5G is coming – Seamless experience?
Most mobile networks are a very diverse environment, built out through the years with ever-ongoing transformations, both in the radio, core and transport networks. Still the subscriber, rightly so, expects a seamless service.
We now stand right in the middle of one of the greatest transformations we have seen in the industry. Both a brand new network (5G) including new radio and core, as well as a new concept to build the network, logically with network slicing and physically with the Service Based Architecture (SBA). In parallel, a major shift is going on in the network infrastructures with NFV/SDN and attached orchestration and automation platforms. Most future initiatives are now aiming for fully automated networks with seamless provisioning and dynamic and elastic networks, deployed and utilizing resources as needed.
At the same time, all (or at least most) mobile operators have a legacy with 2G, 3G and 4G networks, where these paradigms have not been developed. One headache is then how to remain a seamless service, whilst yet another network technology is to be deployed. Standardization will certainly help with the service-related procedures around handovers and interoperability, but for the operational environment the risk is high that initially there will be yet another network technology to maintain, supervise and monitor. There will eventually be solutions towards having a common orchestration and adaptors between legacy networks and the new infrastructures. Initially though, operators have to face the fact that they need to manage one more technology in parallel.
From a subscriber perspective, setting aside all hype, the most important thing in the end is to receive a working and, again, seamless service. In order to meet customer expectations, an operator will need to provide a consolidated view of the subscriber experience in the network, regardless of what technology has been used. This consolidated view will be needed when facing the customer in e.g. portals, apps or customer support, but also when analyzing the overall service performance of the network. In order to accomplish this, potential issues with e.g. service interruption, coverage and handset software need to be possible to be viewed regardless of the underlaying network technology. One option is to provide this is to use probe-based solutions to capture signaling and thereby get access to an independent view of the service running through functions provided by different network equipment providers. Another alternative would be to capture event-based monitoring data directly from the various network functions with mediation and correlation handled by processing in the service assurance layer.
In either case, in order to provide a holistic view of the service performance and subscriber experience, the platforms used need to be agnostic to both the network technology as well as the monitoring solution. The tools need to present a consolidated view of the service performance in order to provide a full view of customer impact and customer experience. If rightly deployed, a platform will be able to provide excellent means for first-, second- and third-line customer support as well as for service operational centers, and will provide open API’s that can be used for providing input to other applications, e.g. within network automation or customer self-service. As networks eventually will be more converged, these platforms will need to be able to adapt to new sources of data as well as dynamic and elastic environments.
In a diverse network environment, there will never be a one-fit-all solution. It is eventually you as an operator that need to put up a strategy to not build lock-ins and with a sharp focus to provide a consolidated view of your services. In any case, the key is to always put the customer experience in the front and center, be it for tools supporting customer interactions or network optimization and deployment.