How to accelerate network rollout without compromising 5G customer experience
Rolling out 5G doesn’t just come with the promise of a faster, more reliable network – it is a springboard into the next wave of connectivity and communication. Because of this, it’s crucial for communication service providers to accelerate their 5G journey, but at the same time they must prioritize customer experience from day one. In this blog post we explore how service providers can overcome this challenge.
In today’s digitized world, consumers expect nothing less than the best from service providers. They are eager to adopt new technology but are unforgiving when it comes to poor customer experience. Consumers today don’t hesitate to use social media to voice their concerns, and once their complaints are in the public domain they can influence the perception of others easily. To keep their customers happy it’s important for service providers to keep their finger on the pulse when it comes to customer experience while accelerating their 5G rollout. Unfortunately, 5G comes with a new level of network complexity – and I predict it’s going to be more difficult than ever to understand the true experience. Is there a way to solve this conundrum from day one?
Learnings from the past
As a business owner of Ericsson Expert Analytics, I’ve been working with service providers on their business journeys for over a decade, and during that time various new technologies have been introduced – for example, the introduction of 4G or the launch of voice over LTE. With every new technology leap, network complexity has also increased, making it even tougher to understand the customer experience. I have seen many service providers having to pause, or even worse, reverse the rollout of new services. Reflecting back, I realize that overlooking the customer experience was a major contributor to this, and this happened for two key reasons.
Firstly, putting together a customer experience solution was a huge endeavor by itself. So much so that it was perceived to be competing against the deployment and rollout of the new service itself. There was no simple pre-integration solution available that the service providers could turn on from day one to monitor the customer experience. Secondly, the cost of these solutions was prohibitive. They involved putting together a whole new stack of external tapping, probing, monitoring and analytics solutions, and this was not feasible for the service provider.
Clearly, with 5G, service providers cannot afford to take that risk. But at the same time, they cannot slow down their 5G journey to ensure customer experience. Can Ericsson help bridge this gap? This question has been top of mind for our analytics and assurance team (A&A team).
Back to the drawing board
With these challenges in mind, Ericsson’s packet core and A&A team came together to create a solution that can secure the 5G experience from day one.
Thanks to their extensive R&D and operational experience, I was confident we were on track to change the way we analyze and manage the customer experience. We looked at all the aspects of existing solutions and deployments and identified the key bottlenecks that traditional approaches were creating. This led to some key findings:
- External probing functions are a huge drain on service providers’ CAPEX and OPEX spending. Interestingly, if we break down the functions involved in probing (for example, parsing the network feed, classifying the content, etc.) there is a huge duplication of the functionality between the probes and the actual network function. Service providers should not be paying twice for the same function, especially when a lot of the functionality can be reused.
- Traditional solutions were focused on creating a barrage of counters and KPIs, which were good for a network protocol analyzer but did not provide any insight into the actual customer experience.
- To gain these insights, service providers had to integrate with a customer experience focused analytics solution and work with domain experts to develop insights.
- Garbage in is garbage out. The quality of analytics is only as good as the quality of data ingested. Having a separate data acquisition (probing) function to the data generation (NFV) function created a lag and an error-infested input into the analytics engine. This not only caused issues in monitoring the customer experience, but also moved the users away from the traditional solutions – – making the adoption of these solutions challenging.
With these insights, we knew what the new solution needed to do:
- Tapping and probing functions should leverage (and potentially be built into) the network function to maximize re-use
- Must be available at a fraction of the cost to traditional solutions and facilitate CAPEX and OPEX reductions
- Deliver out-of-the-box insights that service providers can use to steer their 5G journey
- Take away the complexity added by cloud native deployments
- Never compromise on security, which is the cornerstone of 5G
Customer experience made easy
Once we knew what we needed to do, it was a matter of execution. There were many challenges and often competing requirements to navigate through, but the solution objectives helped us stay focused. We also had the advantage of testing our ideas and prototypes with our lead customers, who helped us shape the solution to fit the needs of the service providers.
Finally, February this year, we launched our solution to secure the 5G experience using software probes. The offering sits on three key pillars:
- Dual-mode 5G core, which offers built-in probing into network functions
- Keeping sensitive data secure
- Pre-integrated analytics solution for 5G
Ericsson Expert Analytics has been helping service providers worldwide ensure superior experience on 4G, VoLTE, VoWiFi and Nb-IoT services. However, to cater to the specific needs of this solution, we focused on the two needs I mentioned earlier, the first being out-of-the-box pre-integration with the dual-mode 5G Core. To this end, EEA will have built-in ingestion adaptors for events made available by software probes from the 5G core solution. These shall be productized and maintained with every new release cycle to ensure faster time to market. The second key area is to make sure that there are insights available from day one so that service providers can actualize the value from day one. To this end EEA, in its first release, will come with the following analytical insights out of the box. There would also be additional insights added with each release, including support for more 5G use cases.
Adoption and leakage analytics: One of the learnings we had from earlier technology evolutions is that it’s very important to monitor and analyze how the new technology is being adopted and where it is falling short early on. Doing a course correction early helps the rollout become smoother and faster. This insights capability will allow service providers to look at 5G usage across their network and be able to analyze it in various dimensions including handsets, location, application, network functions and subscriber groups. In addition, it would also be able to clearly identify subscribers and hotspots which should be on 5G but are still using 4G.
Experience analytics: Other key insights offered by the solution would focus on actual customer experience while using the 5G services. In my experience, when we see the rollout of a new technology, initially the focus is on the “accessibility” aspect of the service. Once that reaches a level of maturity, then we see a shift in focus towards retainability, which typically involves reducing the drop rates, be it voice or data sessions. Finally, when both the accessibility and retainability is addressed, the focus shifts to the integrity aspect, which focuses on the actual quality of experience while consuming the service. For example, in case of voice, it could mean muting and garbling on the calls, whereas when it comes to data, it could mean slower speeds etc. Instead of following the same phased approach, we have developed a solution that addresses accessibility, retainability, service quality and mobility experience right from day one. This is to ensure that the service providers are able to maintain a superior experience right off the bat.
Finally, as we have seen with evolved network technologies, it has become more important than ever to look at the service from beginning to end. The traditional siloed approach leads of a watermelon effect, where the specific domain KPIs are green but if you drill down into the customer experience it is still red. To address this, the Ericsson Expert Analytics solution was built from the grounds up, correlating the radio access feed with the core network feed at per subscriber per session level. This ensures deeper and more holistic insights, which not only highlights the degradation in customer experience but also points to the root cause so the issue can be fixed faster.
Looking further into 5G, other crucial considerations will emerge. So far, analytics solutions have focused on the experience for human users. However, with 5G there will be a wider spread of users and variety of business models. Service providers will have to guarantee experiences across a more complex eco-system of machines, cars, industries and enterprises. Ensuring superior experience will be more challenging than ever. This only underlines why it’s absolutely necessary to set up a strong foundation from day one which ensures that resources and time are spent in the best way possible.
Listen to the 5G Core podcast, featuring Folke Anger, Head of Solution Line Packet Core, Thomas Kinnman, Head of Solution Line OSS at Ericsson and Dez Blanchfield, Industry Analyst, Business & Technology Consultant.
Learn more about how tapping and probing can be achieved in cloud native container-based environments without jeopardizing network security in our latest paper: Securing the 5G experience with software probes.