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The Evolution of Subscriber QoE

Understand and tackle the complex challenge of providing a rich quality of experience in an ever-expanding universe

Abstract

The true definition of subscriber quality of experience (QoE) has not been fully realized — because quite frankly, it can’t.

An ever-expanding universe of ideas and perceptions influence QoE on a per-subscriber basis, yet somehow, service providers are meant to satisfy each of their users needs. If not, they risk losing subscribers to their competitors.

Operators across the globe are attempting to solve this complex challenge. But what do they need to consider first?

This white paper addresses the question of ever-evolving subscriber QoE, examines common challenges that operators face when providing a rich QoE, and then proposes real solutions that are available and can be used to resolve these challenges.

Table of Contents

Introduction

From the 1990s forward, the term quality of experience (QoE) has spread throughout the communication service provider (CSP) industry by way of blog posts, white papers, and industry trade shows — but is there a clear definition for what truly makes up a subscriber’s QoE? Doesn’t it stand to reason that requisites for a great experience will vary from one subscriber to the next?

According the International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), the definition of QoE is as follows:

The overall acceptability of an application or service, as perceived subjectively by the end-user.
NOTE 1 — Quality of Experience includes the complete end-to-end system effects (client, terminal, network, services infrastructure, etc.).
NOTE 2 – Overall acceptability may be influenced by user expectations and context.

It has been suggested since this definition was first created that a further amendment must be made when defining QoE as it relates to media communications. The following was proposed to mitigate some of the problems related to the ITU-T definition:

QoE: “Degree of delight of the user of a service. In the context of communication services, it is influenced by content, network, device, application, user expectations and goals, and context of use.”

While accepting these definitions as definitive fact may not be agreeable to all, one thing is clear: QoE represents much more than a single element of a service provider’s relationship with their customer.

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Changes in Systems, Evolution in QoE

Services and systems within the communications space are in a constant state of change, becoming more intricate and complicated as various dimensions and features are added to upgrade back-end efficiency and bolster front-end service quality. These technological innovations produce and provide the full scale of service quality as seen by end users on a network.

Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are tasked to not only think about how to best implement new technologies within their existing network architectures, but also what impacts these new technologies will have on the end-user QoE. Increasing service speeds, improving video resolution, and reducing service time-to-delivery (to name just a few), are vital aspects, but heightening an overall perception of QoE is a much more broad conversation.

A March 2016 broadband consumer QoE report discovered 31% of subscribers had considered switching service providers within the last 12 months. When the respondents were asked on a scale from 1–5 how likely they were to recommend their current provider to a friend or peer (1 being unlikely; 5 being likely), 69% gave a rating of 3 or below — indicating that for many, QoE expectations are clearly not being met. Factors influencing QoE in the survey covered a range of topics, including device activation, service assurance, WiFi reliability, issue resolution, and pricing and bundling options.

This paper will examine common challenges that operators face when providing a rich QoE, and then propose real solutions that can be used to resolve them. The latter section will address the question of ever-evolving subscriber QoE and how personalization of services may be the answer.

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QoE: Common Challenges in an Expanding Universe

There are a number of commonly known challenges that operators must consider when attempting to raise subscriber QoE, including:

Automatic Activation

When subscribers switch on a new device, there is an expectation that IP services will activate with little to no manual effort required from the user. In previous years this was referred to as plug-and-play, but in the current IP services universe, where mobile devices have taken over desktop as the most popular way to browse the web, there is often no plug-in at all. Automatically connecting and configuring IP services, whether fixed or mobile, is a vital aspect for the future of service QoE.

Service Assurance

IP-service reliability for both wired and wireless devices requires providers to gain a holistic view of the entire service network, from the CMTS plant through the access network beyond the gateway into individual user devices. Proactively managing device issues is paramount to improving QoE. Gaining up-to-date home network metrics is another common challenge for service providers, only complicated by the Internet of Things (IoT), which is set to bring nearly 21 billion connected devices by the year 2020. The complexity involved in organizing data from such a vast number of devices threatens to overwhelm service providers who do not have solutions for Big Data collection and analysis.

Providing Reliable WiFi

In the 2016 broadband consumer QoE report, WiFi range and reliability routinely ranked amongst the highest aspects when improving subscriber QoE — notably more so with younger generations. Subscribers want access to reliable WiFi services in the home and on the go. In a Devicescape survey, 88% of respondents saw WiFi as a commodity that should be available everywhere, all of the time, but making WiFi a utility is no easy task. Businesses, public WiFi networks, and multi-dwelling units can all fall victim to signal interference, usage-congestion, and dropped connections — which in turn has a negative impact on QoE. The growing demand for mobile services makes it safe to assume that WiFi is, and will continue to be, a top influencer of QoE.

Rapid Issue Resolution

There are a number of things that can go wrong between the gateway and on consumer devices, and service provider call centres must be equipped to handle incoming service requests in a timely and efficient manner. This means being able to quickly access real-time diagnostics of any device connected to a subscriber’s access point. When customer service representatives (CSRs) cannot solve service problems, the issues must be escalated to higher tier support or administrators who can resolve them, whether the problem is service, billing, or account related.

Device Evergreening

To ensure subscriber devices remain at optimal performance, new device firmware may be required to address performance and security issues. CSPs that can’t manage this fluid and dynamic network fall short of their subscriber’s QoE expectations, which increases the chance of subscriber churn. Firmware management has been and still remains an ongoing challenge for service providers. This issue is made even more complex by the sheer volume and variety of devices expected to enter the IP services market. Recent forecasts state that the average number of Internet connected devices per person will reach 4.3 by the year 2020. This will bring an unprecedented number and variety of firmware packages that must be kept readily available for deployment. Solutions must be in place to help mitigate this challenge.

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Tackling Complex QoE Challenges: The Incognito Solution

To solve the challenges identified above, providers need an open, flexible, scalable device support and management solution that works in tandem with Big Data collection platforms.

Incognito tackles common subscriber challenges by delivering:

  • Automatic activation and device-agnostic configuration
  • Big Data collection and analysis to assure service performance
  • Enhanced WiFi network management and rich KPI reporting capabilities
  • Insightful network diagnostics for better customer service
  • Robust firmware management tools

Automatic activation and device-agnostic configuration

With constantly evolving and emerging devices, the need for a solution that can discover and support any device type is crucial to retaining subscribers and keeping QoE high. Using the broadband forum TR-069 protocol, Incognito offers open-device support, meaning operators can leverage the system’s capabilities to discover and provision any previously unknown customer-premises equipment (CPE).

Intuitive interfaces guide engineers along the process of device realization, allowing them to easily explore device capabilities, provision parameters, and then standardize configurations so that subscribers can automatically activate their devices through wired or wireless access points.

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Standardize activation using automated configuration and set parameter values and attributes for consistent provisioning

Incognito on-boards new subscribers with rapid, automated configuration and subscriber-self install options. Subscribers can begin using services on their devices without any manual intervention. This zero-touch process significantly boosts customer satisfaction by reducing service time-to-delivery, while also lowering the provider’s operational costs.

Big Data collection and analysis to assure service performance

In order to assure service performance meets the subscriber’s needs, providers must collect and analyze data from every part of the network — including subscriber and device usage statistics.

Incognito employs a Big Data management solution that collects and analyzes Internet Protocol Detail Record (IPDR) data from end-to-end, showing the required level of insight needed to manage QoE without increasing concerns over subscriber privacy. This data is reported to a central collector, where it can be filtered, analyzed, and normalized by into valuable subscriber statistics such as bandwidth usage amounts, type of content accessed, services used, and peak-usage periods per region, CMTS, or node. Data is collected from the network out-of-band, meaning regular CMTS operations are not affected by the Incognito solution.

The IPDR method extracts subscriber account details and usage data and sends it to a collector and processing

The IPDR method extracts subscriber account details and usage data and sends it to a collector and processing

The solution monitors multiple aspect of the provider’s network from the plant to the subscriber premises, giving the insight needed to manage network congestion and ensure services remain consistent for every subscriber. Benefits of the Incognito solution include:

  • Essential non-intrusive insight into service consumption data for every device on a network
  • Minimal impacts on regular CMTS operations
  • Highlighting network topology when cross-referenced with SNMP data
  • Little additional hardware requirement
  • Accurate insight for capacity forecasting and network planning
  • Real-time bandwidth monitoring and management
  • Automatic policy enforcement

Enhanced WiFi network management

Whether implemented for residential, business, or public service, the complexity involved in delivering consistent subscriber WiFi quality has been a growing concern for service providers and subscribers alike. When respondents in the 2016 Broadband Consumer QoE survey were asked what type of service would attract them into switching providers, 27% listed better WiFi reliability as an answer. In addition, 40% of respondents claimed better WiFi hotspot coverage as the most desired value-added service to their existing Internet package.

Using the TR-069 protocol, Incognito offers a way for providers to optimize their WiFi and create a consistent WiFi QoE for subscribers. This is achieved through:

  • Spectrum analysis, giving operators the ability to identify ranges with the least amount of interference before deploying a WiFi signal
  • Rapid device provisioning and deployment, solving common customer problems like introducing new devices to a WiFi network or changes to passwords on WiFi devices
  • Real-time service quality monitoring, allowing providers to proactively resolve WiFi issues before the subscriber is affected
  • Self-service options, giving subscribers a portal to manage their residential or business WiFi networks
Self-service portals can empower users to complete common changes and better understand their WiFi networks

Self-service portals can empower users to complete common changes and better understand their WiFi networks

The nature of WiFi often makes QoE seem unpredictable, but automated key-performance indicators (KPIs) can help providers identify potential issues before the subscriber is affected. The Incognito solution collects rich diagnostics from every device connection and makes information available through charts, graphs, and reports.

Configurable alerts are generated by the KPI module when thresholds are exceeded to instantly notify administrators of a situation they need to address. Once network issues are discovered, a provider can proactively resolve those issues to lower service call volume and strengthen subscriber QoE.

Insightful network diagnostics for better customer service

Because so much emphasis is placed on customer support, Incognito has simplified the troubleshooting and resolution process across all network and device types. CSRs gain an intuitive dashboard that shows a realtime view of the subscriber’s network, while active alerts show current device statuses and highlights any failures. Service configuration parameters are also curated to enable only the functionality that the CSR needs so that any issues can be resolved with haste.

Configurable CSR dashboard helps resolve issues quickly

Configurable CSR dashboard helps resolve issues quickly

When problems cannot be solved on the first call, issue escalation is integrated within the solution so that any subscriber complaints can be quickly dealt with. Responsiveness to support calls accounts for a large portion of the customer perception of QoE. The Incognito CSR dashboard ensures more issues are fixed on the first phone call, resulting in decreased call handle times, lower CSR training costs, and improved subscriber QoE.

Robust Firmware Management Tools

Keeping CPE up-to-date and issue-free will ensure that subscriber QoE at the device level remains high. To deliver this, Incognito has reinvented the way CSPs manage firmware updates. Network engineers can easily scope the number of CPEs on their networks that have updates available using a firmware library, and then select any number of devices to perform a test run. Once verified, firmware updates can be scheduled to automatically run in either single or batch operations, depending on business requirement.

Firmware libraries identify the number of available firmware updates from a network-wide view

Firmware libraries identify the number of available firmware updates from a network-wide view

Firmware administrators can resolve fallout in real time to improve update success rates. By automating this critical process, operators can maximize their CPE investments and reduce the complexity of maintaining an evergreen network — optimizing overall performance and enriching QoE for the subscriber.

The Future of QoE: Personalizing Service Experiences

One of the major trends across all industries is the move to be more customer centric, with a growing requirement to meet individual needs. For CSPs, this has particularly been felt with the impact of personalized, on-demand, OTT content providers such as Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube — who tailor content and services to each user based on previous purchases and service history. This encourages increased consumption of high-bandwidth services for every subscriber on the network. This concept has recently extended into the broadband and telecommunication space, and service providers must find innovative ways that allow their subscribers to select services tailored to meet their needs.

In the CSP industry, this concept can be referred to as customer-centric service platforms, and these can be introduced to operators by way of virtualization. By leveraging the capabilities of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and its relationship with Virtual Network Functions (VNF), some service providers are beginning to deploy the first instances of a customer-centric service platform.

Incognito enables operators to establish the necessary provisioning logic from the network endpoints, in addition to enabling subscriber-aware business intelligence and provisioning. This is where an SDN Controller, with its ability to interpret network topology and available resources, can be driven by a service order orchestrator, where product definition was formed, to define the service intention between the respective network endpoint devices. For the operator, back office BSS/OSS-level driven, highly flexibly subscriber-customize orchestration may now occur where it can communicate dependencies of a product to the topology that will deliver the service.

As a result, the subscriber is given more choice when selecting what types of services they want to pay for, instead of only being able to choose specific packages. Virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) can be deployed on a network to not only enable this flexibility in service packages, but also to reduce new services time-to-market with standardized processes for deployment.

This achieves both subscriber-aware device and CPE provisioning in addition to dynamic network element provisioning, resulting in significantly increased service introduction velocity. Ultimately, this enables the operator to remove costly end-routing equipment in terms of support and capital costs.

An innovative concept like this creates an environment where the subscriber wins at every turn, vastly improving self-care and dynamic service subscription ability. This satisfies the demand for next-era personalization of services and further enriches the subscriber QoE.

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Conclusion

The concept of subscriber QoE does not have a true definition for greatness, simply because what is perceived as great QoE varies so significantly from one subscriber to the next. In order to satisfy each subscriber on a network, service providers must now consider the wide variety of complex challenges that exist today, as well how QoE will evolve in the future. Solutions to these challenges must be ready.

Incognito has created a multi-faceted approach, developing solutions that give operators a chance to improve QoE at every angle for now and the future with:

  • Holistic network and subscriber management platforms
  • Accurate Big Data collection and analysis solutions
  • Insightful real-time device diagnostics and KPI monitoring portals
  • Cutting-edge personalization of subscriber service innovations

By preparing for QoE improvements on a network-wide scale, operators can boost customer retention rates in their universe, and increase profitability with innovative ways that further monetize their subscribers.

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