The evolution of mobile data services and the continuing explosion of mobile data traffic around the world have brought an inevitable demand for greater bandwidth and the expectation of a flawless end-user experience. Analysys Mason recently forecasted that the worldwide telecoms market will see mobile data traffic grow at a 131 percent compound annual growth rate through 2013. With this rapidly growing demand for data services that provide access to any content on any device at any time – including streaming and real-time data services like mobile TV, push-to-talk and mobile-to-mobile games – mobile operators cannot afford poor quality of experience (QoE) or they risk losing the very customers who are central to the growth of their business.
But how can a mobile operator stand out in the face of all the fierce competition? With a wide array of operators offering data plans, everyone is competing on data throughput, and they’re all adopting newer, cutting-edge mobile technologies. Ultimately, end-users will choose their mobile provider based on, for example, which one allows for a better experience when watching YouTube, or which one offers better response times for MP3 downloads. Therefore, assuring QoE around content and applications is critical for mobile operators to differentiate themselves from the competition, maintain customer satisfaction and prevent churn.
Making this differentiator even more critical is the growth of wireless broadband. Whatever subscribers do with their DSL connection today, they’re going to be demanding to do with their mobile connection tomorrow. These subscribers will be accessing a wide range of applications on the Internet, almost equivalent to using a laptop with a wireless DSL connection. If an end-user experiences a bad connection to content, their unhappiness will be directed to the mobile operator. The consumer will look to his or her mobile provider to troubleshoot and deal with quality issues, even if the problem originates from a third-party provider and the mobile operator is just providing the wireless pipe.
All of this drives the need for mobile application performance management – a solution that enables mobile operators to differentiate themselves from the competition by leveraging a number of definite advantages, including holding third-party content providers accountable for application performance, enabling visibility into ISP connectivity and assuring QoE for specific sets of end-users, including high-value corporate accounts.
Holding Content Providers Accountable
A growing trend with mobile operators is to provide value-added content to subscribers, along with access to mobile data services. In providing this value-added content, many mobile operators have partnered with third-party content providers – some even having up to 30 or 40 third-party partners that provide content such as MP3s and ringtones.
Because these value-added services are what the end-user ultimately experiences, there is a pressing need for mobile operators to monitor application performance and hold third-party content providers accountable for problems with the performance or response time of the content and applications they are providing. Otherwise, the poor performance will result in customer churn for the mobile operator.
Distinguishing Between ISP Connectivity Issues and Poor Application Performance
Further complicating quality assurance is that the infrastructure between the mobile operator and its third-party content providers is an ISP connection. Mobile operators typically lease these ISP connections, either through the open Internet or as dedicated connections going to the content provider. The ISP connection creates a third point of potential failure (the other two points being the content provider and the mobile operator’s wireless network). When a subscriber has a poor experience when using a third-party application, there is a need for the mobile operator to be able to determine if that bad experience is occurring because of poor ISP connectivity or poor application performance from the third-party content provider.
Monitoring High-Value Accounts
Another important trend for mobile application performance management is the relevance to mobile operators of high-value corporate accounts and the need to assure application delivery for them. For example, a large corporate customer may purchase iPhones for all its upper-level managers, which could be thousands of people for a global company. To keep these high-value accounts happy and well-protected, the mobile provider must not only assure network performance but also low mean time to repair (MTTR). Mobile providers should have the ability to monitor specific sets of end-users to assure the satisfaction of these high-value accounts.
Detecting Poor Application Performance Is Critical But Only a First Step
These trends – the growing reliance on third-party content providers, the presence of ISP connections in the infrastructure, the importance of maintaining high-value corporate accounts and the tendency of end-users to hold the mobile provider responsible for maintaining QoE – are increasingly making mobile application performance management a critical necessity for mobile operators seeking to differentiate from their competitors and retain subscribers.
However, it is important to note that while mobile application performance management can detect and pinpoint poor application or content experience, it cannot further troubleshoot the reasons behind that poor experience. For that, mobile operators will need enhanced visibility into each of its network entities along the path of application delivery. These network entities could include firewalls, load balancers, routers, switches, IP Internet connections, etc., going all the way out to the radio access network (RAN). Therefore, to get the most value out of any mobile application performance management system, it should be complemented with appropriate proactive network troubleshooting capabilities as well. Detecting poor application performance, while critical, is just the first step to assuring quality of experience.
Ranga Thittai is product manager for InfoVista.