It’s been said that data is the new oil. If that’s true, communications service providers (CSPs) have struck it rich. Their networks collect a vast amount of data on customers, all of which can be used to deliver better customer experiences and new, revenue-generating services. Mobile network data analytics is the opportunity that CSPs have waited for, as they look to transform their business model from communications providers to digital service providers.
In order to deliver better digital engagement and personalized experiences, CSPs need more than real-time accurate data. They need robust mobile network analytics to gain valuable customer insights, identify operational efficiencies, predict future demand and create new services that customers want. There’s just one small problem with all that: Very few CSPs are actually analyzing their network data to do any of those things.
Shortcomings on Current Approaches to Network Analytics
From the beginning, mobile networks were designed as tightly coupled systems that featured hardware-based probes to collect data and deliver insights. With the move to NFV-based networks, the physical probe paradigm became obsolete. Physical probes didn’t scale well, and they weren’t designed to monitor virtual infrastructures, which are dynamic in nature.
To address these shortcomings, passive virtual probes were introduced. These were implemented as separate network functions but, as network traffic loads increased, virtual probes began to take a heavy toll on network performance. A virtual packet gateway, for example, might spend more than half its resources just performing data copy operations for the passive virtual probe.
As if cutting performance in half weren’t bad enough, CSPs now had to double the amount of hardware just to get the same performance from the packet gateway and other functions. Faced with the added complexity and cost of virtual probes, many CSPs opted to either abandon mobile network analytics initiatives altogether or limit them to very specific areas such as service assurance. And so the opportunity to drive new revenue streams fueled by network data analytics was lost.
A New Era of Integrated Virtual Probes and Analytics Arrives
Affirmed Networks did more than radically change how mobile networks were designed and delivered; we also pioneered the first integrated virtual probe and analytics solution. With Affirmed’s virtual probe solution, vProbe, CSPs can get real-time mobile network analytics and intelligence in a highly scalable manner without the performance degradation that results with physical or traditional virtual probes.
How did we create a network probe solution that could scale simply across global networks and still cut costs by more than half? By following these five guiding design principles:
1. Integrate the probing function with the network function.
Most virtual probes add packet latency, complexity, and cost – and drain computer resources – because they add an extra step in the network as data packets move from the network function to the probe function. But the best source of network data is the actual network function itself, so we integrated vProbe with it. Now, as the network functions scales, the probing function scales with it, cutting probing costs in half.
2. Simplify with single-touch packet handling.
You can think of a data packet as information sealed in an envelope, complete with a destination address. Most systems open the packet each time they need to perform a function such as content inspection or optimization. Affirmed vProbe opens the packet once to perform everything – heuristics, video optimization, content filtering, CG-NAT forwarding, etc. – then closes the packet and sends it on its way. Single touch is simply more efficient.
3. Create finely grained, intelligent event data records.
In order to better harness, mine and gain insights from the information collected by a probe, data records must be delivered in an open, consistent and granular fashion. This applies to both control plane and user plane information, on a per-flow and individual customer level. Finely grained mobile network data leads to more precision.
4. Enable real-time analytics.
As customers access content, watch videos, and make calls, they’re sharing invaluable, real-time information about their behavior and interests, as well as about your network – information that can be used to capitalize on revenue-generating opportunities, identify network performance bottlenecks, ferret out fraud and more. The reality is that opportunities and issues happen in real-time, and you either have the information you need to drive intelligent decision-making, or you don’t.
5. Embrace open standards.
Architectural openness is vital for modern software platforms. Affirmed vProbe provides open access to session information using Google’s standards-based protocol buffers to create data records. These can easily be integrated with a variety of third-party network analytics tools to deliver real-time insight into network operations, network security, network planning, and marketing activities.
Digital leaders leverage data to deliver engaging customer experiences, which is why they’re the world’s most valued companies. Legacy infrastructure and approaches, meanwhile, have stunted CSPs’ ability to capture, see and act on the wealth of information that flows through their networks. To take advantage of the next generation of business opportunities such as IoT, 5G services and AI-driven customer engagement, real-time mobile network analytics are an absolute must. With Affirmed vProbe, CSPs no longer have an excuse not to dive deeply into data analytics.
In a world where everyone is competing to deliver digital services, CSPs need to leverage their data for a competitive advantage. Now, more than ever, it’s oil or nothing.