It's essential for MSOs competing for Ethernet business services

Multiple system operators offering services for business enterprises and wireless backhaul over Ethernet networks face intense competition from telecom service providers. The telcos have a long history of providing network solutions for businesses – from small to very large. Deploying Ethernet is just a technology migration for them versus an entirely new offering, as is the case with MSOs. They have established high expectations in the business market for TDM, Frame Relay and ATM services, and most provide remote service assurance, including testing, diagnostics and performance management, to ensure they provide the level of service expected. This approach has allowed them to gain their customers' confidence and grow their services in this critical business sector.

Figure 1: Service Comparison - Residential vs. Business

In contrast, a great many of the services traditionally provided by MSOs have been targeted at a large, less scrutinizing and less demanding residential market. The MSOs that will be the most successful in gaining market share and retaining customers in the high-stakes, high-bandwidth Ethernet business enterprise and wireless backhaul arenas are those that can effectively and efficiently adapt to this rapidly growing market sector in the shortest timeframe.

That means that MSOs must incorporate the support tools and procedures required to allow them to professionally and competently install, repair and validate quality of service (QoS) and their customers' quality of experience (QoE) for these new Ethernet business customers. Figure 1 shows some of the more important differences in providing services to residential consumers versus business enterprises.

A critical step for MSOs in their race against telcos is to deliver an optimal QoE. If an initial offering provides less than what was promised, a consumer will quickly look to a competing MSO or telco for their enterprise services.

However, most MSOs support their business services today with a truck roll strategy, dispatching a field technician to find the trouble rather than knowing where the trouble resides prior to dispatching, or dispatching to fix the trouble.

In this drive for market share, the days of best-effort Ethernet are over! The Metro Ethernet Forum has done an outstanding job of carrying the "Carrier Ethernet Banner" worldwide. The MEF has proposed a number of recommendations on network equipment interoperability and certifications, including test and performance monitoring.

These recommendations have been accepted by many network equipment and test vendors, which help guide a provider to understand what must be done to provide carrier Ethernet-grade service. The fundamental issue for MSOs is how? Thus, they are faced with several critical questions that must be answered to take advantage of Ethernet's flexible architecture, expanded bandwidth and potential network convergence capabilities.

Figure 2: Testing & Diagnostic Ethernet - Click to Enlarge

The most common Ethernet service assurance tools in use today by MSOs are fault management and network element surveillance tools. These tools are able to provide some limited statistics and fault information to identify that a problem may exist. However, they are not servicespecific and cannot normally isolate the source of a problem.

These limitations, coupled with the small number of knowledgeable Ethernet technicians, often results in dispatching field technicians to multiple locations in an attempt to isolate and repair the customer's service. Furthermore, because of their limited expertise, Tier 1 technicians hand off an unnecessary high percentage of troubles to more expensive Tier 2/3 technicians.

It is not economical to dispatch a single field technician to a customer location, or to dispatch multiple technicians to multiple locations, to determine the source of the problem. Even worse, service-affecting issues may not be in the provider's network at all.

It also significantly extends the time required to resolve the trouble and to restore the overall service. These delays adversely affect the customer's perception of the MSO's ability to provision and maintain the service, which can seriously impact churn. This approach is costly and unsustainable as competition intensifies. The customer's expectations for quality of service increase, and prices continue to drop. With expected growth by some providers at 40 percent or more, this approach is also not scalable.

Figure 3: Turnup Capacity vs. Field Technician

Consequently, it is crucial that MSOs implement a broader, more comprehensive automated Ethernet remote service assurance strategy. The key components of the solution should provide the test and diagnostic capabilities required to ensure the highest QoS and QoE for their customers while reducing internal costs.

An effective remote service assurance solution will provide MSOs with the ability to meet aggressive corporate Ethernet turn-up requirements to achieve new revenue. The solution will allow them to remotely verify key service measurements such as connectivity, Class of Service (CoS), committed information rate (CIR) and excess information rate (EIR) to ensure proper new service activation.

In addition, a robust remote service assurance solution for maintenance of in-life services will allow MSOs to rapidly identify and resolve QoS troubles without dispatching one or more field techs. The solution will allow them to verify important service characteristics, such as service configurations and connectivity, and provides traffic generation and sectionalization capabilities utilizing Ethernet OAM (operations, administration and maintenance) and VLAN or port loopbacks, as depicted in Figure 2.

Furthermore, remote service assurance from a centralized location such as a network operations center (NOC) dramatically increases the technician's visibility to the overall service and allows troubles to be quickly and accurately sectionalized to a specific portion of the network before triggering a dispatch.

This strategy ensures the right field technician is dispatched to the correct location in the network the first time for quicker trouble resolution. It dramatically reduces nonproductive dispatches, maximizes field resource utilization and reduces overall outage time as the customer views it.

Implementing a best-in-class, automated service assurance solution with service performance monitoring capabilities will provide additional assistance to MSOs in driving operating costs down and productivity up. The performance monitoring aspect of the remote solution will allow them to reduce trouble calls and improve customer perception to reduce churn.

Figure 4: Remote Performance Monitoring... Click to Enlarge

The solution should provide the essential capability to perform real-time performance monitoring on-demand through the use of Ethernet OAM traffic generation, as needed, to validate services traversing the network.

This feature could be used, for instance, after a new service activation, or after the restoration of a service outage, to ensure the overall service is up and operating within expected maintenance limits. The benefit of performance monitoring is further enhanced using the customizable historical views, as displayed in Figure 4, to provide excellent visibility to the availability and overall health of the network. These historical views will identify both critical (red) and warning (yellow) service threshold crossings of serviceaffecting issues such as loss, latency and jitter, as well as vital WAN/LAN statistics according to the MSO's business rules.

Implementing the combined remote service assurance capabilities for new service activation, in-life maintenance and performance monitoring will allow MSOs to achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

They will be able to draw ahead of telcos that have already recognized the importance of service assurance for Ethernet business services and are deploying remote service assurance solutions to meet this challenge. Furthermore, a paradigm shift by MSOs from handheld to remote test strategy will ensure targeted new service activations are completed on time, growth objectives are achieved and SLA/QoE metrics are met.

Remote service assurance supports significant process improvement and expanded flow-through for new service activation and in-life maintenance activities to allow MSOs to meet service growth without continued, rapid hiring of additional staff. The solution reduces technician touches by simplifying the desktop, automating testing, reducing handoffs and improving end-to-end visibility with one solution across the MSO's entire service footprint.

In addition, an efficient remote solution will simplify and standardize testing to empower Tier 1 technicians to resolve more troubles through one-button test capability, simple chart and graph test results, expert analysis via a virtual tester, and automatic proactive performance monitoring with alarm notification.

For example, in the case of activating new services or turning up new towers for wireless backhaul, remote service assurance enables a single centralized NOC technician to perform active and passive tests to various remote probes supporting numerous cell sites throughout the Ethernet network simultaneously. This service assurance solution supports multiple accesses and expands the multitasking capability of a centralized technician exponentially over a field technician who may be in a truck driving between service activation sites and testing with a handheld test set one at a time.

Using the following generic sizing assumptions, the calculations in the business case in Figure 3 indicate it takes 60 percent more technicians using a handheld test and turn-up model as it does with a comprehensive remote test and diagnostic turn-up model for 10,000 circuits to cell towers.

  • Annual distributed hours available per technician = 1,755
  • Average new circuit turn-up time per circuit, no major issues = 3 hours
  • Average new circuit turn-up time per circuit, major issues encountered = 5 hours
  • Percent of new circuit turn-ups with major issues = 20 percent
  • Standard test time = 2 hours per circuit. In addition, a remote service assurance solution provides a simplified graphical user interface (GUI), virtual tester capabilities and standard test dialogs that enable improved automation and test standardization according to the provider's specific business rules and SLAs.

These features dramatically reduce learning curves and standardize test procedures. It is essential that MSOs consider a remote service assurance solution that provides these capabilities, as well as excellent end-to-end visibility across their networks, both within a system or franchise area and across the network between systems to validate new service activations and provide quick service resolutions for in-life maintenance.

Figure 5: Remote Probe Solution...

A comprehensive Ethernet service assurance solution (Figure 5) must have the following capabilities to deliver the efficiency and service levels required to grow services:

  • Emulate customer traffic for accurate "first time turn-ups" by performing active testing to ensure the CIR promised to the customer is consistently delivered. In addition, generate multiple Ethernet streams simultaneously to validate the integrated QoS KPIs (frame loss, delay, jitter, out of order frames, etc.) for each stream are within SLA specifications.
  • Monitor the customer's service without disruption as it traverses the network and validate the operational status of the services and the underlying network.
  • Perform rapid sectionalization of service issues and prove restoration of service to ensure the customer's QoE.
  • Generate traffic for analysis of QoS and provide sectionalization through the use of one-way and round-trip testing (IEEE 802.1ag, ITU-T Y.1731, MAC swap, etc.).
  • Deliver end-to-end, real-time performance visibility of the service (both "in footprint" and "out of footprint") without impacting revenue-generating traffic.
  • Utilize acquired performance metrics and proactive notifications of service and network degradations to ensure network health.
  • Provide scalability and automation of many test and administrative processes. This creates a more "touch-less" environment to improve test standardization and simplifies the diagnostic requirements to empower the Tier 1 technicians to be more productive.

Given proper selection and deployment of an effective, efficient service assurance solution, MSOs will see the following benefits to improve their competitive position:

  • Achieve faster and more cost-effective service turn-ups and trouble resolutions, significantly reducing both opex and capex while refocusing time and resources on winning new customers.
  • Improved visibility of their network QoS by proactively detecting network degradation to rapidly identify and resolve network problems.
  • Capability to effectively install and assure Ethernet services by minimizing the need for Ethernet "experts."
  • Implement an automated solution to bring intelligence into the current Ethernet service resolution process, minimizing costs by "dispatching to fix," not "dispatching to find."
  • Drive operating costs down and productivity up with the implementation of a "best-in-class" automated Ethernet service assurance solution with extensive remote testing, diagnostic and service performance capabilities.
  • Increased confidence to offer more competitive SLAs due to the ability to deliver them.

The remote service assurance solution deployed by MSOs to achieve these benefits and meet their service and cost objectives must be a scalable, cost-effective service assurance solution that assists them in achieving their desired growth in new revenues while achieving profitability targets.