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It's the Quality, Stupid

LR Mobile Column
LR Mobile Column
LR Mobile Column

Where there are problems, there are opportunities – and let's face it, there are numerous problems in wireless these days. Hence the booming market for mobile IP service assurance tools, which let quality-minded carriers capitalize on rivals' reputations for poor quality of service (QoS).

Service assurance products differ from conventional operations support system (OSS) and test and measurement (T&M) tools by focusing on the user experience, rather than the performance of the network as a whole or individual links and nodes. The reason is that it is quite possible for all of the carrier's network infrastructure to be functioning properly, while still delivering a poor user experience.

As detailed in a new report from Heavy Reading Mobile Networks Insider, "The Business Case Builds for Mobile IP Service Assurance," making and saving money is the primary motivation behind the recent boom in this market. Some examples include the following:

  • Carriers are better able to offer tiers of IP service, such as one rate for best-effort and a higher rate for QoS guarantees.

  • Service assurance helps minimize churn and customer-acquisition costs. Those also are two metrics that financial analysts and investors watch closely, so they are examples of how poor QoS can limit a carrier's access to capital.

  • Calls to customer care cost carriers at least $1 per minute, and usually far more. IP services are inherently more complex than voice and SMS, so they require more time and money to troubleshoot. Those costs can easily wipe out the profit that carriers would turn on that customer that month. By providing a holistic, end-to-end view of the afflicted service, service assurance tools help resolve problems faster, which reduces costs.

  • Suppose a carrier knows that a significant percentage of its customers use a third-party VoIP service. Instead of blocking that service to preserve already-dwindling voice revenue, as some have tried, the carrier could approach the VoIP provider with an offer, such as guaranteeing QoS for its customers' IP sessions.

  • The greater the role a carrier plays in assuring service quality, the more value it has in the eyes of its customers and business partners. In other words, service assurance is yet another way for carriers to avoid becoming dumb pipes.

There are plenty of other examples, ones that carriers clearly recognize, based on the uptick in vendor sales over the past two years. "In 2004, it was very difficult to convince operators of the need for this kind of solution," says Yann Boquillod, VP of Theta Networks. "Now we go to them, and they ask when we can install our system."

Not surprisingly, that interest has attracted many vendors, including ones from the enterprise networking world seeking to parachute into a boom market. To be successful, IT newcomers must convince potential carrier customers that they understand cellular's nuances and unique requirements, including five-nines (99.999 percent) uptime. This expertise could be added by acquiring a cellular vendor or cherry-picking its executives.

Even then, enterprise players can face a tough sell – one example of how there are no easy slam-dunks in this space. "Service providers aren't that keen on enterprise vendors," says Steve Shalita, VP of marketing at NetScout Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: NTCT) and someone who has worked in both the carrier and enterprise markets. "There's a difference between enterprise-class and carrier-class."

— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Mobile Networks Insider

The report, "The Business Case Builds for Mobile IP Service Assurance," is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Mobile Networks Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/mobile-networks.

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