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Use of Big Data and rise of IoT is opening up new opportunities for operators

  • Posted by Mounir Ladki
  • January 13, 2016 8:55 AM GMT

At a time when telecom operators are embarking on a path towards digital transformation in order to evolve from providing just communication services to providing next generation digital services – use of big data and Internet of Things can open up new age opportunities for tomorrow’s telecom operators. MYCOM OSI is a provider of next generation service assurance, automation/orchestration and network analytics solutions that can help operators –become a catalyst in this transformation.

The company helps operators simplify their OSS by deploying a converged service assurance solution that manages the multi-vendor and multi-technology network. Mounir Ladki, President & CTO, MYCOM OSI, speaks with Zia Askari from about the company’s focus area of operations in Africa and what he thinks about future of NFV and SDN deployments in Africa.

What are some of the big innovations and services which are redefining the African mobile market today?

Africa is one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. Initially the market was mainly driven by license acquisition, network deployments and customer acquisition, followed by a wave of mobile operator consolidation.

Today, although the potential for customer growth is still huge (Africa has an average mobile penetration ratio of around 35%) we have entered a second phase, especially in mature markets such as north and sub-Saharan Africa, where the focus has shifted towards optimizing network performance, improving customer experience and maximizing operational efficiency.

This is driving major OSS transformation projects across the region with operators aiming to deploy advanced and scalable solutions enabling them to maximize the performance of their networks and to offer a differentiated customer experience while considerably reducing the operational and capital expenditures.

The increased mobile penetration is unleashing the potential of mobile payments and mobile money transfer, which is one of the major innovations impacting the African market. Rollout of 3G+ and 4G will drive smartphone penetration and will enable smartphone users to benefit from an enhanced experience and consume more data services. Use of Big Data analytics and the rise of the Internet of Things opens a wide range of new opportunities including enhancing utility services and improving efficiency of many industry verticals.

What are some of the steps operators are taking to deliver a true next gen ready user experience?

Operators are embarking on massive transformation to evolve from providing just communication services to providing next generation digital services. This of course implies the ability to deliver and manage a range of next generation digital user experiences. Initially, operators are rolling out 4G/LTE, LTE-A and IMS/VoLTE that allow them to offer significantly enhanced data speed, voice quality and overall mobile broadband experience. Some of them are complementing this WiFi and Small Cells deployments to enhance coverage and capacity in dense indoor and outdoor urban environments.

And because next gen user experience is by definition ubiquitous and converged, we are witnessing an active M&A environment whereby operators are expanding from mobile to fixed or vice versa to offer a broad range of converged services whether at home, office or on the road.

Secondly, they are transforming their legacy OSS systems, building service operation centers and deploying next generation converged end-to-end service assurance systems that enable them to maximize the performance of their hybrid networks and proactively manage the quality of service and customer experience in near real-time.

Also, operators are resorting more and more to big data analytics in order to better understand their customers’ preferences, usage and satisfaction level and proactively offer them tailored commercial packages, relevant network experiences and compelling content. In addition to this, operators are putting in place partnerships with content and specialized service providers to offer a new generation of services such as mobile wallet (especially in Africa), video or music catalogue, multi-screen streaming and home automation.

Looking ahead, operators are also building plans and roadmaps for evolution towards virtualization and cloud networks (NFV/SDN), which should allow much greater innovation and agility in service delivery, network slicing and customized digital experience. Equally, they are involved in defining the requirements for future 5G technology that should cater for true real-time experiences such as driverless cars or remote surgery.

Finally, many operators are preparing themselves to play a key role in the highly promising Internet of Things (IoT) world with expectations that telecom networks will connect more than 25 billion devices by 2020. This preparation involves trialling new narrow-band low power network technologies, considering distributed predictive analytics, planning for higher degrees of automation and exploring new partnerships and business models with the wider ecosystem.

How mobile operators are rolling out new 4G services and introducing NFV into the network today?

4G is essentially an evolution of existing mobile technologies (2G, 3G, HSPA) and is being introduced by mobile operators to provide more capacity for data traffic, higher speeds and enhanced mobile broadband experience.

This is a mature technology that is being deployed as an overlay in the 900, 1800 or 2800 MHz band to carry data traffic with voice calls falling back on 2G circuit switched networks (CSFB). The rollout of 4G requires IP connectivity, so deployment of 4G is often preceded by a migration to all IP on the backhaul side.

Latest evolutions of 4G include carrier aggregation (LTE-A) which uses two radio carriers simultaneously to achieve a higher throughput, and voice over LTE (VoLTE) with IMS in the core of the network. This is a very promising evolution that will enable high definition voice quality and rich communication services (RCS) such as video calling and real-time language translation.

One key success factor in the rollout of 4G resides in the ability to properly manage, monitor and optimize the inter technology (inter-RAT) selection and mobility, given that 4G is often deployed in patchy clusters over existing 3G networks, and that voice calls take place on 2G or 3G layers. Therefore, the ability to manage the end-to-end service performance across the various mobile technologies (2G, 3G and 4G) is a fundamental differentiator for operators. Overall, 4G deployments are progressing extremely well, we now have more than 350 active 4G networks and over 500 million 4G connections globally.

These deployments are mainly taking place in Europe, North America and APAC, but the rest of the world including Africa is catching up fast. We can see the impact of 4G on mobile data consumption; Vodafone group recently announced that their customers worldwide have consumed 3 Peta Bytes of mobile data in the last 3 months alone.

NFV is more of a revolution than an evolution. The promise is to fundamentally change the nature of telecom networks. By completely separating the hardware from the software telecom functions and services will be virtualized and will be delivered using standard IT hardware resources (processing, storage and bandwidth) in the cloud. This will be the real enabler for operators’ transformation into digital services providers, as they will be able to design and deliver new services much faster, configure digital experiences in real-time and slice their networks to deliver on-demand network capabilities corresponding to different needs (connected cars, smart cities, etc.)

The deployment of NFV will be a long migration journey that will stretch over many years, probably a decade, during which operators will have to manage hybrid networks (virtualized and physical). NFV is still in a standardization phase, with the key challenge being to define the interactions between resource orchestration, service orchestration and OSS and how to ensure that orchestration delivers optimal quality of experience. Some operators have already started trials and proof of concepts, most of which revolve around virtualization of consumer set top box (CPE) or corporate services such as VPN.

According to you, what does the future hold for NFV and SDN especially in Africa?

I think African operators have the same interest in NFV and SDN as the rest of the operators worldwide. Not only because of the increased agility and the potential Capex and Opex reductions, but also because of the benefits of dematerializing the networks. The fragmentation of the African market into a large number of smaller operators, the low coverage versus high capacity demand and the difficult terrain realities in certain remote areas, bring about the benefits of a centralized network and service connectivity delivered from the cloud. So I expect that in 2016 some African operators will start working on NFV migration roadmaps and somewill start trials.Some commercial NFV/SDN deployments may occur in 2017. Also, many of the African operators involved in massive OSS transformation projects will want to make sure that the systems they procure today are future proof and able to manage the hybrid NFV/physical networks they will be operating over the next decade.

How operators are implementing big data analytics to generate real insights into consumer and service behaviours today? How can next gen technologies such as Wi-Fi Aware can help here?

Operators today are building large big data infrastructures using mainly Hadoop/HDFS-like technologies. Most of them are driving these projects as corporate initiatives that should serve multiple departments including marketing, customer care, finance, planning and operations. The purpose is to store all the useful information extracted from billing records, CRM and DPI (deep packet inspection) and use this wealth of information to deliver superior business value. This value is achieved through the use of sophisticated and specialized analytics platforms that can cut through the mass of data, detect patterns and predict outcomes. Some typical use cases include churn prediction (by crossing changing customer behaviour with historical trends) and targeted commercial bundles (e.g. unlimited Facebook mobile data package for heavy Facebook users).

More interestingly, operators can also deploy network analytics solutions on top of their big data stores. By correlating user data (location, preference, subscription, handset, ARPU, NPS, etc.) with network data (load, traffic, QoS, etc.) the operator can become much smarter at managing the network, increasing its efficiency and offering a better customer experience. For example, the operator can analyse the location of customers using an iPhone 6 and having a 4G subscription to decide where to prioritise investment in 4G sites. By resorting to Network Analytics, operators can massively improve the customer experience while making significant Capex reductions.

What kind of innovations are being led by your organization? How can these help operators gain more by investing less?

MYCOM OSI is a provider of next generation service assurance, automation/orchestration and network analytics solutions.
In Africa, our customers include Unitel, Safaricom and Maroc Telecom. We help operators simplify their OSS by deploying a converged service assurance solution that manages the multi-vendor and multi-technology network. Our solutions provide visibility of end-to-end network and service performance, and through embedded intelligence, extreme processing power and advanced correlations, we enhance the operational efficiency of operators by an order of magnitude.

Our ability to collapse traditional boundaries between PM, FM and SQm to seamlessly link the customer, service and network layers enables us to maintain focus on customer experience and resolve network faults and issues before they impact the end customer. In addition, our advanced network analytics platform correlates network and user data and through advanced predictive analytics capabilities, delivers such use cases as value based capacity planning that enables operators to achieve formidable Capex savings.

MYCOM OSI is also actively involved in shaping the future of OSS and network management. During TM Forum Live earlier this year we demonstrated QoS-driven NFV orchestration solution that we believe should be the blueprint for the management of future hybrid NFV networks and we are today involved in some strategic customer NFV trials.

Finally, MYCOM OSI is a founding member of the 5G Innovation Center in the UK, the largest European academic research centre dedicated to the development of the next generation of mobile and wireless communications.

Source: Telecom Drive