2020 is shaping up to be a really big year. By then, network services will all be sitting pretty in the cloud. Never mind that network functions virtualization (NFV) rollouts have been so far confined to specific services such as virtual CPEs, while market growth forecasts for NFV and software defined networking (SDN) technologies keep getting pushed out to, you guessed it, 2020. (The sheer incline of that trend graph is spectacular.)
A recent report from the Linux OPNFV Project belies the rosy predictions with its finding that only six percent of 90 service providers surveyed had any NFV strategy in place. What’s really top of mind is retaining customers and finding new sources of revenue. And what customers want is a great quality of experience (QoE) and the ability to connect to their favorite apps anywhere, anytime.
The missing link for NFV is the compelling business case for service providers to invest in virtualization as a strategy to improve the user experience and increase revenue streams.
High QoE, Meets Lower Cost
Consider the impact of video and voice over LTE (VoLTE) on subscriber QoE and network management. Now that Facebook has thrown down the “video first” gauntlet for 2016, more media outlets will be streaming live video, generating even more data traffic from the site’s 1.7B users recording, posting and sharing Chewbacca Mom and cat memes. Great advertising revenue for Facebook, but little in the mix for service providers. And while VoLTE adoption is on the rise, significant issues with call drops and fallback to non-HD service levels are creating a poor customer experience for many mobile subscribers. Worse, revenue is simply not keeping up with the cost of delivering and supporting these new IP-based services.
Where QoE meets costs might just be the right intersection for mid- and small-tier operators to find a business case for virtualization.
It’s a conversation that is increasingly coming up in planning meetings for network testing of new LTE deployments. In a recent discussion about test plans for the rollout of a new VoLTE service, the biggest issue was how to conduct rigorous service assurance and performance monitoring without breaking the budget. The traditional approach would be to install costly physical probes between links in the network to validate VoLTE call flows and QoE metrics.
An alternative to expensive hardware is adding virtual probes (vProbes) to monitor physical elements at a fraction of the cost. Activation testing for the new VoLTE service can be conducted end-to-end by injecting live traffic flows to validate interfaces, pre-defined metrics and end-user QoE. vProbes can also be added remotely to increase the accuracy of ongoing QoE monitoring without costly field resources.
As service providers transition their legacy networks to NFV architectures, vProbes offer a way to monitor both physical elements and virtual machine-to-virtual machine communications in hybrid networks. Integrating vProbes using tools and technology that ensure roadmap flexibility is critical, as is implementing a holistic monitoring system with visibility into the network and the subscriber for improving QoE and uncovering new revenue opportunities.
No need to wait for 2020.
For more on this topic, download the white paper, “Experience Matters: Monitoring the Hybrid Network.”