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Maintaining Quality Of Service In A Demanding World

With the emphasis on rapid service delivery to customers, carriers must be proactive in maintaining high service quality.

By Benjamin Stump, Telcordia


The higher expectations and satisfaction levels demanded by todays customers are putting tremendous pressure on carriers to improve the quality of their services. Since a satisfied customer equates to higher Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), reduced churn, and is paramount to driving business, carriers must find a way to deliver new services quickly while maintaining the same level of quality their customers have come to expect.

The evolution and constant transformation taking place within the telecommunications industry particularly with the need for carriers to offer so many new services so frequently just to remain competitive is causing a shift in the way services have traditionally been provided. Carriers are now offering and deploying many services first, and then trying to piece together the technology puzzle that will enable the successful operation of those services across the network along with how to ensure the quality of those services.

This is creating a distinct gap between services and operations. Where technology was normally first and services second, carriers are finding themselves caught in the uncomfortable position of having to offer services quickly to maintain market share, and then figure out the technology necessary to ensure the quality. As that gap continues to widen, the ability of carriers to continue providing quality services and support becomes increasingly difficult.

Bridging The Gap
Market drivers have traditionally taken the form of one particular killer application. For wireless carriers, it was voice; for wireline carriers, it has recently centered on data service. Today, however, customers are demanding multiple services in a mix and match matrix of available, cutting-edge offerings. Any operator or carrier not prepared to offer any mix of services will lose customers and market share, which is why getting new services out as quickly as possible, often ahead of the technologies and operations that will support them is becoming more the norm than the exception.

Service Quality Management (SQM) has evolved from a mere industry buzzword in the last eight years to a stark realization for carriers that they need to transform the way they operate their business. The traditional network-centric view of managing the network, customers, and operations is no longer an option due to the diversity of services, sharing of resources, and multiple personnel responsibilities.

Today, there is a need to bring all network management, service quality, and customer care initiatives together transforming the way carriers operate their business from a network-centric point of view to a customer-centric point of view. This is the intent of SQM to bring everything related to the customers experience together to enable carriers to look at services as they relate to the customer.

Carriers are quickly realizing they cannot achieve SQM without outside help from software vendors with proven experience in providing SQM and quality-of-service (QoS) solutions as well as business process management. These vendors must create close partnerships with the carriers to leverage existing infrastructure and expertise while overlaying an application that can automate the process of bringing all the disparate data together. The second phase of that application is to provide each different internal organization everyone from customer care to marketing to sales representatives to network technicians the same data in a view that each can comprehend. To be successful, this must be accomplished while minimizing the business process impacts to the carrier.

For instance, a network technician needs information that will quickly point out any fault or problem and prioritize it. A customer care representative wants to easily figure out if the problem is related to network equipment or the customer not knowing how to use a device or service. Marketing and sales people want to take the same data and apply it to proof points for selling SLAs or to project revenues.

Successful SQM
In order to successfully implement SQM, the software must first model the service mix to ensure it is ready when service roll-out occurs. The carrier wants to know the research has already been conducted that enables the SQM package to work with the unique characteristics of the service and service bundle. A first-class SQM provider works with the carrier to recognize and mitigate the gap between offering services and being technologically prepared to operate them. Therefore, the service modeling capability and the flexibility of the SQM solution are keys to a successful application.

A viable SQM solution also solves the disparate data problem by leveraging the providers existing resources. Carriers may have many traditional fault and performance management applications already in place in addition to possible probe and test and measurement solutions often with some having their own customer care and trouble ticket management applications overlaid. For SQM to be successful, it must easily integrate with all those disparate data sources. The better the SQM solution adapts to new and unique data sources, the faster new efficiencies can be realized.

Another successful SQM characteristic is the visualization of the results and service degradations. Everyone knows the importance of a flashy and user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI). However, the intent of SQM is not to be flashy but to ensure that different organizations of vastly different technical expertise levels can see their own uniquely presented data. SQM must have the flexibility to provide different visualization of the same data in real time.

As SQM gains notoriety among carriers, the next logical evolution will be its transferability. Once SQM is implemented in current applications, it will eventually begin making its way more directly to the customer, including setting up customer Web portals to visualize their own data. This transferability could also provide QoS information via PDAs or tablet PCs for use as a marketing tool that quickly points out the advantages of SQM to potential customers.

The true success of any SQM implementation, however, will not be dictated by its features alone. More importantly, its success will be determined by how quickly and easily the solution can be deployed while minimizing the impact to the operators current business processes.

Real-World Cases
SQM solutions have already been successfully implemented by several large telecommunications carriers, including O2 (Germany) GmbH & Co. OHG, a leading European mobile communications provider. Back in June 2003, O2 recognized that users of data services generated higher ARPU than traditional voice-only customers, yet the ability to provide outstanding QoS would require monitoring a whole new range of additional parameters. O2 soon realized it could not manage QoS by monitoring the various, individual components that drive each service and that outside help from an operational support system (OSS) vendor would be necessary.

O2 required an SQM product that could operate independently of network technology, provide an end-to-end view of the services and network to maximize QoS, and included an extensive service library that would enable them to quickly offer new content, services, and applications.

The solution they selected enables the O2 network operations center to monitor the GPRS network, data services (e.g., MMS), and the end-to-end quality of individual services quickly and easily. The true test and proof that the SQM solution was a resounding success for O2 was evident during the Oktoberfest 2004 festival in Munich. With a significant spike in network traffic, it was critical that the SQM solution successfully enabled the O2 network to seamlessly monitor the increase and manage the network to support traffic increases without impacting customers or customer service levels.

Several other SQM deployments, including T-Mobile USA, have met with similar success in implementing management systems that solve disparate data problems and help close the gap between deploying new services and the operational transformation to manage them.

In one particular case, an operator was monitoring, on average, 4,000 core IP network alarms per hour. In evaluating and implementing an SQM solution, it was discovered that only 6 percent of the alarms were either service or customer impacting. By reducing the number of alarms monitored, increased efficiency was immediately realized. Further review showed that more than 50 percent of those same alarms were also predictable and repeatable. By tying multiple data sources together, the identification of degradation trends leading to those failures was automated. By identifying the trends, the operator can now manage predictive problems to solve the issues before the alarms occur getting in front of customers calling in with service problems and thereby keeping customers happy.

Finally, the speed at which these solutions have been implemented is notably important. Successful SQM deployments must minimize business process impact while maximizing speed and efficiency.

As customer expectations increase and higher satisfaction levels are demanded, network operators must meet the challenge by seeking out SQM solutions that enable them to remain competitive. OSS vendors must act as a vehicle by providing high-quality, highly reliable solutions that leverage the infrastructure and service mix of each network operator.

The gap between operations and complex service offerings is not always evident within the carrier. In fact, carrier operations have progressed and with experienced technicians they can often appear to be keeping pace. The difficulties will continue to grow as the gap widens and the carriers that are able to get ahead of the service curve and augment their operations to close that gap transparently will ultimately become the market leaders in this new and complex world lacking the killer application of the past. IT

Benjamin Stump is the executive director of wireless, cable, and emerging markets at Telcordia Technologies. For more information, please visit the company online at,

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