This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Henrik Nydell, Senior Product Manager at Accedian
We are in the midst of a transitional period for mobile network operators and their use of virtualized performance assurance tools. One driver of the changes now underway is that, especially for new services such as voice over LTE (VoLTE), quality of experience (QoE) is proving to be more critical than ever, and also more challenging to achieve using conventional tools and methodologies.
Operators like Telefonica, SK Telecom, T-Mobile, and Colt are moving rapidly to adopt virtualized instrumentation—in some cases, software-only solutions covering hundreds of thousands of base stations—because it is very affordable and can be deployed in a matter of weeks or a few months, a pace unheard-of with traditional hardware approaches.
The role of performance monitoring is changing. It’s no longer an afterthought, but instead a strategic investment in network intelligence, especially from the backhaul network, needed for end-to-end network planning, service design & roll-out, and QoE management & optimization. Such comprehensive achievements are possible by integrating virtualized instrumentation with big data analytics platforms and software-defined networking (SDN) controllers, turning the performance data collected into actionable insights.
The virtualization of performance monitoring illustrates the type of innovation required for the mobile networks progression to LTE, 5G and the Third Network. Next-generation mobile equipment will demand accurate information in a minimal or no hardware format, with no staging or setup time. Rapid test and turn-up is the only way to achieve the pace required, while the ability to test between any physical or virtual location in the network facilitates the move to virtual Evolved Packet Core, cloud RAN and other key technologies that require multi-site coordination (e.g., coordinated multipoint access/CoMP) and automated interference control/ICIC).
VoLTE is a good example of how this new dynamic will play out and what’s needed to support it. Many VoLTE roll-outs are based on highly virtual platforms. Operators tend to expect that in such situations networks and services will behave as they did in the static world of hardware-based networks. But, reality suggests otherwise.
Not only is the virtualization layer hard to manage, but it interacts on new levels almost like a living entity. Many different network functions talk to each other, and to some degree they are self-organizing and autonomous. Inevitably, a lot of micro-issues emerge and while each on its own is no big deal, together they can cascade with a knock-on effect and cause a large-scale network or service failure.
More than one operator has been caught off-guard by these issues. The measurements and metrics used for traditional packet-based transport, backhaul assurance, or voice services are just not enough to see what’s happening in these newer, more dynamic networks. Put another way, traditional performance monitoring methods are mismatched for next-generation, dynamic, virtualized networks and services.
Some of the things operators need now and are achieving through the use of virtualized instrumentation, include:
- A wider range of performance indicators
- Much more granular metrics resolution
- A statistical reporting-based approach to identifying root causes
One last piece of this puzzle is worth mentioning: distributed packet brokering, another newcomer to the performance monitoring state. It complements virtualized instrumentation, opening up many options to operators because end-user QoE is a key to long-term success and differentiation against non-Carrier Ethernet providers. Operators need a simple, cost-effective way to capture data at the edge of the network and then process this information in a central location. Distributed packet brokering empowers operators with QoE results based on data at the edge of the network as close as possible to the end-user.
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