Delivering 4G promise through the network with SON

Operators are making some big 4G promises to their customers but will their networks be able to cash the cheques the marketing departments are writing? Thomas Neubauer says that integrating customer data with SON technology will make network KPIs richer and more meaningful, fulfilling operators' 4G promises.

As competition increases and the mobile markets in developed communities become increasingly saturated, operators are fighting hard to differentiate. In the 4G age, network performance and customer experience must align to support significant investments in marketing and the improvement of customer care. The sole intention for operators is to ensure that the organisation is delivering their core brand values to their customers.

Meeting the 4G promise
Big promises are being made by operators about the service consumers can expect to receive on their 4G network, with Vodafone, for example, claiming “whether you’re gaming online, streaming videos, downloading music, surfing social channels, whatever. Everything. Is. Faster.” While this direction of travel is understandable, operators must remember that meeting, or indeed exceeding, customer expectations for 4G services isn’t dependent on bold claims and celebrity testimonials, but on the effectiveness of the network.

The critical measure is in determining whether network performance is aligning with the promises they’re making and meeting customer expectations. This will be critical in reducing churn and maintaining 4G market share.

Operators have meticulously measured network performance using stringent network KPIs for many years, and achieved some excellent results. Traditionally, network operators differentiated themselves based on the quality of network coverage and the resulting quality of experience they delivered. Historically this was achieved by scrutinising the performance of individual cells on a reactive basis. If a particular cell was experiencing particularly heavy usage, the operators would address the issue, regardless of the numbers of users affected or the revenue they represent.

Network KPIs becoming increasingly customer centric
In today’s 4G world, operators maintain a similar stringent commitment to network performance, guided by network KPIs, but are increasingly looking to maximise ROI by incorporating customer data. This focused, more customer-centric view is crucial in determining whether advanced, automated network optimisation practices are being focused on ranking the improvement of network cell sites by customer importance.

This view of customer importance is ultimately determined by the revenue they represent – either through the content they are consuming or the tariffs they are on. The introduction of LTE brings a series of new lucrative tariffs with smartphone users looking to experience the fast, rich content experience that the 4G marketing departments promise. The reality is that these LTE users will deliver so much more revenue than basic 2G voice and SMS consumers and are subsequently going to be more affronted by poor network service and be more likely to churn.

It is still early days for SON capability. Operators have yet to scratch the surface of what the technology can actually deliver.

SON is a new enabler for advanced CEM techniques
This is why existing network KPIs are being correlated with high revenue customer data taken from CEM systems. LTE also heralds the introduction of the self organising network (SON) capability whereby, these vast data sources can be gathered and combined in real-time to ensure the network is very much in tune with its most important customers.

It is still early days for SON capability. Operators have yet to scratch the surface of what the technology can actually deliver. By automating key processes, SONs can capture more and more data from a wider variety of sources, including but not limited to geo-location, billing and customer experience information. The reality today is that network engineers are too thinly stretched over too many aspects of network optimisation. SON integration will help engineers move from a traditional, manual, reactive approach to an automated, predictive approach. This will ensure that VIP subscribers (bandwidth hungry 4G users) that deliver the most revenue receive the best possible network experience and operators in turn can fulfil their 4G promise.

Maximising customer experience through SON functionality

Network KPIs have safeguarded network quality since mobile networks were first built more than thirty years ago and will continue to play a significant part in the delivery of optimal 4G mobile broadband services. In an age of SONs, the effective integration of customer data will make network KPIs even more insightful and valuable. This requires the continuous real-time collection and analysis of huge amounts of performance data in multi-vendor, multi-technology networks.

The proactive detection and resolving of network glitches, through automated re-configuration, will be aggressively accelerated. The inclusion of customer data will ensure operators prioritise issues that impact high value customers most. These will include taking steps to radically improve call set-up success, cell congestion, reducing dropped calls and improving data throughput.

Key improvements in these areas will ensure operators differentiate themselves from the competition and take giant strides towards reducing churn. Preserving customer loyalty will prove to be the fiercest 4G battleground and the operators that are ultimately victorious will be those that continue to invest in their networks with their most lucrative customers firmly in mind.

Thomas Neubauer is CSO, Aircom International.