Guest blog post by Misbah Mahmoodi, Senior Product Marketing Manager, F5 Networks

As a mobile operator, you’ve spent or are about to spend a considerable amount of time and money on upgrading your network to 4G LTE and building out cell towers to ensure that your subscribers have LTE coverage. Great! Job done! Now that you have the fastest network, your subscribers are going to have a great user experience and finally you’ll be able to reduce churn, increase revenues and maximize profitability.  Or maybe not…

While deploying 4G LTE networks is a major step forward (don’t rest yet, 5G is just around the corner, but that’s another topic), subscribers want and expect more.  For most subscribers, their perception is that if they are on a 4G network, they expect to stream audio and video with no buffering as well as access and download content with minimal latency. Anything less, and your subscribers will call customer service to complain, or even worse, move on to the next operator.

The challenge is with the exponential growth in data usage, stemming from increase in subscribers, larger bandwidth intensive applications especially from OTT applications, as well as the Internet of Things, where you will have billions of devices being connected to the network. Any advantage that you thought 4G LTE would have in providing more bandwidth will be minimized.    

To add to this, subscribers want more flexibility in opting into service plans that fit their specific lifestyle and needs. For example, T-Mobile in the US introduced a service where subscribers can stream all the music they want without it counting towards their data plan. 

In a highly competitive market, you need to gain insights into what applications and services your subscribers are using as well as when they are using those applications.  With subscriber and application awareness, you can deliver services to your subscribers based on their usage behavior and give them a much greater quality of experience, while at the same time, optimizing your network resources. The end result is a well-managed network and increased revenues from satisfied customers.

So how do you achieve this network nirvana? Here are a few things that you should be thinking about implementing in your network to improve QOE.

Gain valuable insight into your network

Gaining insights into the type of services and applications your subscribers are using and when they use those applications will help you plan for network capacity and ensure that you have optimal network resource utilization to handle peak demands and will allow you to implement policies for specific applications to reduce network congestion.  In addition, deeper analytics will help you identify the top applications subscribers are using and enable you to implement new services and rate plans that can be customized for different segments of your subscriber base. 

Accelerate content downloads

For mobile operators, one of the worst things that your subscriber can experience on your network is when they begin to stream their favorite video, and instead of the video playing, they see that spinning wheel!  This is one of the top complaints that subscribers have, and as a result, subscribers will stop using the service, resulting in lost data traffic and revenue for you.  

A primary reason for this type of network degradation is that the network characteristics on the Radio Access Network (RAN) side have high packet loss and increased latency.  Even with 4G LTE networks, while significantly better than 3G networks, still have latency issues, which cause delays when accessing content. 

Implementing network optimization techniques, such as TCP Optimization, can significantly improve download speeds, from anywhere between 30-150% while also improving network congestion. With this type of improvement, your subscribers will have a greater quality of experience and will increase their data usage and increase your revenues.

Keep your 3G investment

While operators have invested in 4G LTE networks, there are going to be some areas within your network that will continue to be on 3G.  Inherently, there will be differences in subscribers’ user experience as they go between 3G and 4G networks, so this needs to be properly managed.  While users may be OK streaming HD video over LTE, they probably won’t have the same experience as they move into a 3G area, where they may experience buffering or stalling of the video. 

To minimize this disruption and provide a seamless user experience, regardless of whether they are on 3G or 4G, you need a solution that can identify the Radio Access Technology (RAT) and then intelligently apply a policy or steer that traffic to a video optimization platform based on the RAT-type.  This ensures that subscribers can have a high QOE regardless of where they are and what access technology they are using.

Subscriber and Application intelligence in your network

As we have highlighted, having an intelligent network with granular subscriber and application awareness will enable you to develop new tailored services based on your subscribers’ preferences and profile.  With video being one of the major drivers of data growth in your network, you need the ability to analyze video traffic and implement policies to ensure an optimal user experience while reducing network congestion.  For example, during peak network congestion, apply a specific policy so that premium paying subscribers receive HD video, while other subscribers receive SD video.  This type of policy allows your subscribers to continue to stream video without any delays or buffering, while optimizing your network resources.

Monetization strategies

We’ve discussed many ways how you can optimize your network resources and improve subscriber quality of experience.  These are all really important, as this leads to reduced subscriber churn and ultimately increased revenues.  In addition to this and equally important, is providing your subscribers with timely and relevant information and content as they use their device.  Imagine if your subscribers are on your website, and you have the ability to insert a toolbar within the site that will allow them to quickly and easily select new services.  Or if they are at a shopping mall looking for a coffee store, and an ad comes up with a discount for coffee.  This allows you to provide a tailored experience for your subscribers while enabling increased revenue opportunities.

These are some of the many challenges and opportunities we see Operators facing today, as they cope with skyrocketing data usage while continuing to provide a good QOE.  At F5, we understand your challenges, and have developed solutions that will allow you to meet those challenges while optimizing and monetizing your network. 

We will be showcasing several demos to show how you can improve QOE and monetize your networks. To see these demos, please stop by at the Mobile World Congress event, where F5 will be in Hall 5, Booth G11.

We look forward to seeing you there!