Spirent Communications unveiled its InTouch Customer and Network Analytics (CNA) this week (17 November 2015). The product is a much enhanced version of its InTouch flagship operator analytics solution, which has been deployed in networks exceeding 100 million subscribers.
The new solution focuses on customer experience assurance and troubleshooting, with support for 2/3/4G technologies including VoLTE and the Internet of Things (IoT). It enables mobile operators’ engineering, customer care, and marketing groups to proactively identify and resolve wireless customer experience issues spanning LTE/4G networks and services like VoLTE.
Speaking to Wireless on the day of the launch, Ian Herbert-Jones, Head of Service Provider Solution EMEA at Spirent Communications, explained that the latest version of InTouch is a prime example of Spirent’s strategy of moving beyond its traditional focus on the lab and R&D testing to extend its test solutions out into the live network environment.
‘The new version of InTouch is an evolution of our Oracle-based product, which is widely used for network engineering, troubleshooting and management. The underlying solution of this new version is based on the HP Vertica Big Data SQL Analytics Platform,’ said Herbert-Jones.
He explained that much of the reporting and analytics of network and device performance is locked within individual reporting silos such as RAN performance, core signalling, application performance, provisioning, device intelligence and so on. Each has its own reporting system and piece of analytics, which makes it very difficult for operators to quickly discover when and where the network or the devices relying on it are underperforming.
‘Mobile operators have struggled to bring all these different data sources together, although they are building data lakes to capture and store information. We are almost an app layer on top. What we provide is a way to fuse them all together, analyse the data, extract insights from it and correlate the results into a single view.
‘We talk to the data ecosystem and even enrich and complement it. Our new platform takes this into account, so rather than a big data stack we provide a much more flexible solution under the hood as it were,’ said Herbert-Jones.
By analysing the data InTouch can create Quality of Experience (QoE), revenue and other scores that enable operators to indentify network, device, application and other hotspots based on the number of customers negatively impacted and their value. Limited engineering resources can then be focused on those areas that the operator considers have the most impact on customers, churn or revenues.
Herbert-Jones said: ‘We are offering a set of use cases ready out the box, starting with voice over LTE (VoLTE) analytics as an example. We are using this as a first talking point to approach the operators again. VoLTE brings network issues into a very sharp focus as it is very difficult to implement and operators need to test it thoroughly before launching it.
‘As we know, VoLTE is late to market. It requires a new IMS core behind it, new devices, new stacks and so on. At Spirent we’ve been testing all the new devices for VoLTE stacks and chipsets, so we know it is not easy.’
‘But when it goes live, how will the operators know how well it is performing? Customers are being told to expect immediate connection times, hi-res voice quality and it is all designed to help protect that voice revenue which is in decline. It is complicated to deploy, but it is happening now and they need to get it right,’ said Herbert-Jones.
The problem, according to Spirent, is that operators do not have a good tool box to verify VoLTE performance yet. ‘Hence, we are using our VoLTE tool box first as a lead application if you like to show what InTouch CNA can do. But the vision is to have everything on a single glass, so the operator gets a holistic view of the quality of experience of the network, applications and customer experience,’ he said.
The idea is that armed with this holistic view an operator customer care staffer can quickly see why a customer is having a problem. If it is something that cannot be dealt with at that stage, a trouble ticket can be generated and sent to the engineers. But what is important is that the engineers see the same platform, analytics and data as the customer care department.
So, instead of digging around to try and find the problem, the engineer has access to the same InTouch platform as the customer care staffer, so there is no confusion over what is being talked about. The engineer can then dig deeper into the data to discover the problem.
‘Our approach is to try and promote that QoE score,’ said Herbert-Jones ‘The operator can see what has happened to a particular customer or see what the hotspot problems are in the network, which might be regional, a particular part of network or the devices. The point is the operator can see what is happening in the overall delivered service, rather than having to analyse performance based on individual elements.’
Another important point is that InTouch is independent of the data sources - the underlying probing architecture. ‘Many solutions to date have come from a close coupling between the service assurance probe and the analytics package on top provided by the same vendor.
‘What we’ve done is to ensure we are not coupled to that at all. But the operator can still use all those legacy probe products. We provide a very smart collection and fusion function specifically designed to work with everything out there today – and handle new stuff coming in,’ said Herbert-Jones.
Another aspect of InTouch CNA is that if the operator introduces some new functionality into the network it can analyse if those changes have had a negative or beneficial impact on network performance.
It also enables operators to set performance criteria and by constantly analysing network performance alarms can be sent if the criteria are not being met, or are in danger of not being met – Spirent refers to this as Smart Thresholding. These thresholds can be dynamic too – some users or applications may have higher priority thresholds to others.
Herbert-Jones said: ‘InTouch CNA provides a new underlying platform that takes advantage of the way databases have moved on and how big data analytics have evolved. It provides analytics and integration with data sources pre-canned, so operators do not have to build a new CEM architecture to get access to the information they require. There is no need for them to boil the ocean.’
He added that M2M/IoT will be the next set of use cases to come along. ‘We believe there will be a plethora of SLAs that need to be met for M2M/IoT and the volume will be huge. If an operator wants to be in that ecosystem they are going to have to manage it, so understanding those SLAs is going to be a hot spot for us, especially as it is at the device end of the market where test and measurement is bread and butter for us.’
For more information about In-Touch Customer and Network Analytics (CNA) see: http://www.spirent.com/Products/InTouch