History Repeats: Big Data and Service Assurance

The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.

Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. President

Though he never graduated from college, Harry Truman was a self-made scholar. A voracious reader of history books as a child, that knowledge would serve him later in life. For when North Korean forces invaded South Korea in 1950, Truman’s mind was prepared: he could even recite facts about key battles in Korean history.

A peaceful — but still disruptive — invasion is happening in the world of service assurance and network optimization software. Firms like Guavus and Subex are using big data technology to take business away from the incumbent software suppliers.

But wait a minute, you say. How could that be? I thought the telecom service assurance market was already sewn up by industry giants like HP, CA, EMC, and IBM who together spent billions of dollars six years ago to acquire innovators like Micromuse and Concord Communications?

Yes, that’s true but Truman’s wisdom still applies: “The only thing new in the world is the history you don‘t know.” In fact, the rise of innovators in IP service assurance superseded the leadership of Agilent and Telcordia in the TDM assurance world.

So the lesson of telecom software history is that new networks (IP, 2G, 3G, LTE) and new industry trends (VoIP, smartphones) sooner or later turn business plans upside down.

But it’s never too late for incumbents. If they are flexible and forward-looking enough, they can either build or acquire the technologies and products that will move the business into the new era.

To its credit, Tektronix Communications (Tek) is one of the first of the major service assurance firms to state its intent to lead the network analytics revolution. With major offices in Dallas, Ireland, Italy and China and 1,400 people on staff, Tek supports deployments at 190 carriers. And because of that large footprint and the sheer volume of data it collects and manages — across voice, SMS, 3G, 4G, and IMS — Tek is in a great position to run with the big data baton.

Here to discuss the firm’s analytics strategy is Olav Teljflaat, head of applications strategy.

Dan Baker: Olav, how far is this analytics and big data going to go on the network side?

Olav Tjelflaat: Dan, analytics is an industry paradigm shift and it’s not going away. We also believe the analytics apps that are hot today could be superceded by something much bigger in a couple of years.

At this point we feel it’s important to put a stake in the ground and say — Tek is going to deliver an intelligence value-add onto the tremendous volume and richness of data that we already supply to carriers and other vendors in the ecosystem.

We need to provide interpretations of data to drive critical decisions for the operator. And we also need to help them drive revenue and reduce OPEX where possible.

We want to be more proactive in predicting outcomes using elements of predictive analytics and making the output value as accurate as possible. Delivering that isn’t going to happen overnight — it’s a function of on-going R&D. And the mission has many facets to it, whether it’s sweating the assets or minimizing churn. The point is making sure you’re delivering the right message and QoS to the exact right customer at exactly the right time.

It’s all going to be about putting the customer first and optimizing the network in the best way possible.

Traditionally we have helped telecoms solve troubleshooting, service assurance, and network monitoring problems. Yet as we ramp up our analytics capabilities, we will support not just network stakeholders, but also people in sales and marketing as well as strategic business decision makers.

How is Tek currently organized to support the telecom business?

Well, we have two product lines: one is the traditional monitoring space and other is our applications business.

Much of the traditional troubleshooting and probes sit in the monitoring business unit. The applications solutions business has a Customer Experience Management (CEM) solution that came from our acquisition of the TouchPoint system from Arantech a few years ago.

TouchPoint has 40 to 50 deployments. It is widely used across the Vodafone Group, for instance, where the data feeds enable the group company to benchmark the performance of the different operating companies underneath.

Another application is a performance monitoring system, plus a number of new solutions are coming soon in areas like subscriber intelligence, customer insights, and analytics.

Our applications are usually built around support a particular stakeholder: helping particular job holders in the carrier organization address very specific business issues. So our TouchPoints CEM solutions serves the operations teams at the carriers, analyzing customer experience across four key dimensions: the specific customer, the service, the device, and the technology (circuit switched or IP, etc. )

Mobile service quality is not that great today. Yet there’s hope that High Definition Voice services will take off in the future. Do you have confidence that QoS is going to be a bigger deal than it is today?

Absolutely, we definitely think so. One of the things driving this is the sheer number of OTT services out there. Their numbers continue to grow, especially in the messaging and voice services that replace traditional circuit voice and SMS services. Skype is having a huge impact on the operators.

The danger for service providers is when the users start to feel closer to their OTT providers than the operator. Whether HD voice services will take off or not, QoS will have a big impact on whether an operator can charge a premium for those types of services.

And those services will either be in partnership with OTT providers or it’s the carrier provisioning its own services. Right now the partnerships between OTT players and operators is just get started. But once it gets rolling, the ability to measure the QoS for each of those services and managing them accordingly– making sure customer gets what they pay for — is key to operators going forward.

It will be critical for allowing the operators to play a key role in the value chain rather than be a commoditized bitpipe earn only low margins.

What do some of the future applications look like?

Well today we have a product called iPi, IRIS Performance Indicator, a performance centric monitoring tool that looks at links and nodes and helps the network operations people see where a particular node in the network is congested. It even looks down into individual sessions to figure out what the issues are.

In the future we plan to bring the subscriber dimension into that view so the operator can prioritize their decisions and have the greatest impact on customers. This will allow us to bridge the network optimization and CEM views to deliver something of higher value.

We also see great value in proactively informing customers of network issues by sending them messages. For example, if we notice a customer is having trouble, we can compare their performance to other customers in the same cell and location to see if it was a customer specific problem or something broader.

Merging in billing and spending data allows us to understand the value of the individual customers. Capturing data from our probes in the network is another vital source of intelligence. We can even look at the social network analysis: the calls the customer making — are they calls to a person on the same network or on a competitor’s network? Is this person likely to churn? If the user’s data service usage is trending downward, that may be a very good indicator.

We can also see what customers go onto competitor websites. We can also look at fraud solutions and use cases and pinpoint fraud in the network. Then there’s expanding the view to optimize customer care calls.

Sounds like Tek has its hands full in future application development.

Yes, the scope of future applications we are planning is broad and most of those opportunities involve an analytics component.

The lion’s share of our communications business still comes from the monitoring side of the house so you can bet that we will continue to focus on service assurance and troubleshooting. The LTE rollouts are key for us, so we will certainly double down on that sector.

Our strategy is to play areas wherever we can build on our network heritage — in either applications like Arantech or monitoring/probes.

Tektronix Communications is one of 40 companies profiled in TRI’s market research report: The Telecom Analytics & Big Data Solutions Market.

This interview was originally published by Black Swan. It has been reproduced with their permission.

Dan Baker
Dan Baker
Dan is a founder of the Technology Research Institute (TRI), which has published studies about the telecom software market since 1994.

As a journalist, Dan wrote for B/OSS magazine and recorded webinars with VanillaPlus before launching his own publication, Black Swan Telecom Journal.