What is service assurance and how does monitoring support it?


Given the increasing pace of innovation in telecoms services, effectively addressing the issue of service assurance is becoming more and more pressing for network operators. Now, driven by the proliferation of new 5G use cases that are starting to emerge, monitoring and service assurance are becoming high priorities.

5G: all change

5G heralds change. It’s paving the way for real innovation: automated vehicles, smart cities, automated factories, and a new wave of enterprise communication services. Many of these new service models are already in high demand. Others will surely follow. A global study by Accenture[1] suggests that 80% of business believe 5G will have a significant effect on how they perform.  In short, the market is buying.

But the good news brings with it challenges. For today’s operator, for which the Quality of Experience (QoE) delivered to customers (and in many cases, their partners) is a key metric against which their commercial success is benchmarked, service assurance must keep pace. And, this isn’t just related to familiar scenarios now – it must also be considered for all the cool new use cases that 5G brings.

These new use cases may have radically different service levels, different kinds of QoE outcomes, and a whole new set of KPIs – all handled by 5G control plane signalling, for example. Service assurance, then, is a vital component of successfully enabling both service innovation and organisational change.  This creates a problem.

Legacy service assurance: no longer enough

Unfortunately, legacy service assurance platforms are increasingly unable to keep up with the new demands being placed on them. With often complex new services emerging (many involving more than a single party involved in a transaction, or a range of QoE metrics for different devices and applications) and delivered over increasingly complex, often hybrid networks, keeping pace with the shifting industry landscape via monitoring across the complete network, for all domains, end-to-end, represents a real challenge that legacy platforms weren’t designed to meet.

It’s a challenge that’s unlikely to diminish any time soon too. Looking ahead, if anything, service delivery is set to increase rather than reduce in complexity, as the loads placed on both individual network components and the nodes involved in delivery chains become correspondingly more demanding.

The question is for operators, what to do? What does next generation service assurance look like (and why is legacy no longer enough)?

So, what’s changed?

Let’s start with the basics. Service Assurance can broadly be defined as a set of policies and processes that are applied to ensure services are delivered in a way that meets a pre-defined quality level, specified to support delivery of an optimal subscriber experience.

The application of these policies and processes is the domain of service assurance solutions which, in general terms, give the operator or service provider accurate, up-to-date, real-time insights into performance data and associated analytics which they can use to optimise both network performance and investment.

To digress briefly, the rapid growth of the service assurance market underlines just how important this domain is. Its value exceeded USD 5 billion in 2021 and it is projected to grow at around 5% CAGR between now and 2028[2]. The boom reflects the reality that operators are already investing to keep up with growing customer expectations for high service quality in a landscape in which the velocity and scale of services are dramatically different from their predecessors.

The nature of today’s new services is important; assurance solutions must accommodate expanding interdependencies across business lines and domains; cater to the demands of far more complex technology ecosystems, be able to handle exploding data volumes, and more.

Up next: modernising service assurance

So, what should next generation service assurance look like? We can understand the domain in terms of four pillars which define its general aims, as follows:

  • Ensuring expected service delivery standards for customers are met. This is done through quantifying, assessing, correlating, and fixing problems that have been identified in the network.
  • Mitigating or altogether removing potential service issues during planned network modifications.
  • Enabling strategic decision-making that can support service assurance goals by giving the operator an overview of network resources and inventory overlaid with other relevant data.
  • Driving both reactive and, more importantly, proactive behaviours related to ongoing performance and expected service levels, such as alerting customers when there’s a fault in the network likely to impact them.

To build these four pillars, visibility into and understanding of the complete network is necessary. The challenge today comes in the execution, since legacy service assurance platforms are a poor match for modern network services.  Why?

It’s because legacy platforms were mainly designed for monolithic environments running “simple” services where today, complex, and dynamic ecosystems involving multiple players, solutions, and technologies are involved.  The result is that a new generation of service assurance platforms are required to deliver visibility, information, and process efficiency as well as to enable decision-making across a very different network environment.

Today’s landscape is also hallmarked by domain interdependencies spanning both enterprise IT and the network, a reality 5G will only increase as workloads in many cases shift to the network edge. In these and other instances, legacy Service Assurance will struggle to cope. And running multiple legacy platforms alongside each other has already proven not to be the answer.

Assuring the customer experience

Next Generation Service Assurance must ensure that services meet required quality levels to satisfy customers and optimise their experience, regardless of any underlying complexities. This means identifying and resolving performance issues quickly and effectively before subscribers are impacted. To that end, functionality must for example include:

  • Meeting and maintaining pre-defined and possibly very different SLAs
  • Verification of (often very different) operational performance
  • Monitoring activity in the network core
  • Tracking backhaul and roaming partners
  • Leveraging statistical information in XDRs generated by network activity

Of course, a great deal more. While we can’t provide an exhaustive description in a single blog, it’s important to quickly grasp that as the shift to 5G progresses, monitoring the network is likely to become (if it isn’t already) a required ingredient to ensure optimal service delivery and, ultimately, to achieve commercial success.

Next generation service assurance platform from Utel

With a next generation Service Assurance platform, operators should be able to collect key data from points across any network, then use it to visualise how their customers interact with the network, to analyse their behaviours using a variety of different parameters (for instance, location or time) and to better understand how network performance and service delivery then impact retention and churn. And not just the network. IT too.

Utel provides a complete, next generation service assurance solution to help operators in all the areas (and others) we’ve touched on in this blog by understanding the control data that underpins new 5G services.

If you need to gain greater control of how your networks are performing, improve the status quo, and benefit from an enhanced ability to deliver the best possible experience to their customers, please get in touch directly.