Procera is taking a unique approach to ensuring quality of experience (QoE) in the radio access network (RAN) with a solution that relies on a simple software update to SIM cards rather than expensive network probes.
Real-time RAN congestion control is high on mobile operator wish lists, according to Heavy Reading research. They want to tell, at the cell site level, when subscribers are at a congested site so they can deal with the situation. In response, hardware vendors have presented them with probes for every eNodeB, an expensive proposition and one that wasn't regarded as feasible, according to Heavy Reading chief analyst Graham Finnie. (See Radio Ga Ga: Dealing With 4G Congestion and Controlling RAN Congestion: The Experience Is Everything.)
That's why Procera Networks has developed a customer experience management (CEM) product, a new area for the deep packet inspection (DPI) vendor. The product, called RAN Perspectives, is a small applet that can be pushed over-the-air to any SIM card, and which then sends location and quality-of-experience data back to Procera's PacketLogic DPI engine. It's a design the vendor believes is more cost effective and comprehensive than alternatives. (See Procera Adds to CEM Portfolio and Vasona Wins Cellcom as a Customer.)
Procera VP of Global Marketing, Cam Cullen, says the tool will use SMS to relay real-time location and RAN QoE metrics that go beyond traditional KPIs, such as signal strength, to help operators deliver a better experience, launch service offerings, and reduce support costs. (See Procera, Skyfire Team for Network Optimization.)
"We can get a picture of the network from the subscriber point of view, as well as using our classic DPI technology for network analytics inside the infrastructure," Cullen says. The applet can run on any device with a SIM, including Internet of Things devices, and is under the operators' control, since they own the SIM.
Procera also notes that unlike other products that collect subscriber usage and personal data, RAN Perspectives only tracks 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards-related information in the network, and is focused solely on improving user experience, an important consideration in this age of heightened privacy concerns. (See AetherPal's Device Diagnostics Spawn New Uses.)
At launch, Procera is offering diagnostics for customer care and congestion management, network analytics, location-based services, and crowd-sourcing capabilities to minimize the need for drive testing. In any instance, the operator would alert their customers before installing the applet and activating the service, making it an opt-in capability that comes with the benefit of improved service. (See Procera Beefs Up Network Analytics.)
Heavy Reading's Finnie applauds the service for being relatively straightforward to implement and, in principle, much less costly than hardware-based network probes. The problem Procera might run into, he says, is that operators may not yet be ready to invest. They may be feeling the squeeze to improve performance, but the business case is difficult to make, Finnie says, especially since this a proprietary approach in a standards-happy industry.
"Operators tend to be keen on the idea of using stuff that's standardized, rather than proprietary," the analyst says. "The sales cycle could be pretty long judging by other vendors that find it difficult to get from initial interest to actual contract. But Procera has a pretty good user base, all of whom they can go to and position this as an additional product."
Procera is doing just that: In fact, Procera decided to move beyond DPI and into CEM because its operator customers in Europe were asking for it, Cullen says. RAN Perspectives is currently in beta testing with operators in Europe and Asia-Pacific, and will be generally available in the first quarter of 2015.
"In markets where penetration is high, they believe that fundamentally having a better network will help them keep more customers and [also help] in stealing them from their competition," Cullen says. "In emerging markets, it's about optimizing how they spend their money," adds the Procera man.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading