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Converged network access: the role of service assurance

Written by Alejandro Medina, CTO

Published by VanillaPlus on 18th November 2022

Many are the challenges that network operators face, several of which are commonly shared. But limited resources and lack of specialised skills and competencies in-house often let unsolved challenges impact negatively for too long the business flexibility and efficiency of communications service providers (CSPs), their operational costs and, ultimately, their customer churn.
Given the scenario, I believe sharing expertise with other industry players and working co-operatively to solve a common challenge is the way forward to bring innovation to life with results that often exceed expectations.
Take the issue of networks access, for example. The multiple access domain types, the advancements in technology and the variety of vendors and products available on the market have turned network access into a real ‘spaghetti jungle’ that operators find increasingly difficult to manage with speed and efficiency while honouring SLAs. Having extensive experience in service assurance, Future Connections decided to join other specialist vendors and operators to develop an innovative reference model that would simplify network access through convergence while guaranteeing service qualification. The TM Forum ‘Converged access for ODA’ Catalyst proof-of-concept project was set up and all parties involved got working leveraging their own expertise to find a robust solution that could delight both operators and end users.

Network access: the current situation

Today the OSS is formed of a collection of vendor access technologies. Regardless of the type of services offered – fixed, mobile or satellite -,  major Tier 1 operators around the world count the number of their EMS/NMS in hundreds. Complexity is further increased by the vendor proprietary interfaces between the FCAPS layer and the EMS/NMS. The resulting cost to maintain and operate all the different stacks is widely estimated to be close to $1M per year per EMS/NMS.
In addition, the organisational structure of CSPs is inherently siloed. The product marketing team defines, builds and sells services by access technology (IPTV over LTE, BB TV over Fiber, TV over copper, etc.). This generates competitiveness among various departments of the same company to win the biggest customer base. Furthermore, all the services provided to the subscribers require qualification regardless of the chosen access technology, in order to make sure that they deliver on the agreed SLAs.
As if it were not enough, subscribers are unrealistically expected to display good technical knowledge whenever they call the Service Desk to choose what access technology-based service fits their needs best.
Network access shouldn’t be so complicated and cumbersome for both service provider and service subscriber.

Service assurance contribution to the Catalyst project

The solution developed by the Catalyst team is demonstrated focusing on the use case of a subscriber wanting to move the services to a new location. The work involved the use of TM Forum Service Qualification 645 API and Service Text 653 API, embracing the concept of Open Digital Architecture.
In this project, Future Connections led the development of the assurance component of the new access mode. More specifically, it took care of:

  • The service qualification and selection process
  • The quality of the performance in terms of throughput
  • The monitoring of the level of throughput required

The solution implemented by Future Connections reads from the catalogue and understands the SLA for each service by profiling and collecting performance data of the typical resource consumption of the active users and the service quality at the original location.
When a request for qualification is received due to a service activation request in a different location, Future Connections’ solution analyses the resources available in the new location and compares them with the typical resource utilisation (the SLA) at the original location.
Based on the results of this analysis, the solution then recommends the best access technology available in the new location that provides the service quality level required under the SLA and without any service degradation for the subscriber in the new location.
Once the match is found, the solution monitors the situation and communicates automatically to the orchestrator the changes required to meet the SLA at all times.
Thanks to the expert assurance service contribution of Future Connections, CSPs can define their own strategy. Choosing to implement the access technology recommended by the solution each time makes it easier to dismantle or swap technologies when needed as well as to plan for specific events. The subscribers are no longer required to engage in technology-heavy conversations when they simply want to move to a new location the services that they are already used to enjoy. Customer satisfaction remains undented and strengthened, reducing the customer churn rate of the operator.

Conclusions

The new converged access reference model was recently presented at Digital Transformation World ’22 attracting  considerable interest among operators and service providers. It also went on to win the TM Forum ‘Best new Catalyst in show’ award.
This collaboration project is just an example of how service assurance can play an important role when bringing innovative ideas to life. I also believe that if the new converged access reference model itself, now looking beyond its proof-of-concept stage, is the centre of further collaboration efforts and progresses towards commercialisation, we will see new opportunities being unlocked for further networks and processes simplification, convergence and automation, to the benefit of all.

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