4G networks: putting customer experience at the center

smartfren 4G network
Assaf Aloni, VP – Marketing, CellMining, says the proliferation of 4G networks brings with it a price tag for operators – the increased cost of engineering labour required for pre-emptive maintenance to avoid degradation in service quality on legacy networks.

Statistics show that the vast majority of the subscriber base is still served by 3G/HSPDA and sometimes even GSM networks. This may just be in the interim phase of the LTE rollout, or due to subscriber demographics, device incompatibility or other reasons. So even leaving aside for a moment the challenge of optimizing 4G, the operator needs to focus their optimization efforts on live and often congested 2G/3G networks, often performed by the same team that rolls out and maintains the new 4G technology. This also means that interoperability between technologies must also be addressed, especially if these are provided by a different vendor.

The need therefore in the RF engineering and optimization therefore is to do more optimization with fewer resources. A winning strategy for vendors would be to automate, yet keep quality at a consistently high level across all the technologies provided by the operators, including 4G.

Sorting and steering

Without doubt, the greatest advantage delivered by 4G in terms of customer experience is in terms of faster data rates. However now that consumers are poised to purchase the latest devices to capitalize on that advantage, operators need a strategy to direct the right devices towards the right technologies. This is not trivial and will not happen automatically, and therefore operators need to invest in the right monitoring and optimization tools in order to assure better distribution of devices on compatible networks. The challenge for these tools is to support the robust analytics that map device types to the cell type and the network service it delivers. Good dynamic traffic steering capabilities will even be able to accelerate the retirement of legacy networks. This is of particular importance to large metropolitan areas such as Indian cities, where the re-farming the GSM spectrum is badly needed.

VoLTE service quality

In terms of subscriber growth, LTE is proving to be the most successful mobile communications standard ever. According to the latest figures produced by Ovum for the GSA, LTE and LTE-Advanced subscriptions worldwide reached over a billion by the end of 2015 — a total of 1.068 billion, more than half of which had been added during the last year, representing a staggering 107 percent annual growth rate.

With carriers emphasizing a strong commitment to VoLTE as a clear evolution path for voice, backed by a sound business case, it is surprising to note that less than 10 percent of the 480 operators who have so far launched LTE or LTE-Advanced networks have started offering VoLTE services commercially. The most prominent factor behind the slow adoption is quality.

More calls tend to drop over VoLTE, and poor audio will defeat the primary purpose of the service – high quality voice. One strategy to tackle this is the application of technology-agnostic SON and optimization solutions that can detect low call quality events when the subscriber was forced to hang-up and dial again, rather than the less common occurrence of the network abruptly disconnecting the call.

Subscriber Experience

LTE networks have been built on the premise of improved subscriber experience, and the delivery of faster rates is indeed happening. However within the operator’s organization there is apparently still a clear demarcation line between the Customer Experience team and the RAN team. The former is busy analyzing subscriber metrics from shops, contact centers and even social media, and is even busier producing subscriber satisfaction KPIs, painting subscriber experience maps and predicting churn and retention levels. While the RAN team just builds networks and powers up the cells. The two teams never connect, even though network service drives so much of the experience of the subscribers, whether it be negative or positive.

A good strategy for operators is to bring the two teams closer together, via both processes and a common technology platform. If the CX team took its subscriber-centric metrics from the network, its maps, KPIs and predictions would be more accurate. And conversely if RAN teams received subscriber-centric KPIs based on this data, they could improve the network KPIs and turn the experience around. This practice and thought process could and should drive the network optimization of any given network, replacing technical cell parameters that are used today to drive LTE, 3G and even 2G network optimization processes.

By Assaf Aloni, VP – Marketing, CellMining