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Operators should look to network QoS as 'key differentiator'

Today's data-intensive network world means operators need to adopt service-first attitude toward assessing network functions and differentiating service offerings, say insiders, who add MPLS still plays key role.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

As information generated worldwide doubles every two years, there will be greater strain on existing networks to support this growth. However, industry watchers say existing standards and tools still work as long as operators keep their focus on achieving service standards to deliver the user experience promised to customers.

Aaron Tong, Asia-Pacific senior consulting system engineer at Juniper Networks, noted that existing standards and tools such as DiffServ and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) are still sufficient to maintain network quality of service (QoS) despite the exponential growth in data traffic. An earlier study by IDC noted that worldwide information growth was expected to reach 1.8 zettabytes in 2011.

Tong, though, pointed out a need to provide differentiated services to meet growing network and customer demands. Traditionally, service differentiation is defined by traffic classes such as voice, business data and best-effort Internet, the engineer explained, but the industry is seeing an increasing trend toward new services skewed for different classes of subscribers.

"Subscribers that are paying less may be directed to a lower-cost path where QoS is limited," he said. "On the other hand, better quality paths are reserved for premium subscribers that will receive better QoS."

Calvin Yeo, senior consultant at Ericsson Singapore & Brunei, added that offering the best user experience means companies need the right systems to control availability, speed, and quality of connection.

To achieve this, there are two things companies need to commit to, he noted. First, operators need to understand how users perceive the quality of the service provided. One way to achieve this is to first evaluate the way consumers utilize applications such as videos or online games on social networking sites, and determine their tolerance levels for service quality, he explained.

These findings can then be concretized into measurable service-quality indicators and targets, by applying the user-experience service performance concept, Yeo stated.

"Network operators need to be able to view and interact with the network using each one of the service-quality indicators, to make the business decisions that will enable them to deliver the desired level of service quality--and ensure user satisfaction."

The second element to achieving the desired user experience is to assess the network functions, such as QoS mechanisms, radio scheduling, and load regulation, by adopting a service-centric approach to each of these functions. This will allow limited network resources to be used in a suitably balanced manner, the consultant said.

"As mobile broadband grows in popularity, operators need policy control solutions that dynamically respond to ever-changing traffic conditions as subscribers move around and connect to various types of services," Yeo added.

Research firm Ovum also emphasized the growing importance of QoS in the mobile industry, pointing to a recent study that indicated QoS was viewed as the "most important distinguishing feature of mobile broadband services" by operators and vendors in Asia-Pacific.

Nicole McCormick, Ovum's senior analyst for telco strategy, said in the statement: "While coverage is still a key differentiator between some operators' services, the gap between incumbents and challengers has narrowed, putting more onus on QoS."

She added that many operators will increase their focus on QoS in 2012, and those that do not may well "face the wrath of regulators".

MPLS remains relevant
Asked if MPLS will continue to retain its relevance in the changing, data-intensive network landscape, Tong said the mechanism "definitely" remains relevant. After all, it is still the de facto standard technology for converged services network and its traffic engineering capability can help steer traffic to the right path, at the right time, he stated.

"This not only helps improve network QoS, but also maintains the network economy by fully utilizing network resources," the Juniper Networks executive mentioned.

Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst for networks at Informa Telecoms and Media, concurred. He said MPLS continues to be implemented by network operators and is currently more heavily utilized by fixed network operators compared with mobile operators.

Its function is also "very important", Mavrakis added, but noted that the protocol might not always receive the attention it deserves because it was not a revenue-generating investment for operators.

Yeo urged that MPLS also should be deployed correctly for operators to maximize its impact.

He said the mechanism was first created to improve packet performance in the core of the Internet. While it is still used for that purpose, it has also been adapted for other uses such as in optical packet transport networks to provide the required performance control for Internet Protocol-based (IP) services.

He suggested that once MPLS is deployed, the addition of MPLS Transport Profile--which applies a common methodology for provisioning and OAM (operations, administration and management)--will help to further reduce operational costs.

"The result takes the industry toward high QoS, end-to-end, IP-based services across multiple operator and vendor domains," Yeo concluded.

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