Network Optimization Services: Segmenting the Offers, and the Value Proposition

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1 Offers, and the Value October 18, 2010 Issue Peter Jarich Current Analysis Service Director, Service Provider Infrastructure Last month, we had the opportunity to talk with an operator about its impending LTE network launch. In explaining its rationale for moving aggressively on the technology, the operator presented the wellworn chart showing a decoupling of mobile data traffic and mobile data revenues. Yet more than simply arguing that LTE would help to lift the revenue curve while bringing down costs, LTE was positioned as one component of a larger strategy that included policy control tools along with network optimization. While the context was mobile broadband services, the broader message is clear. As operators look to improve the customer experience while keeping costs in check, optimization has become a critical part of their thinking. To be sure, this isn t a new phenomenon: vendors have been selling products and services to help service provider networks and services run more efficiently for years. What is new is the appearance of new technologies, new network evolutions and new thinking around end-to-end service implications (edge through core, mobile through fixed), all of which provides an opportunity to rethink how services and networks are architected and could be improved. Beginning with the concept that optimization can be sold in the form of a service or a set of products operators can use on their own, it s clear that the topic is broad. It is even broader when considering the various parts of the network that can be optimized, the players involved and how they deliver their products or services. In an effort to understand how vendors in the optimization space (large and small) compete and differentiate themselves, we need to begin with a taxonomy of the space a description of how services organizations address the concept from both the physical network and operations perspectives. Within this context, we can identify the trends in the space, setting the stage for a discussion of how vendors are positioned in a follow-on analysis. Current Perspective To describe the optimization services space as sprawling is an understatement. Consider the various types of networks and services than can be optimized, the aspects of those networks and services than can optimized, and the various ways in which optimization can be delivered. Add in vendor-specific implementations and service granularity that runs along a spectrum from specific products to complete networks and the space may seem impossible to decipher or, at least, categorize in any concise manner. Across the space, however, the basics on how optimization services are delivered remain relatively consistent across vendors, whether or not the specific terminology differs. Combined with a relatively finite Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 1

2 set of things that can be optimized and only so many ways the process can take place a rough outline of the space follows. What is the Scope? s. While we might talk about network optimization in broad terms, it s important to begin with an understanding that various network types and components are the subject of optimization services and that across those networks and components, various aspects of their operations can be optimized. In fixed networks, we can differentiate between access gear, the routing core, the service core (e.g., voice, control and applications) and BSS/OSS implementations. In mobile networks, these same domains exist, with the addition of the mobile packet core. The transport layer stands out as an additional target for optimization services spanning both fixed and mobile networks. Across these networks, then, the question remains, what actually gets optimized? Traditionally, operators and vendors have focused on rather narrow performance metrics (key performance indicators, KPIs) such as dropped calls, packet loss and network uptime. These KPIs, in turn, generally focus on a relatively narrow segment of the network such as base stations, edge routers or voice switches. At the same time, however, services can focus on broader topics such as network capacity or power consumption (energy efficiency) optimization. To the extent that these topics are likely to span multiple sets of products or network boundaries, the optimization process will need to take place at a higher level, from a more holistic standpoint. Services. Forgive us for an overuse of the term services but optimization services focus not only on networks and products deployed by operators. They also focus on the services and applications delivered by operators to their subscribers. For their part, vendors have been quick to segment the space well, offering up optimization focused on a wide array of services: voice, video, data, value-added and on-deck applications all across fixed and mobile networks. They ve also generally positioned this level of optimization as focused on customer experience acknowledging that efforts to improve churn, revenues or service adoption need to look at end-user touch points, not just the networks driving those touch points. Here, KPIs center on issues of service quality identified in terms of latency, jitter, available bandwidth and coverage. While all of these characteristics are intricately linked to the networks behind them, several other aspects have evolved as increasingly important areas for optimization: service launch velocity and adoption, with a focus on how well (or how quickly) the services are driven into the market. Operations. The discussion of optimizing service launch velocity or adoption touches on processes and strategies more than networks and products. A further evolution of the focus on end-user experience looks to service provider operations and organizations. How do the operator s processes and the way they works impact efficiency? How can organizational structures and procedures be aligned to result in better experiences, lower operations costs, etc.? What are the Processes? s. To set themselves apart or highlight/leverage network specific expertise, every optimization services purveyor will point to unique (potentially even patented) processes that yield optimal results. At a high level, however, the network optimization process is relatively consistent. The first step is measurement; generally based on probes deployed in a network, performance statistics are collected to determine how well the networks are performing. An audit of the results identifies performance issues and weak spots. An audit of current and future service demands (quality, user scalability, time-specific capacity, place-specific capacity etc.) identifies what needs to be prepared for going forward. An audit of the operator s networks identifies existing assets that can be utilized in the optimization process. Changes are then implemented in order to address the issues and preparations. The process is then (potentially) repeated in order to refine the results or to deal with the impact of the changes on other parts of the network. Services. In optimizing the end-user experience vendor services proceed much like network Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 2

3 optimization does, but with a number of subtle differences. Measurement and service monitoring is followed by issue identification. Usage and demands are projected. Issues are corrected whether they reside in the network, sales processes, promotions, service design, etc. Where network performance measurement and monitoring is a relatively simple matter, service-level measurement is much more complex. It may be based on network performance statistics (judging experience based on dropped connections, bandwidth available, etc.). It can also be based on a number of other methods and tools: drive tests to measure mobile network coverage, service and quality statistics collected by end-user devices, service usage and adoption statistics, self-reported use satisfaction based on Web or call center data. Operations. The processes behind network- and service-level optimization services are clearly linked. In many cases, it s simply impossible to optimize service performance or end-user experience without touching one or many network elements. Likewise, if the goal of network-level performance optimization is end-user satisfaction, the current state of user experience must be understood. Operations optimization, however, is somewhat distinct. Generally the purview of business or management consulting practices, the process is somewhat of a black box involving best practices analysis carried out against the backdrop of what needs to be improved and how an operator actually runs its services and networks. With an understanding of what vendor optimization services look to address and how they, generally, go about addressing it, we will follow up with a discussion of near-term trends in the space (see below) as well as a description of how vendors are positioned in the space (a follow-on report). In the meantime, however, it is worth leveraging the above optimization services landscape description to identify where vendors can differentiate themselves - whether or not they are actively doing so. Domain Expertise. Can a vendor lay claim to deep expertise in a particular network type or domain, backed by solid customer momentum (e.g., fixed access, mobile access, OSS/BSS, transport, etc.)? Can they point to R&D that gives them insights critical to optimizing specific network layers and products better than a generalist vendor? End-to-End Expertise. Beyond any one network type or specialty, does a vendor have the breadth of products and network expertise in order to deliver holistic, end-to-end optimization services? Do they have a network understanding and ability to look across multiple network components? Do they have the size and processes in place to bring together specialist players where needed? Tech Assets / Proprietary Tools. Has the vendor created specific tools which allow them to better optimize a network? Tools for more accurately measuring network performance? Tools for more accurately measuring customer experience? Tools for visibility and management of equipment from multiple (competing) vendors? Have they leveraged their R&D assets and network know-how to develop hardware and software tools that deliver optimization services competitors cannot? Process. Has the vendor leveraged its history with services optimization to develop processes which allow for replicable success? Can they point to processes which support optimization services across multiple vendors? Across multiple network types? Credibility and History. Separate from any tools, processes or claimed expertise, can the vendor point to a solid history of optimization wins and market momentum? Do they have the customer references that signal an ability to deliver successful optimization services and support operator objectives? Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 3

4 Near Term Drivers New Technologies. The introduction of new technologies into an operator s network represents an obvious opportunity to embark on optimization projects; as new gear is deployed, operators want to ensure that it performs as well as it can and leverages existing network assets. Ranging from LTE to IP backhaul to IPTV or fiber access, the heightened pace of network and service evolutions will be inextricably linked to optimization work. Managed Services. If new technologies and service evolutions are at the core of every vendor s infrastructure messaging, managed services have taken center stage on the vendor services front. Whether part of a larger network management deal or specifically aimed at assuring service quality on an on-going basis, optimization services will be pulled by managed services sales efforts. Experience & Quality. The key question of any optimization service engagement is, what is being optimized and why? Increasingly, operators are looking to deliver on the broader concept of user experience or service quality encompassing everything from network performance to application diversity to reliability and service discovery. This focus, naturally, flows through to optimization services but puts the onus on vendors to define the concept of experience and devise processes for addressing it. End-to-End. Any operator attempting to execute on experience or service quality optimization must look beyond specific network components or even networks. End-user experience, after all, could be impacted anywhere in the network: access layer, transport and backhaul, data core, service core and BSS/OSS. To this end, vendors will continue to play up end-to-end network capabilities and insights and position optimization as a part of comprehensive network management deals. Strategic vs. Tactical. The concept behind end-to-end network optimization may be easy to convey. Selling it, however, is another matter; optimization has traditionally focused on specific KPIs identified by specific groups within an operator (e.g., MOS scores, signaling and control errors). In an attempt to overcome this disconnect, optimization services will be positioned as strategic core to business objectives instead of just a solution to problems. Measurement Innovation. If the first step in any optimization process (beyond objective identification) is measurement, vendors will be quick to explain how they can better identify customer experience and network performance issues particularly where concepts such as experience are already relatively nebulous and ripe for definition. Of course, this will serve to blur the line between optimization services and tools sold to operators for performance, KPI and experience monitoring. Competitor Response & Recommendations Optimization services vendors need to focus on tools as a key component of their value proposition. Tools which help to measure usage, quantify experience, and identify potential areas of network improvement are critical to the optimization process. More importantly, compared with optimization process which tend to be relatively consistent across vendors, tools can help to differentiate vendor offerings. While specific (proprietary) tools may be important for helping services vendors differentiate their optimization offers, marketing around expertise and customers is equally important. In a market with no shortage of vendors promising optimization solutions services and products expertise is critical for validating claims. In particular, as end-to-end optimization gains traction, expertise in both fixed and mobile domains will be key. Even where a vendor can credibly point to end-to-end network competency, explanations of Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 4

5 why end-to-end optimization is important are needed. Again, optimization has traditionally been left to product and service managers focused on discrete KPIs. The elevate the discussion, vendors must be ready to show that a complete network (or customer experience) vision will deliver a better return on optimization investments ideally leveraging case studies that point to the pitfalls of looking at optimization more narrowly. Optimization services discussions need to take place at the executive level within operators. Traditional sales channels (project managers, network managers, etc.) have neither the responsibility nor authority to drive decisions around end-to-end optimization that cuts across business units. C-level executives alone can force more holistic thinking. Beyond the obvious linkage between optimization services and managed services, vendors need to position optimization services as a natural fit with their consulting services as well. To the extent that optimization services are often sold as new networks are getting launched, business consulting services are a natural adjacency, helping to identify synergies with go-to-market strategies, specific market demands, etc. In marketing their optimization expertise, then, consulting capabilities must be messaged and showcased as well. While many vendors are already doing it, all need to include optimization services as a part of any new network launch or upgrade. Beyond the infrastructure sales opportunity, the deployment of new gear represents a prime time to optimize existing assets. Beyond the services sales opportunity, if optimization is not bundled in, it is possible that the solutions may not even operate as promised, impacting the reputation of the vendor even if their gear isn t responsible. Buyer Actions Operators need to make optimization services a component of any new technology launch or upgrade. To be sure, vendors will attempt to make this connection in an effort to drive their own sales. For their part, operators must set the expectation up front that optimization services will be included as part of the overall deal something vendors should be willing to accommodate in order to score a bigger network deal and set the stage for further optimization service sales going forward. Unless they plan to keep their networks and service offerings in a static state, operators need to make optimization services part of a continuing process. As networks and have become more and more complex with more products and vendors touching any given services and new services introduced on a regular basis it is unreasonable to expect optimization services to have a long lifespan before they lose their efficiency. Even if focused on end-to-end optimization, operators should drive their vendors to bring in smaller network specialists as part of larger optimization processes. No matter how much expertise a larger vendor may claim, they will not always be able to rival the knowledge (product and domain) of point players. On the topic of end-to-end optimization, operators need to take a two-pronged approach in thinking both strategically and tactically. In the near-term, specific, well-understood performance issues must continue to be monitored and included in optimization processes. At the same time, however, operators must look beyond these performance issues to consider their ultimate goals in terms of revenues, customer satisfaction, differentiation, etc. Optimization around any of these goals may touch specific KPIs but are more likely to touch multiple parts of the company, its networks and operations. Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 5

6 Coverage Description Service Provider Infrastructure Tracker The Current Analysis Tracker provides detailed information and analysis on the professional, managed and technical services that major telecom network vendors are offering to help telecom operators solve problems, run their network services, and implement and maintain their network assets. The service also includes coverage of global system integrators, often partners but sometimes competitors in this market, and their telecom network-related market strategies. Benefits The Tracker will help you stay current on the services being sold to telcos, trends in the market, service provider demands, and differentiators among telecom service vendors. Remain up-to-date on new, innovative service solutions and strategies. Target competitor service weaknesses. Understand the market strategies of non-traditional service players (providers outside of the major infra vendors). Track competitor service success and momentum, on a regional or network basis. Identify the regional hot spots for infrastructure service deals. Identify un-tapped markets for new infrastructure service momentum. Track the market s acceptance of new service paradigms: moving, for example, from a product-facing focus to managed and professional services. Companies tracked include Alcatel-Lucent Cisco Ericsson Hewlett-Packard Huawei IBM Motorola Nokia Siemens s Tech Mahindra Tellabs Description The Current Analysis Tracker includes: Monthly Roundup Reports detail new customer wins announced by network vendors and service firms. Analysis looks at both market and vendor trends for the month. While recommended actions provide upto-date competitive intelligence for vendors and end users. Charts on a Summary Dashboard quickly highlight the latest telecom vendor services monthly trends including total number of contracts, contracts by network type, and contacts by service type. Vendor Assessments of the major players offering service support into network operators are continually reviewed, providing an analytical summary of their business strategies, strengths, weaknesses and competitive differentiation. A Company Dashboard allows for quick comparisons of key metrics for all the vendors including; total contracts by service type, by region, and by network type. Information from the Contract Database is available for download in spreadsheet format. Selections can be made by vendor, service type, region, and date range. In Event Reports, new service offerings, strategy shifts, and major contracts impacting the market are reviewed and analyzed shortly after they occur in order to reveal what they mean to the vendor, competitors and the market, in general. Current Analysis ( Washington, D.C. Paris, France Phone: ; Toll free: Phone: +33 (0) Current Analysis Inc. All rights reserved 1

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