Ali Pourtaheri, CEO of CommProve, the new brand name for network monitoring and quality of assurance company Simtel, says that operators need to make drive testing a thing of the past if they truly want to get to grips with what is happening in their networks. 24/7 network monitoring can have a direct impact on halting revenue leakage, increasing customer satisfaction and lessening spending on network planning and design. Keith Dyer hears what real quality of service means and the reasons for that rebranding.
Ali, I understand you have some strong views on the lack of a future for drive testing as a means to discover and uncover network performance and customer experience?
I think that generally the trend is for really lean operators to realise that there are now more effective and powerful options to drive testing. That’s what we are driven to believe — and we are supporting that market evolution so there is a solution to enable operators to get much more insight than drive tests offer. Because of that we believe the drive test is now redundant.
So why do you think drive testing is facing the end of the road?
There are three bottlenecks for drive tests which you can get rid of in a real time network reporting environment. One is that if the geographical distance is necessarily defined between, say, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, then your knowledge is limited to that area and you are then trying to make a real judgement from that on your frequency plan and so on. Two, you have to decide to carry out your drive test at a particular time of day. Say you test an area at 10am and the biggest usage in that cell is in the evening, then your view of that cell is very limited. Third, the information you are working with is simulated from test mobiles. You’re not talking about observing the transaction between real users and the data flows between them.
The subsequent problems caused by these three bottlenecks in our view means a lean operator should avoid doing drive tests. The general planning is quite cumbersome. You have to plan cars and engineers doing the data collection and deal with the resulting inefficiency of that. Then there is the post processing of the data and taking that down to a specific frequency plan, TRX etc. You can implement those changes based on data from your drive testing, and when you have done that you have no idea if the decisions you took were the right ones because you can’t reassess that until the next drive test. So it may be two months before you see the next test results.
OK, so granted the whole process is a very complicated procedure, what’s the alternative and why is it any better?
Our alternative network monitoring system puts our probe on the ABIS.
That provides real-time monitoring of exactly what users are doing and of network behaviour based on real network transactions. So not only is it 24/7 information but it is real data — not simulated behaviour from test mobiles. Also, in terms of geography you cover the whole network, so every single subscriber becomes your drive tester.
What we are talking about is operators gaining a major lift in data on network quality, dropped calls, handover failure, all the indicators of the quality of their customers’ experience. All of this gives me the confidence to make that claim that the drive test is redundant. You know, there must be a major question about how statistically valid the information from a drive test is. If you have 30 million subscribers, your drive test information is so limited compared to that number of subs, you have to question how relevant that information actually is. And I might say hearing that from me is quite controversial given that I founded Ubinetics, which once had 100% market share of the test mobile market. CommProve is about servicing the need to give operators that lift from the previous tools available.
What use can operators make of this level of real time network information?
The first is for optimisation. Then there is its use in troubleshooting, to drill down and see the specific part of the GRX in Trafalgar Square in real time. Three, for planning and, four, your customer care department can see a service’s end to end behaviour and, fifth, you can stop revenue leakages and security problems as well. This information also really addresses two different trends among operators. First, they are recognising that radio technology stands for over 80% of their problems in the network, and there is a need to see a key focus on the optimisation of the RAN, and understanding that.
The second is for content delivery monitoring which is where stopping revenue leakage comes in. Losses in content delivery can be on the MMS loop itself, or in the SMS to tell users where the MMS is. We can monitor the throughput and delays and the effectiveness of each loop. For example, if the SMS doesn’t come in order and the user doesn’t get the MMS link and can’t pick it up — it is revenue loss.
Another element is the importance of network expansion. If you set up a new base station, currently operators do their theoretical RF planning and then place their site. Then they make their frequency plan, and start to see subscribers operate in it, before gathering information and going back and re-working their plans. With live network monitoring systems you can put a transmitter where you think the site may be, and then input frequency into the neighbouring cells and immediately you can see the impact of that and move on with finding the best solution. The major benefit is that it gets around the headache operators have always had which is that once a base station is installed, you can’t then move it around to suit your needs.
You also mentioned security. How can live monitoring help there?
On security, obviously there are the 911 kind of safety and security issues which are a major element. But secondly, also you can make sure content on your network has the right form. I really think spam is increasing and is producing a significant amount to telephones and PDAs. It will be a major issue in two years. There is also a significant amount of expectation that many service providers will use 3G to deliver adult content and that will further drive the levels of adult spam accordingly. The other worry is if there is a risk on the SGSN/ GGSN for a GPRS handheld PDA to create spam back to the network and bringing down the GGSN/ SGSN.
Something we see here at Mobile Europe is the increasing need for operators to be able to measure SLAs for corporate and business customers, and monitor quality of service in general.
We have seen that too and our customers do provide a number of SLAs to corporate customers but the issue is how to measure it. The issue for operators is if you promise a level of accountability on throughput or data service to major subscribers, then how do you measure it? Currently operators are struggling to measure SLAs because they do not monitor a number of interfaces well enough to be able to do SLAs. We do have a number of contracts for measuring and reporting on SLAs. So yes we have this kind of reporting capability and I see it as a growth area.
What is it about monitoring the ABIS that provides you with this quality of information?
Capturing the right information is very important — I always say if you put garbage in you get garbage out. Data collection is about when, where and how. One traditional way has been to use counters from the network elements, such as the BTS nodes. The main network equipment vendors offer different sets of counters and different visibility of information. So therefore, ABIS monitoring gives all the information you need, you know IMSS, TMSS, subscriber info. And when you add location you have exact information about subscribers.
You know, some operators don’t want to see the network quality problems they have. Take the example of UK operators who say they have no coverage problems around the M25 [the London orbital highway]. But all of us who have driven on it know that the percentage of dropped calls is very high. One thing is that if you make a call and it drops then it only registers as a dropped call to the the network if there is no channel activation after 5-7 seconds. But if the user terminates the call before then because he cannot get a connection then that call does not register with the network. Or say a user ends a call because the quality is very poor, then again that is not registered as a dropped call. But if we know the RX and TX quality level when the drop happens, the operator knows that it was a dropped call because of the quality of the link.
Generating that amount and level of network information presumably means it is essential you can integrate very closely with an operators’ existing OSS environment and systems.
Netledge [the CommProve product] integrates into existing OSS environments. We don’t say it “sits on top of it or at the heart of it, or that it’s a completely new architecture on the OSS”, any of these euphemisms. It is fully integrated to the existing OSS, with south and northbound integration to performance management, radio planning, and to mediation and billing. From that point of view systems integrators are not too happy with us because we are not creating a lot of consultancy work for the them! I hear very clearly the concern that the OSS vendors come in, sell software and then there are significant consulting costs and operators are fed up with that.
Which approach explains why you are partnering closely with OSS companies as the company looks to expand internationally.
We do partner with OSS companies, although many of those partnerships are not disclosed, but we are going to be aggressive in focusing on international growth over the next 18 to 24 months.
As a successful technology company serving a focused set of customers, Simtel was more than ready to expand and develop its innovative portfolio of products. A growth strategy plan has already been set in motion, with the launch of our new Netledge network monitoring proposition, expansion of our regional teams and opening of new offices around the world to support an increasingly geographically diverse customer base.
A key component of this plan is the promotion of the brand so we’ve taken this timely opportunity to establish a new, more appropriate identity for the company that better reflects its core competencies.
The new CommProve name not only reflects our proven communications experience but represents today’s market emphasis on delivering proven results using real-time and relevant data to create tangible, measurable, and rapid, ROI for our customers.
You have said previously you are looking for an IPO or trade sale three years down the line. Should we be looking in the OSS sector for potential purchasers?
We have been contacted by a couple of the larger ones already, but I don’t want to go too early. I want to make sure the international thing has happened and we have created a larger market attraction before any sale or an IPO. We have been profitable every year since we were launched in 1996 even in the 2002-04 years, and we are not in need of immediate cash.In the the first seven months of this year we have already hit our full year target.
I am concentrating on creating value for our customers. Our largest operator customer has not done a drive test for the past four and a half years. Imagine the savings they have made.
The Jinny Call Router is said to have been designed to solve several problems facing MNOs, as well as to deliver a differentiating range of new high-value features for operators and users alike.
A new call management feature is said to allow operators and customers control over incoming calls. It enables subscribers to manage these calls in order to reduce their bills, particularly when roaming, while ensuring calls are not lost. It also offers users a ‘Collect Call’ facility, allowing people without enough units to initiate a call, which can then be paid for by the called party.
The problems faced by MNOs and addressed by the Call Router relate to voicemail routing and voice mail server upgrades, says Jinny. Mobile operators need a flexible routing mechanism, which provides them with the options of scalability, expansion and a simplified process for subscriber additions and re-assignments to maximise the use of existing resources.
The Call Router is said to reduce MNO OPEX and time taken when adding new voicemail subscribers or moving subscribers between servers, and also enables operators to use different voice mail providers when they introduce new voicemail or other multimedia services, rather than being restricted to a single provider. In addition, flexible routing enables greater options for customer segmentation and launch of new services, maximising ARPU and revenue streams, while reducing time-to-market.
The fully scalable Jinny Call Router completes the modular Jinny Call Completion package, which combines a range of complementary products such as: Missed Call Notification (MCN), VoiceSMS and a wide-spectrum of features from the company’s voicemail offering.
Joseph Haddad, Jinny Product Manager, said, “Jinny’s Call Router consolidates multiple market-leading features in a single product. The solution’s differentiating functionality is twofold: not only will it deliver full control over incoming calls to the operators and provide their customers with exciting and important features like call management, call screening and call collect – all of which will generate significant new revenues for the MNOs – but it will also remove the current limitations facing MNOs, which are associated with voicemail routing and voicemail server upgrades.”
Ludovic Patraud, Head of Product Management, added, “As part of our Call Completion offering, the launch of the Call Router product provides a comprehensive set of features which will add significant value to MNO businesses with a very quick ROI. We are targeting both emerging markets and their need to support mobile subscriber growth and associated voice service requirements efficiently, as well as more mature and competitive markets where new subscriber-centric services like personalisation and greater customer segmentation are required in order to help drive revenue and build customer loyalty. The market traction around our Call Completion Solution is growing and the availability of our Call Router will now accelerate this interest.”