The next-generation backhaul assurance challenge

Lacking performance visibility? Mobile operators are missing out on the capex and opex benefits of Carrier Ethernet because of their difficulties in managing the performance of their transit networks.

This is a sponsored post by Sergio Zveibil, Product Marketing Manager, Service Performance Assurance, InfoVista

The mass adoption of advanced mobile devices and the growing popularity of bandwidth-devouring websites and applications are fuelling an explosion in mobile data traffic. This uptick – in combination with mobile operators’ commitment to 3G+/HSPA+ and 4G/LTE and their desire to improve margins by reducing the cost per bit of carrying voice and data traffic from cell sites – is driving mobile operators to migrate to Ethernet backhaul, and to take advantage of the scalability, flexibility and cost advantages it offers.

However, as they rush to deploy more Carrier Ethernet bandwidth and expand backhaul network capacity to keep up with the rapid growth in mobile data traffic, mobile operators are realising that managing the performance of this new transport technology is more complex than for its legacy counterpart. This is largely due to the high quality of service (QoS) demands associated with the various types of services travelling over new generation wireless networks and the multiple technical options available to deploy the new network infrastructure and its wider array of Classes of Service (CoS).

As a result, mobile operators are struggling to assure the same level of end-to-end service quality, and despite the intrinsic benefits of Carrier Ethernet, are missing out on the opportunity to realise large CAPEX and OPEX savings due to their lack of familiarity in efficiently managing the performance of these transport networks. To overcome this next-generation backhaul assurance challenge and turn Carrier Ethernet into a competitive advantage, they require real-time, end-to-end visibility into the performance of their new network entities and the logical virtual services carried over them.

Carrier Ethernet’s Crippling Complexity
The primary challenge mobile operators are facing in managing the performance of Ethernet backhaul networks is the heterogeneity inherent to this technology and its interoperability with existing infrastructures. Today’s backhaul networks can carry Carrier Ethernet, but their underlying infrastructures are an amalgam of new and old transport technologies. At the same time, the physical infrastructures capable of supporting Carrier Ethernet services are composed of multiple medium types, which can be deployed in multiple physical as well as logical topologies. To make matters worse, different equipment vendors can be deployed to meet various cell-site transport requirements.

Combine the infrastructure’s diversity with the possibility of leasing certain portions of the backhaul network from one or more wholesale providers, mobile operators can end up with a mind-numbing number of Carrier Ethernet scenarios to monitor. Being able to operate, maintain and assure performance of this infrastructure is daunting – failure to effectively manage this overwhelming complexity can not only drive up OPEX, but also result in poor QoS – a critical driving factor of customer churn and revenue loss.

The Mobile Data Traffic Diversity Dilemma
In addition, the growing diversity of mobile data traffic is challenging mobile operators’ ability to assure service performance. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets is significantly increasing the types of applications subscribers run across the network. Enterprises have also developed and fielded a wide variety of their own mission-critical mobility applications. Assuring a high quality user experience of these varied advanced applications with their diverse performance characteristics, and at the same time, maintaining legacy, but key-revenue generating, services like voice and SMS, is proving difficult and inefficient with the existing service assurance tool sets. Mobile operators that struggle to efficiently manage QoS issues at a service-level will suffer increased customer dissatisfaction with their quality of experience (QoE) and revenue loss as a result of churn.

Achieving QoS and Operational Excellence
So, how can mobile operators get a handle on Ethernet backhaul service assurance? The solution lies in better performance visibility. Performance visibility is not necessarily just the ability to monitor traffic over a specific link or through a specific router or probe. Many mobile operators have already deployed this limited level of visibility. The end result often consists of a silo-oriented performance management practice that is not cost-effective and cannot meet today’s end-to-end service assurance requirements.

A successful strategy instead involves consolidating the myriad raw data, metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) generated from various vendors’ equipment, devices and Element Management Systems; aggregating the data into high-level actionable KPIs and Key Quality Indicators (KQIs); and providing a central, collaborative end-to-end view of network and service quality. Without this approach, mobile operators are left with minimal, if any, visibility into the performance of Carrier Ethernet, and therefore, resort to paying more for sub-par backhaul network performance.

And, as they continue to expand their capacity, performance visibility becomes even more critical in allowing various functional groups to ensure successful network lifecycle management – from deployment to assurance to maintenance and optimisation. For instance, to support new deployments and prevent costly outages and lengthy service disruptions, transport engineers need the ability to centrally monitor, visualise and be alerted in real time about the availability of devices, interfaces and physical and virtual connections associated with each cell site on the network.

During the assurance phase, service quality engineers need the ability to quantify the potential impact of new and existing backhaul connections on the overall level of QoS perceived by mobile subscribers. Finally, in the maintenance and optimization stage, mobile operators’ main focus is on understanding utilisation trends and whether their capacity is sufficient to deliver high quality services and meet end-users’ expectations. For network planning engineers, the ability to monitor current and forecasted traffic loads versus capacity becomes paramount in order to proactively identify backhaul bottlenecks and evaluate their current and future impact on QoE.

A single, unified platform that provides these role-oriented views into Ethernet backhaul network performance with tailored reporting can not only help various stakeholders in mobile operators’ organisations address their own objectives, but also facilitate cross-departmental synchronization. This, in turn, can drive operational efficiencies needed for optimising existing and future infrastructures, providing quicker and more efficient network troubleshooting and reducing customer churn – and realising substantial OPEX savings.

Increased performance visibility offers mobile operators the opportunity to more successfully manage their Ethernet transport and stay ahead of the competition, differentiating themselves within the market by offering mobile services transported over reliable layer 2 and layer 3 services and by being able to better ensure subscribers’ QoE. With a unified, end-to-end view of their networks, they can overcome the next-generation backhaul assurance challenge and turn Carrier Ethernet’s complexity into their most competitive advantage.

Read more on: Infovista’s service assurance solutions