Enabling the benefits of network virtualisation through smart data

During the past decade, the telecoms landscape has changed dramatically. The emergence of OTT players has eroded service providers’ voice and messaging revenues, with reports suggesting that the widespread adoption of OTT messaging and VoIP services will drive losses of $386 billion for the telecoms industry between 2012-2018.

At the same time competitive mobile operators have moved to unlimited data plans, leaving larger operators with no alternative but to change and also offer unlimited packages and data-driven business models to meet the challenge.

But unlike born in the cloud OTT players such as WhatsApp and Skype, service providers have historically lacked the infrastructure and processes necessary to compete in this digital environment. To stay ahead in this new market, they must therefore completely disrupt their networks. Only by shifting functions to the cloud can they be agile enough to keep pace with OTTs and make the cost savings they need to further invest in their networks.

As a result, many operators are adopting NFV and SDN as a means of boosting efficiencies, making savings, launching services faster, and supporting a wider range of applications. These new virtualised architectures provide operators with far greater flexibility, enabling them to more cost effectively scale up and down to meet rapidly changing capacity requirements; an advantage that will only increase as the number of IoT devices surges and data demands grow.

However, virtualisation technologies add further layers of complexity to networks and present a host of new challenges that must be addressed before operators can fully unlock the benefits on offer.

Visibility into a complex environment

As they deploy new virtual network functions such as IMS and VoLTE, and infrastructure such as C-RAN and the virtual machines deployed in mobile edge computing, operators are faced with the challenge of keeping track of everything that’s happening on their newly virtualised network.

There is an essential need for visibility into this increasingly complex environment if operators are to identify and resolve problems, whether in the past, present or future. After all, given the wide range of mission-critical services that rely on the delivery of seamless connectivity, even a moment of service downtime could have serious consequences. Operators and their subscribers demand this level of connectivity too; should calls and data sessions not be successfully processed, it could lead to revenue loss and customer complaints.

Achieving this pervasive visibility requires operators to have insight into every aspect of the traffic on their multi-level network, with the ability to see just what’s happening with every one of their subscribers.

Smart data for insight and intelligence

Operators rely on vital intelligence gleaned from the data that traverses their networks to optimise the experience of their subscribers. However, to survive in the digital world, telcos must manage this data with speed, quality, and fidelity.

The surge in the amount of data processed by service providers, for example, has made it particularly challenging to quickly and efficiently identify the appropriate information. Furthermore, in addition to its sheer volume, the data is both structured and unstructured, and comes from both internal and external sources.

To overcome these challenges, forward-thinking operators are now employing smart data which, by being prepared and organised at the source, is ready and optimised for fast, high-quality analytics. Extracting the important information from all the IP data that crosses the network, in real time, smart data provides operators with the actionable intelligence they need to identify issues and optimise their infrastructure in line with traffic demands. What’s more, when used with virtualised instrumentation pervasively deployed throughout the network, smart data can be particularly cost-effective.

In addition, smart data is network, vendor, service and device agnostic, and supports all technologies and standards, which is especially helpful at a time when different service providers are taking different approaches to the introduction of virtual network functions, and backing different low- power WAN technologies for the burgeoning Internet of Things.

In the face of tough competition, operators have recognised the disruptive potential for virtualisation to transform their networks, drive cost efficiencies, and empower new services. Only through the use of smart data will they gain the visibility and insight they need into every aspect of their network that will enable them to successfully deploy the virtualisation strategies required for a digital transformation. Then, along with the ability to simultaneously see, secure and optimise their networks, service providers can begin to claim back ground from OTTs.

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