White Paper: Seven Best Practices for Service Assurance in Cable

White Paper: Seven Best Practices for Service Assurance in Cable
White Paper
Seven Best Practices for Service
Assurance in Cable Networks
Prepared by
Alan Breznick
Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading
on behalf of
December 2014
By all accounts, cable operators are encountering mounting competition on multiple fronts these days. Besides dealing with fiercer-than-ever competition from telecom and satellite TV providers seeking to expand into cable's core markets, cable
operators are also running into powerful new rivals such as Google Fiber and coping
with the rising threat of video cord-cutting from "over the top" (OTT) providers such
as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.
Further, with an entire generation of young adults entering the workforce who have
never known a cable or telephone bill, just a wireless bill, cable operators are facing
a potentially huge sea change in consumer demand for their services. For this new
generation – likely the first of many to come – the smartphone acts as a communications hub that's restricted only by their wireless carrier's limitations on data usage.
These users constitute a growing cadre of "cord-nevers," rather than cord-cutters.
Faced with such developments, cable operators are now embracing IP technologies
and networks like never before, as a way to deliver more advanced video, data,
voice and multimedia services to both residential and commercial subscribers and
stay a step ahead of their ambitious rivals. They are also looking to appeal to those
young, mobile-oriented, Web-savvy consumers who may not be inclined to simply
follow in their parents' footsteps and subscribe to traditional pay TV services. Cable
providers are leveraging IP to introduce faster broadband speeds, multi-screen video,
WiFi, metro Ethernet, VoIP and advanced business services, to name just a few.
Cable operators are particularly looking to use IP technology to deliver more advanced video services to customers, such as Internet video, network-based digital
video recorders (DVRs), cloud-based user interfaces, mobile video and remote DVR
programming. In addition, they are seeking to deliver live and on-demand video
streaming services to a rapidly growing array of IP-connected consumer devices
both in and outside the home, including connected TV sets, PCs, laptops, gaming
consoles, smartphones, iPads and other tablets.
In North America, for instance, such leading MSOs as Comcast, Time Warner Cable,
Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Rogers Communications have already launched live TV feeds of their linear programming lineups for iPads, iPhones,
Android phones and tablets, and other mobile devices in subscribers' homes. And
increasingly, as they gain the all-important content licensing rights, cable operators
are starting to stream live TV to mobile devices outside the home as well.
But even as cable operators make this essential conversion to IP-based products
and services, they are potentially missing out on other prime opportunities that IP
technologies and networks have to offer. Specifically, they are missing out on the
chance to play influential new roles in the emerging IP value chain as the separation
of IP services from IP networks continues to change the world – not just for MSOs, but
all communications service providers.
One such critical role is the orchestration of IP service delivery on behalf of the "long
tail" of third-party application and content owners and their shared subscribers. To
fulfill this role, cable operators must develop a comprehensive view of network users
and their services, as well as the infrastructure that these services travel across and
the devices used to access them. MSOs can use this comprehensive view to help
monitor, manage and manipulate service delivery on a per-subscriber, per-service
basis, so that they can meet the expectations of both customers and partners while
managing growing traffic volumes and controlling rising delivery costs.
Fortunately, cable operators are in an excellent position to play this service delivery
orchestration role, because of the reach, flexibility and quality of their hybrid fiber/
coax (HFC) networks. But they will need to overcome some of the major technical,
operational and other challenges associated with IP service delivery.
For one thing, the service delivery infrastructure is growing more complex, due to
the layered nature of IP service architectures, the proliferation of new consumer
electronics devices and the fragmentation of the IP services value chain. For another, the surge in demand for content and data services is causing an explosion in
network traffic, requiring continual expansion of the infrastructure to handle it. In
addition, services are increasingly transforming into "blends" of different service
components from multiple providers that need seamless management and delivery
against a single service-level agreement (SLA). Finally, many cable operators have
yet to adapt their mindsets and internal operations to a dynamic IP environment,
which is a far throw from the certainties of their legacy world.
This white paper proposes a new, broader approach to IP-based service assurance
would help cable operators play this orchestration role and reduce the complexity
of delivering services in an IP environment. While MSOs will still need to manage their
networks and carry out familiar service assurance processes, they will need a far
broader and a more unified set of functions to successfully orchestrate IP service
delivery management. All stakeholders involved in service delivery over IP will need
to tap into rich intelligence that identifies the complex interactions among services,
networks, subscribers and their devices; visualizes this data in an accessible way;
and enables stakeholders to act proactively within their domains.
The Rapidly Changing Cable Landscape
Over the last few years, the technical, operational and competitive landscape has
shifted dramatically for cable operators, leaving many of them scratching their
heads about the best ways to succeed in the future. First, cable providers now face
a very different set of pay TV and broadband rivals than they did just five years ago.
The competitive challenges to cable's 65-year rule of the pay TV market are multiplying and intensifying. In the U.S., for instance, such rivals as DirecTV, Dish Network,
Verizon and AT&T are aggressively expanding their digital video, HD, on-demand,
DVR, mobile video, multiscreen video and other next-generation video offerings.
In addition, cable operators must deal with the changing expectations of their subscribers. No longer content to just take whatever channels, bundles and service
quality are offered to them, consumers are increasingly demanding that MSOs deliver more compelling choices. Having gotten a taste of better picture quality from
satellite TV providers such as DirecTV, better user interface guides from competitive
players such as TiVo and greater content choice from Netflix and other leading OTT
providers, consumers are increasingly expecting MSOs to match these offerings.
Also, consumers are increasingly expecting cable operators to provide better access to premium content. As competitive video providers offer easier, less complicated and lower-priced selections of premium programming, cable operators are
feeling more price pressure on their premium bundles. As a result, MSOs are finally
starting to explore à la carte programming and simpler, less costly routes to premium
channels and packages.
Further, consumers are increasingly seeking to watch their desired content on any
device, anywhere, at any time. No longer satisfied with viewing shows on their home
TV sets at a time arbitrarily established by a programming network or pay TV provider, they want to view those shows whenever and wherever they want, whether
they're using a tablet, smartphone, Xbox game console, smart TV, OTT set-top or
other video-enabled device. So cable operators must satisfy these demands by
extending their content to multiple devices, both inside and outside the home, as
quickly as possible.
Besides coping with the changes in the competitive environment and consumers'
expectations, cable providers have to deal with today's rapid technological
changes. With the accelerating shift toward IP-enabled delivery networks in the pay
TV and telecom environments, MSOs must make that transition themselves to keep
up with their rivals, extend their reach, streamline their distribution systems and cut
costs. Plus, they must carry out this tricky transition without disrupting service to their
tens of millions of existing video, voice and data subscribers.
What's more, as the IP service revolution picks up speed, cable providers must find
more ways to tap into the freedom this revolution offers them. That means using IP
technology to create and enable new services and products for residential customers. In particular, it means creating and enabling new cloud-based services, such
as IP video user guides, network DVR service, and search and navigation tools.
Similarly, cable providers must leverage IP technologies to create and enable new
services and products for commercial customers, including advanced VoIP, Ethernet, mobile broadband, WiFi, desktop video conferencing and managed services.
As on the residential side, this means creating and enabling new cloud-based services, including remote backup, online security, data recovery and retrieval, and
software as a service (SaaS).
Figure 1: The Impact of the Changing Cable Landscape
Emergence of new
competitive rivals
Competitive challenges to cable's pay TV dominance are
multiplying and intensifying, putting greater pressure on MSOs.
Consumers expecting
better service offerings
Cable operators must find ways to improve user interfaces,
programming guides, picture quality and content choices.
Customers seeking better
Cable providers start exploring the idea of offering à la carte
access to premium content programming choices to subscribers, instead of just bundles.
Subscribers demanding
multiscreen content ondemand
Cable operators scramble to extend their reach to other devices, both inside and outside the home, and secure needed
content rights.
Accelerating transition to
IP technology
Cable providers must speed up their own upgrades to all-IP
networks to streamline distribution systems and reduce costs.
Need to offer cloudbased services
Cable operators begin turning to the cloud to introduce new
products and services quicker and more efficiently.
Need to create new
commercial services
Cable providers turn to IP technology and the cloud to offer
new products and services to business customers as well.
Source: Heavy Reading
The Case for Advanced Service Assurance
To carry out such complex service orchestration tasks, cable operators clearly need
to invest more heavily in service assurance strategies and methods. Greater investment in service assurance is critical for operators because it leads to higher customer satisfaction rates and lower churn rates. As a result, service assurance can
become a critical differentiator for MSOs in their competitive battles with telcos,
satellite TV providers, Internet video players and other rivals.
Thus, it's not all that difficult to build a strong rationale for cable operators to invest
more heavily in service assurance tools and technologies. In fact, there are several
prime reasons why cable operators should start making those investments right now,
as discussed below.
First, with the aid of service assurance methods, cable providers can more effectively measure and improve the quality of experience (QoE) for their customers. With
the high bar set by the home TV viewing experience, for instance, MSOs face growing pressure to offer similar high-quality viewing experiences to viewers using numerous other video-enabled devices, including laptops, tablets, smartphones and
game consoles.
At the same time, delivering a high QoE to the customer can be more complex in
a mobile environment, because it requires ready signal access and quick service
authentication no matter where the subscriber is located or may be roaming. High
QoE also requires constant monitoring of service delivery because bandwidth conditions and other factors are constantly changing. Service assurance enables cable
providers to deliver a consistent, seamless viewing experience on all screens, in all
locations, at all times, no matter how the devices may vary in bandwidth capacity,
video resolution, screen size and overall capability.
Second, service assurance enables cable operators to deploy their technologies,
equipment and services more efficiently. With its assistance, MSOs can more effectively track and target where and when to launch new services, make necessary
fixes, upgrade systems and equipment and upsell new premium services and products. In other words, they can make changes as the user experience dictates, instead of relying on guesstimates.
Further, by investing more heavily in service assurance, cable operators can take
immediate steps to boost their operational efficiencies and increase coordination
among various business units. Thus, it represents a "take charge," proactive strategy,
rather than a more passive, reactive strategy.
Specifically, cable providers can improve operational efficiencies by reducing their
closely related mean-time-to-knowledge (MTTK) and mean-time-to-resolve (MTTR).
MTTK is a critical component of MTTR, because it turns out to be the biggest factor
in the overall time it takes to resolve a problem on the network. If the time that it
takes to learn the problem can be drastically cut, so can the overall time that it
takes to resolve the problem.
With the aid of service assurance, cable operators can also increase coordination
among their different, sometimes warring departments. For instance, they can
make it easier for such disparate divisions as engineering, planning and marketing
to work together smoothly as one large, integrated team with joint goals, rather
than individual units with their own separate agendas.
Figure 2: Prime Reasons for Greater Service Assurance
Measure and improve the
quality of the customer's
In response to higher expectations, cable operators can offer
better viewing experiences over a wide range of devices.
Deploy new technologies,
equipment and services
Cable providers can track and target new service launches,
product upgrades and network repairs more effectively.
Boost operational
efficiencies and enhance
coordination among units
With increased operating efficiencies and greater unit coordination, cable operators can reduce their time-to-market.
Track and resolve problems
sooner and quicker
Cable providers can also leverage these greater operating
efficiencies to diagnose and fix problems preemptively.
Source: Heavy Reading
The Key Goals of Advanced Service Assurance
Beyond investing more heavily in basic service assurance, cable operators need to
put greater resources into more sophisticated service delivery management.
Whereas basic service assurance focuses on preventing, finding and fixing problems
in the service delivery network, next-generation service delivery management goes
much deeper, focusing on actually bringing new and existing services to subscribers.
This more advanced version of service assurance requires that cable operators
meet a number of critical targets. In fact, Heavy Reading and NetScout have identified five key goals for next-generation, IP-oriented service delivery management
to achieve, as described below.
1. Proactively Detect Problems Occurring in the Network or Service: This goal can
be accomplished through an early warning system that leverages IP traffic to understand how the network, services and multi-dimensional nature of IP networking work.
The chief aim of any early warning system is to identify service performance issues
before large numbers of users are affected.
In the intelligent early warning system envisioned here, alerts are automatically sent
out on any emerging network, service or application performance issue or service
degradation beyond pre-defined threshold levels, as well as any potential security
threat, such as an excessive amount of authentication failures from a WiFi access
point, or a spike in outbound voice traffic from an IP address to a location known
for voice fraud. The system quickly locates and identifies any emerging problem,
making it easier to resolve. The system also provides a simplified, easy-to-read view
into end-to-end service delivery.
2. Improve the User Experience: By understanding network and service performance from a customer-centric view (in other words, a service view by location, by
device and by service), cable operators can improve the customer experience by
slicing operations by service, rather than by network layer. Naturally, it is critical for
cable providers to manage the performance of their networks, services and applications. Effective monitoring plays a huge role in this management process.
So what's needed are comprehensive network performance monitoring views –
ranging from application traffic flows to full packet payload details – in the core,
distribution and access areas of the network, as well as within virtualized data center
environments. With these comprehensive views, cable providers can effectively
monitor and troubleshoot the services that they deliver to their customers, allowing
operators to optimize their network investments and grow key infrastructure as usage demands.
3. Optimize the Network and Services: Knowing the unique service being offered,
as well as the market or user being targeted, cable operators can effectively and
efficiently provision resources to the service. This knowledge enables operators to
optimize the capex and opex investments they have made in their networks and
new services.
4. Provide a Consistent User Experience: Cable operators can deliver a consistent
experience to users through the consistent application of service and policy. Such
application ensures that customers receive the same priority of service no matter
where they go. Voice traffic always receives top priority, while high-speed Internet
and video (premium/pay/standard) traffic are appropriately provisioned and tiered
to offer the maximum user experience.
5. Increase Operational & Business Intelligence: It's all about having a better understanding of customer consumption of network and services, including where, when
and how they are being consumed. It's about having a better understanding of
consumer behavior and how that behavior shifts over time. Most importantly, it's
about having the best, most consistent data on which to base those decisions. It's
also about being able to build up a data set with history. And it's about being able
to layer over that data set any analytics engine the operator prefers, along with the
flexibility to change the analytics engine, yet still preserve the underlying data and
porting it to the next analytics engine.
Figure 3: Five Key Goals for Cable Service Assurance
Proactively detect network & service problems
Create an early warning system leveraging IP traffic to identify
service performance issues before many users are affected
Improve the user
Improve the customer's experience by slicing operations by
services, devices and location, rather than by network layer.
Optimize the network &
Provision resources to services more effectively by knowing both
the services being offered and the markets/users being targeted.
Provide a consistent
user experience
Apply service and policy consistently to ensure that customers receive the same priority of service no matter where they go.
Increase operational &
business intelligence
Develop a deeper understanding of consumer behavior trends,
customer consumption patterns and related data to make the
best decisions.
Source: Heavy Reading
Best Practices for Advanced Service Assurance
Now that we have spelled out the five key goals of service delivery management
systems, let's look at the ways that cable operators can meet these prime targets.
In this section, we lay out the seven practices for achieving these goals.
1. Adopt an IP-Oriented Mindset: The management activities that support an IPbased service delivery orchestration role go well beyond traditional service assurance approaches. Cable operators will need to manage network performance,
albeit in a dynamic and more extensive environment, with multimedia and dataoriented "bursty" traffic over broadband networks, rather than video traffic over RF
networks. MSOs will also have to manage the performance of individual applications with a wide variety of traffic profiles, ranging from OTT apps to latency-sensitive,
mission-critical and branded services.
Cable operators will have to deal with complex interdependencies between applications and the infrastructure over which they are being delivered. And MSOs must
understand the impact of application and network performance at an individual
customer level so they can deliver the customer experience that underpins the SLAs
and business models for which subscribers have signed up. Cable operators need
to switch their existing service assurance mindsets and "siloed" operations away from
"just" managing the network toward an understanding of the broader, unified set of
processes involved in managing IP service delivery.
2. Gain a Unified View of Multi-Dimensional Problems: To orchestrate IP service delivery, cable operators need a comprehensive view of their networks, encompassing
their own services, third-party services, and subscribers and their devices. There are
complex interdependencies between each and all of these. Every element of service
delivery, whether hardware, software or human, can affect any of the others. Without
a complete picture of these interdependencies and their status at any given time,
MSOs will end up with operational blind spots. To complete their unified view, cable
providers may need to extend their vision across the value chain when third-party
content and application providers are involved in service creation and delivery. As
part of this unified view, cable operators also need greater visibility into what's occurring on both the data and control plane levels of their networks so they can monitor
and improve service performance and reliability more effectively and efficiently.
3. Take a Customer-Centric Approach: Cable operators must be able to relate their
view of the entire service delivery environment back to each individual customer or
a community of like-minded customers. Consider, for example, a group of iPad users
watching on-demand programming on their tablets. In this scenario, the users may
be distributed widely, but there is still a strong commonality among them. Other
demographic splits might be by region or market.
Cable operators must also be able to track and monitor the delivery path that every
service takes across their infrastructure (and potentially the infrastructure of their
partners) if they are going to provide the correct level of customer experience for
every subscriber or each group of like-minded subscribers. Thus, a customer-centric
approach is key to supporting new IP business models, managing operational costs
and optimizing service delivery.
4. Support Multiple Types of Services: A cable provider's approach to service delivery
management should apply to any service it is called upon to deliver, both today and
in the future. A cable operator should have visibility of, and the ability to orchestrate,
the delivery of any service across its infrastructure, regardless of the type or value of
the service – be it communications, content, cloud or whatever comes next. This
means the approach must be extensible to embrace service delivery across new
equipment that may be added to the MSO's infrastructure in support of a new service, such as IP video and HDTV, or to new devices that generate demand for new
types of applications, such as Apple's iPhone and iPad have done.
5. Support Multiple Service Delivery Stakeholders: In the past, a single function, service
assurance, has been responsible for the quality of service delivery. But in the all-IP
environment, multiple functions in a cable operator's organization will need to have
visibility into different aspects of service delivery to ensure that all the dimensions of
service delivery orchestration are covered. The service assurance function will be
involved in the day-to-day performance aspects of service delivery, while capacity
planners will want to keep an eye on each service's consumption of bandwidth and
how this might affect the customer experience. Service operations will want to track
how successful new service rollouts have been, while client managers will need
early warning that a customer's mission-critical application is running into trouble.
A product manager can benefit from knowing whether customers are receiving the
response times the cable provider has been promoting and glean ideas for new
service innovations. Meanwhile, content partners will want to be kept informed that
SLAs around the delivery of their content/applications are being met. If an MSO
invests in creating a unified picture of its service delivery environment, it should enable all service delivery stakeholders to view relevant aspects of the picture in the
ways that best suit them.
6. Move From Reactive to Proactive & Real-Time Management of the Service Delivery
Environment: Orchestration is an inherently proactive and real-time role; it is simply not
possible to orchestrate service delivery reactively. Cable operators must use their
enhanced knowledge of subscribers and services to orchestrate their service delivery
infrastructure end-to-end – including subscriber devices – so that they can fulfill these
requirements. What this means is using the unified picture they have of the service
delivery environment to identify, and proactively fix, any areas that might prevent
them from hitting SLAs or delivering excellent customer experience. Proactively ensuring that the right service delivery infrastructure is working in the right way at the right
time to deliver the right level of service is a key part of IP service delivery orchestration.
As part of this approach, operators should look at their "service enablers." Such components as DNS, DHCP and AAA servers are fundamental in the establishment and
delivery of services. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked because they usually
serve numerous functions and applications and, with packet flow monitoring, it can
be almost impossible to track them on an application/service level.
Proactive, real-time management also means dealing with complexity. IP service
delivery infrastructures are far more complex than legacy networks, and they will
grow even more complex in the future. The modular, layered nature of an IP architecture introduces many more components than exist in legacy networks, and cable
operators will need visibility of – and the ability to orchestrate across – all of them.
These include customer devices; components in access, backhaul and core networks; control plane enablers responsible for authenticating and authorizing service
requests, as well as charging for them; and data center components, such as application servers on which services are running (and any intervening equipment that
might also need to be orchestrated, such as firewalls, load balancers, caches, etc.).
If a cable provider is orchestrating the delivery of third-party or blended services, it
will need to manage third-party infrastructure components as well. Cable operators
will require a way of abstracting this complexity, while still being able to drill down
into it to resolve the root causes of complex service delivery problems.
7. Deliver Performance at Scale: Cable providers will need to orchestrate service
delivery across large-scale IP environments, in which they will inevitably be handling,
and trying to make sense of, very large sets of data associated with service delivery
on a per-subscriber, per-service basis. Therefore, any approach to service delivery
orchestration must be able to manipulate large volumes of data in a highly efficient,
cost-effective way that supports the MSO's business and customer experience goals.
To achieve such scale, cable operators need to automate the capture and use of
intelligence. The ability to apply a high level of automation to service delivery orchestration is critical to managing costs and dealing with scale and complexity.
Without automation, MSOs will be unable to build unified, multi-dimensional views
of their service delivery environments, disseminate these views in a timely way to
multiple service delivery stakeholders and proactively manage service delivery
paths on a per-subscriber, per-service basis. Instead, they will be delivering services
blind, unable to identify and resolve delivery problems in time and incurring large
customer management costs and risking subscriber churn.
By carrying out these best practices, cable operators will go a long way toward
ensuring that their networks are future-proof. While IP is the new constant in the
world of networks, both it and the technology it runs over will continue to evolve
and change over time. Cable operators should make sure that the management
processes and technologies they are putting in place to support IP service delivery
today can support future services, protocols and generations of mobile and fixed
technologies as they are introduced.
Figure 4: Seven Best Practices for Cable Service Assurance
Adopt an IP-oriented
Manage performance with multimedia and data traffic over
broadband networks, rather than video traffic over RF networks.
Gain a unified view of
Develop a comprehensive view of one's networks that covers
own services, third-party services, subscribers and devices.
Take a customercentric approach
Relate one's view of entire service delivery environment back to
each individual customer or group of like-minded customers.
Support multiple types
of services
Be able to orchestrate, the delivery of any service across its
infrastructure, regardless of the type or value of the service.
Support multiple service
delivery stakeholders
Create visibility into service delivery for many units so that all
dimensions of service delivery orchestration can be covered.
Move to proactive,
real-time management
of service delivery
Use enhanced knowledge of subscribers and services to orchestrate the service delivery infrastructure from end to end.
Deliver performance
at scale
Manipulate large volumes of data in an efficient, cost-effective
way by automating the capture and use of data.
Source: Heavy Reading
Cable operators are clearly on the hot seat right now. Facing stiff competitive
threats everywhere they turn, operators are under greater pressure than ever to deliver more sophisticated products, services and features to their existing customers
and keep them happy. Operators are also under greater pressure to develop new,
innovative bundling packages and pricing plans to appeal to their ever more demanding prospective customers – especially the new generation of consumers not
attuned to paying for multi-channel video service.
Due to such pressures, cable providers are wisely turning to IP-based technology for
their salvation. With the embrace of IP, cable providers can deliver the more advanced products, services and features they need to compete, including cloudbased DVRs, Internet video, WiFi-based home networking and metro Ethernet.
But the adoption of IP technology alone is simply not enough; the implementation
of a much higher level of customer service assurance is critically needed as well.
Without greater service assurance and improved service delivery, cable operators
will not be able to track and target their new services effectively and boost QoE for
their customers. Nor will they be able to increase their operational effectiveness and
efficiency or improve the coordination of their disparate business units.
Fortunately, there are steps that cable providers can start taking now to optimize
their service delivery management and orchestration. By following the seven best
practices spelled out in this white paper, they can ensure that their freshly minted IP
networks can meet the demands of both today's services and products and tomorrow's. As customer demands evolve and grow, providers will be able to evolve and
grow as well, rather than constantly reacting in desperate attempts to catch up.
In other words, a high level of service assurance has become a must-have in the
swiftly emerging IP environment. It's high time for cable operators to start treating it
that way.
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