Quality of Experience = Customer Loyalty
There is a massive business transformation going on in the mobile network operator industry. Operators are coming out with innovative marketing ideas to woo customers from one another in the same market. The recent announcement by Sprint in the US to undercut Verizon, AT&T and even T-Mobile US’ subscription plans by whopping a 50% is just the tip of the iceberg. T-Mobile US started this marketing blitzkrieg with its brilliant “Un-carrier” move. Age-old policies that subscribers accepted without questioning, started falling. Features such as Bring your own device, no annual contract, and no device subsidies have already made their way into subscription plans in recent years. Some operators are even offering to compensate subscribers to break their legacy contracts to switch service provider. The trend is real and there is no sign of it slowing down. The industry is clearly entering into an uncharted territory.
The New Era
Over the past two decades, operators didn’t have to worry about losing a customer based on how the customer felt about the quality of service he or she was getting. Slow connection, no service, and poor quality video playback have been chronic and often the accepted status quo for mobile broadband service. The service contracts are the stickiness that operators got used to, whereas the subscribers got used to sub-standard service. Going forward, all of that is going to change, for good. As operators do away with service contracts, the competition to snatch away subscribers will go through the roof. That means operators can no longer sit happy on the promise of contract based stickiness.
The Perfect Storm
As with every industry, the wireless industry relies on the supply of the raw material, called spectrum. To solve the growing capacity requirement, operators are scrambling to acquire more and more spectrum and deploying them as fast as they can. The cost is of course out of control, but there is no alternative in sight. So, the finite natural resource, i.e. good quality spectrum is of short supply. To sustain the marketing blitzkrieg, operators need to deploy and use their spectrum assets even more diligently. However, there is simply not enough good quality spectrum to cost-effectively deliver the promised services, i.e. free streaming of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go videos. The short term measure is to throttle everything down to lower quality. Long term? there is no solution, but let’s get more spectrum. The industry is simply heading towards a perfect storm.
Spectrum is not the Panacea
Throwing more spectrum at the problem is not going to prevent degradation of quality of experience. The reason is, services that consumers access over the wireless network are Over-The-Top (OTT) applications that are predominantly running on TCP and HTTP. How efficiently the applications riding on these protocols operate over the wireless link depends on how aware the eNodeBs are about what they are scheduling over-the-air. Unfortunately, the eNodeBs that operators have deployed today aren’t intelligent enough to adapt and tune the OTT application delivery to the subscriber’s devices with varying channel conditions. The result is, poor quality of experience even when the operator has spent billions of dollars in obtaining spectrum and deploying the non-intelligent eNodeBs.
The Survival Plan
The subscriber churn isn’t good for operators. However, in the new era, it is inevitable that the churn will increase dramatically. An operator’s worst nightmare is an exodus of subscribers out of its network because of poor quality of service. Hence, there should be a survival plan and it needs to be put in place fast. The plan is simple:
- Pay attention to Quality of Experience of every user’s sessions
- Deploy intelligence at the wireless network edge (eNodeB)
- Gather and analyze statistics from the edge to ascertain problem areas
- Partner with OTT application providers to manage delivery of content
- Reduce latency and cost dramatically by implementing CDN at the edge
- Deploy a NFV platform at the edge that is capable of supporting intense software processes required to for an intelligent eNodeB
- Don’t wait for 5G to solve today’s problem