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Good Visibility: Service Assurance Products Give Operators a Better Handle on Network, Service Performance

By: Paula Bernier

As operators expand into new service areas and add new technologies to their networks, the challenges of monitoring and addressing performance are growing exponentially. But new service assurance tools now offer carriers an end-to-end view of what’s happening on their multi-faceted networks, right down to the customer service level, enabling service providers to act on potential issues before customers notice a problem and lowering the cost of troubleshooting.

For example, just last month Optimus announced it is using Tekelec (News - Alert) technology to get more visibility into its network, which uses the IMS architecture to support both mobile and fixed-line operations.

Specifically, the Portuguese service provider is migrating to Tekelec’s next-generation, Linux-based performance management platform to increase storage and processing capacity, which addresses the dramatic increase in subscriber usage data the carrier has seen. The Tekelec Integrated Applications Solution, which is in use by more than 150 service providers, integrates and interconnects with network applications to gather data records across hundreds of protocols in 2G, 3G and 4G environments, and supports traffic management, security, roaming, prepaid and short message service.

“Tekelec’s performance management solution pinpoints and analyzes valuable information across a countless number of subscribers and network activities,” says Jose Pinto Correia, executive board member and CTO at Optimus. “Tekelec gives us the actionable insight we need to ensure that our customers have the best possible experience regardless of their device, location or connection type.”

Tekelec CTO Vince Lesch (News - Alert) tells INTERNET TELEPHONY that it will be monitoring SIP, Diameter and SS7 for the service provider.

“We should be able to have full visibility, to look at not only the signaling and session control plane, but also the user plane and looking at data there, specifically related to mobile data,” says Lesch.

The Tekelec gear also will enable Optimus to ensure that DNS is working and to see what types of traffic are being sent over its network.

Allowing service providers to see which type of traffic is flowing over their networks sounds like something that a deep packet inspection vendor would be pushing, but Lesch says the Tekelec capability is different from straight DPI. While DPI devices may be able to show provider what type of traffic is there, they can’t necessary help troubleshoot things like why an HSS is rejecting a signaling message from a particular user, for example, he says.

A seven-year-old company called Mariner is coming at service assurance from a different angle. The company, which was founded by former executives of Canada-based IPTV (News - Alert) service pioneer NBTel, offers tools for IPTV service providers to do service assurance. Mariner provides a service monitoring solution called xVu, which lets operators – including Bell Aliant (News - Alert), a telecom in Guam, and SaskTel -- see how their IPTV service is performing down to the customer experience.

Marc Savoie, vice president of product management at Mariner, explains that the xVu does that by “interrogating” the set-top box. That entails gathering set-top box statistics, which the xVu then analyzes to search for potential impairments and to gauge the performance of each set-top box on a service provider’s network.

Mariner’s solution includes various dashboards that then present the information. Savoie explains that there’s a dashboard that technicians and call center representatives can use to troubleshoot consumer-specific issues; a dashboard designed for network engineers, which may use it to define common problem areas in the network based on network element, geography or traffic type; and a dashboard for how the services themselves are performing.

While Mariner may not be a household name, its go-to-market involves some well-known companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco (News - Alert) and Microsoft.

The Mariner solution is integrated into the Microsoft Mediaroom IPTV middleware used by such major providers at AT&T, DT and Swisscom (News - Alert). The service assurance provider also is involved with Cisco’s Visual Quality Experience, aka VQE, which involves a solution that sits on the wire by the set-top box and does packet repair before the customer experiences service degradation. Tollgrade, meanwhile, leverages Mariner technology to monitoring DSLAMs and DSL performance, says Savoie.

“Currently the service provider is rolling a truck [using] a lot of speculation on what the customers are telling them, and they have very little visibility on what’s happening in the customer home,” says Savoie.

Employing service assurance, he adds, can let them see what’s really going on and, in the process, shave off 20 percent on mean time to repair statistics for service providers. That allows service providers to see a return on investment in the Mariner solution within a year, and at the same time improve customer satisfaction, Savoie says.

“Regardless of what type of service is being offered by service providers today, whether enterprise managed VPNs, residential and business broadband, enterprise or consumer mobile, they are all very conscious of the customer experience,” says Steve Hateley, director of product marketing, InfoVista.

“With so much competition in the marketplace, it’s in the interest of service providers seeking to maintain their revenue stream to make sure customers are getting the utmost experience from their applications and services,” he says.

According to Hateley, Web 2.0 techniques can simplify the visualization of all aspects of a customer’s service, provide a means to streamline data into user-personalized views, and allow cross-organizational access to customer data.

“InfoVista’s Vista360 is a powerful, innovative and simplified dashboard application — built on Web 2.0 — that was developed to meet the demands of service providers and large enterprises for this kind of actionable, real-time and personalized data,” he says. IT

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