordingly.
In the case of Polystar, a provider of monitoring and analytics platforms to more than 100 CSPs worldwide, it recently merged operations with Elisa Automate – a specialist in network automation solutions – which became a new business unit within Polystar.
According to consultancy firm EY, automation, backed by artificial intelligence and pervasive analytics, has emerged as a “key driver” for the digital transformation of operator networks for the cloud-native and 5G eras. The adoption of these emerging techniques and technologies, says EY, is “critical” to securing the benefits of transformation programmes and enhancing agility, so that operators can optimise customer experience and accelerate business efficiencies.
Insights and data
Mikael Grill, CEO of Polystar, says of the merger, “Our joint offers are already delivering new customer benefits, by combining network analytics insights and data with process automation to ensure more effective operations.”
With 5G, Samsung Electronics has literally taken automation to another level, with its new drone-based antenna configuration measurement solution for networks. The solution offers operators a simplified way to more efficiently manage cell sites, improve employee safety and ultimately optimise network performance.
With the system, an engineer on the ground uses a smartphone with a remote control application to fly a camera-equipped drone that captures photos of the antennas installed on a building’s rooftop, instead of having to climb up there with equipment in a process that can take hours. The drone view and data is accessed via the engineer’s smartphone and then transmitted to a cloud server within seconds.
The deep learning-based AI solution instantly verifies the rotation and tilt of antennas, so that engineers can determine if they are installed correctly at predefined optimal angles. Samsung says the whole process can be accomplished within 15 minutes, starting from flying the drone to the delivery of measurement results to the smartphone and cloud for analysis.
So while the current situation the communications industry finds itself in is complicated, the challenges are clearly defined and there are solutions out there to help it overcome them for the benefit of customers.