By Ahmad Sayed, Regional Director, Middle East and Africa at Nexign for Telecomreview.
Happy New Year! I trust the holiday season was a time of celebration and delight for all of you. In an expat-heavy region, you undoubtedly observed another tradition—that of phoning home. That simple observance probably had a range of outcomes. Some of you may have been connected straightaway; others may have experienced lags; others may have given up and tried the next day.
As communication service providers (CSPs) face the new generation of consumers―millennials and younger—they are increasingly under pressure to get things right the first time, every time. That is the nature of digital natives, and to cater to their demands - the solution is digital.
Holidays are not the only time that core and radio networks face peak hours. Business hours in commercial areas, big events such as sporting tournaments and concerts, and locations such as airports and metro stations also present challenges in resource allocation. Operators have to invest heavily in their networks to handle the explosive traffic growth generated by over-the-top (OTT) services and user-generated video. These operators know that the new generation of consumers is also the new generation of business managers. “Traffic congestion” is no longer an excuse for performance degradation; it is a problem to be solved.
The light at the end
But how? It is hard to make a business case for the significant capital outlays necessary to expand resource pools, just to cater for events that do not happen every day. Meanwhile, the market is baying for just such a change. But what if there was an elegant solution that introduced elasticity into infrastructure, allowing the radio-access network (RAN) to tailor connection speeds to specific circumstances?
Enter Congestion Management―a feature that is now supported by some telecom vendors. CSPs with access to a business support system (BSS) solution that offers a RAN congestion-awareness function (RCAF), find themselves better able to solve a lot of problems. Operators can increase the number of satisfied subscribers and give them fast access to priority applications even in peak-use periods. Additionally, they can dynamically manage temporary failures on radio and core networks, improving user experience (UX) for high-value subscribers, and prioritising mission-critical communication traffic for dedicated groups of subscribers.
This function presents new opportunities for monetisation. Subscribers can pay premium rates for prioritised service plans. Users that opt for these premium subscription plans will have faster connection speeds in congested locations than those of users on normal plans, but during non-congested periods or in non-congested areas, all users will experience the same speeds. In this scenario, the operator can build incentives for users to move to premium plans and ensure optimum connection speeds regardless of network conditions.
Speed limits for heavy users
Operators can limit heavy users’ activity, in congested locations, to provide a better UX to the majority of common users. This step is essential when an operator offers unlimited data plans to their subscribers. All users, including heavy data consumers, will enjoy the same speed in non-congested periods and areas, but high-priority users with high average revenue per user (ARPU) and low monthly data consumption will have a much better UX in congested locations.
A further advantage of RCAF is the ability to optimise license fees for 3rd party telecom vendors, while still increasing network capacity and providing enhanced user experiences for all subscribers.
Because each application requires different connection speeds to deliver a great user experience, as an example, operators can prioritise internal resources, text messengers and partner content-providers over other applications, such as video streaming, P2P traffic or software updates. Users on congested networks will not experience any performance degradation for priority applications but will see a slide in performance for other applications. And a single default bearer can be used for all applications, without the need to raise several dedicated bearers for different priority applications.
Third-party application partners
Now let’s consider the future. Let’s assume that the operator has forged strategic partnerships with several third parties by opening up its core platform to integration with many others. It has enriched its offerings, eliminated barriers to new markets and broadened its talent pool; customer engagement and brand loyalty are at an all-time high.
Congestion management function serves this ecosystem as well. In times of congestion, the operator can inform partner applications and content providers of users that are experiencing performance dips. A third-party application can be notified when a subscriber enters or exits congested conditions, to optimise content delivery. Providers of these applications can compress or transcode traffic into formats that require less bandwidth, or they can send lower-resolution content. And a third-party video-steaming platform can select codecs with low data-consumption rates for users in congested locations.
Full speed ahead
The benefits of applying RCAF (RAN congestion awareness function) are obvious and far-reaching, encompassing monetisation, customer experience and resourcing issues. It is nothing less than the ability to dynamically manage service quality, either scheduled or in real-time. It is a nuanced tool that allows digital service providers to consider and prioritise technologies, locations, applications and users, in view of ARPU and immediate or projected congestion states.
RCAF enables the delivery of mission-critical communication as a service. It leads to increases in subscriber loyalty, by coupling ARPU to service levels during congested periods. And it attracts high-value subscribers willing to pay a premium for enhanced connection speeds during busy times.
We often talk of “digital transformation” in lieu of specifics. RCAF has proven, obvious applications in the battle for consumer loyalty. As operators continue the move to becoming digital-service providers (DSPs), RCAF will be an indispensable tool for differentiation, alleviating the need for massive capital investment in infrastructure.