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Going all-IP calls for converged telecom network monitoring systems

When each service lived in its own access network, multiple and disparate telecom network monitoring systems were manageable. But as IP networks enable operators to offer network-agnostic services, they will need a more unified monitoring system.

When each service lived in its own access network -- that is, when customers watched video only on a television -- it wasn't disastrous for operators to use a medley of telecom network monitoring tools that were proprietary to each vendor's equipment. But the confluence of fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), quad-play strategies and a push toward more advanced IP-based services will require carriers to simplify network monitoring with a converged console.

If you're an operator delivering IPTV, you want to make sure that your picture delivery is as good as the cable company that's not delivering it on an IP network.
Michael Howard
Co-founder and Principal AnalystInfonetics Research

"The need for integrated equipment is going to rise. There are a lot of benefits of using integrated solutions, such as cost savings, the convenience of working with one vendor instead of several, and also interoperability issues," said Olga Yashkova, a research analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "Service providers are looking for open solutions that are capable of providing multiple testing and monitoring [tools] to be easily integrated into service quality management systems."

Telecom network monitoring vendors respond to changes

A few recent mergers and acquisitions among third-party telecom network monitoring and testing vendors point to a move toward more integration, Yashkova said. Canadian vendor EXFO expanded its converged IP testing portfolio by acquiring Brix Networks in 2008 and its wireless testing portfolio with Nethawk earlier this year, she said.

Empirix, which, according to Yashkova, has led the market in voice over IP (VoIP) network monitoring for the past six years, recently acquired an Italian vendor, Mutina, to expand its portfolio into video, broadband and wireless network monitoring. The company has begun to remarket itself to quad-play providers and change the conversation from monitoring networks to services.

"You want to say to your subscribers, 'You've now got the ability of ordering a movie or watching a sporting event and to start watching it at home and then take it outside with your iPad … and continue watching that but having that movie or sporting event on your LTE network,'" said Steve Kish, vice president of marketing of the service assurance business group at Empirix. "You need to have the unified presentation of how they watch the video across two different networks."

Moving beyond element management

As service providers focus more on enhancing the subscriber experience, they will benefit from more intelligent and tightly integrated telecom network monitoring systems that can tell them more than whether or not a router has failed, according to John Mazur, principal analyst at Ovum.

"Traditionally, you just did management with element management systems. You looked at every network element and drew maps between the elements so you could monitor when there were outages or changes in traffic patterns, and that was great then," Mazur said. "But [telecom network monitoring needs to be] moving beyond that. They're not just going to look at the network and the traffic, they're going to look at the subscribers."

Industry observers believed theIP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) standard would solve all this by building more intelligence into IP networks, Mazur said, but whatever early traction it gained has fizzled.

As a result, solutions are coming from every angle -- operational support system (OSS) and business support system (BSS) vendors, quality assurance vendors, traditional network monitoring vendors and the network equipment vendors themselves.

Ultimately, service provides may turn to cloud-based solutions to give them the telecom network monitoring capabilities they need with quad-play services, Mazur said.

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"They're going to employ cloud technology or virtualized servers in their own networks … [so] instead of having lots of vendors' proprietary solutions, they can just drop in applications to control their network infrastructure [from a private cloud]."

Using proprietary management systems of network hardware vendors to monitor performance and quality assurance of quad-play services -- voice, data, video and wireless -- will make sense only where it's not worth the risk of disrupting services to remove them, according to Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst at Infonetics Research.

"If you're an operator delivering IPTV, you want to make sure that your picture delivery is as good as the cable company that's not delivering it on an IP network," Howard said. "It's important for the operator to monitor that traffic and make sure that their broadband network is delivering [services] in the same way as the primary competitors."

Slow path to single-system telecom network monitoring

Using a more unified approach to telecom network monitoring tools is not without risk. Large carriers have built out their networks over decades, and they have often expanded them through mergers and acquisitions, resulting in heterogeneous telecom network infrastructure and management software. Replacing legacy telecom network monitoring systems can become like the game Jenga -- remove the wrong piece and everything topples, Howard said.

"They want [converged telecom network monitoring], but it's just so, so difficult because those [legacy] systems are so ingrained. I think they're all heading in that direction, but you can't stop what's in motion because all of your revenue is sitting on those services," he said. "It's difficult and it's complex … so many operators are moving slowly -- step by step, as they add new services and add new equipment -- in that direction."

Telecom network monitoring has also become more complicated as carriers move from time-division multiplexing (TDM) to IP, according to consultant Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp.

"As you start to move into packet networking, you very quickly reach a point where you can't monitor something without affecting service for a lot of people," Nolle said.

Carriers have been eager to adopt "remote monitoring" systems for diagnostic and remediation processes to collect performance metrics from a probe built into the equipment or wired into the circuit, he said. This has enabled engineers to monitor devices from a network operations center (NOC) instead of sending a technician out into the field with a packet analyzer.

"The market is voting in favor of standardizing on RMON [remote network monitoring]," he said, "and [it's] moving away from proprietary probes, mostly for cost reasons."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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