Success in India’s 4G market will be decided on quality, not price

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The Indian telecom industry is in the throes of tremendous transformation. The data subscriber base is growing very fast, and those subscribers are consuming more and more data per user. Those factors mean that network capacity and performance are being driven to the brink of overload and collapse. At the same time, service providers are defending their revenues from increasingly popular OTT services. Thus, they have little option but to modernize their networks, and optimize available capacity, to deliver high-quality services to subscribers.

With the market shifting towards data, service providers are realizing that competing on price is a lose-lose strategy. Data subscribers insist on ubiquitous coverage and also a reliable and consistent quality of experience (QoE). Competing only on price opens the door for competitors to lure away subscribers with higher-quality services. Losing existing subscribers is bad enough, but that also means a lost opportunity to grow revenue through new subscribers.

Meanwhile, networks are becoming more complex with the launch of new technologies like LTE, which adds to the quality challenge. Service providers must offer reliable, high-quality services to retain and to grow their subscriber bases; merely offering “good enough” services will not be enough to retain customers in an ultra-competitive environment like India.

The launch of 4G/LTE data services, coupled with the entry of an aggressive greenfield operator (Reliance Jio), is pushing incumbent service providers in India to start focusing on better QoE. Indeed, Jio – with its all-IP network – hopes to differentiate itself by offering enhanced QoE. In response, incumbents are moving fast to modernize their networks.

As a result of these market pressures, we’ve entered a new period in Indian telecoms history which we may dub “the quality wars”.

Network visibility key to competitive QoE

Globally, a new truth is emerging: service providers with insight into both network behavior and the end user experience are in a position to be more competitive by offering enhanced QoE to their customers. It’s no different in India.

Like their counterparts elsewhere, Indian service providers can take advantage of virtualized instrumentation, which provides visibility at all layers to effectively monitor, troubleshoot, and optimize network quality of service (QoS) and also user QoE. This technology can provide deep insight into the performance of each application – and service providers can use that to deliver superior QoE. Combined with big data analytics and network control systems, such instrumentation results in a programmable, quality-optimized network capable of delivering extra capacity, sometimes without investing in additional infrastructure.

Remember that a significant percentage of the Indian population is accessing the internet for the first time ever, using mobile devices. Service providers that offer a superior QoE for data services are the ones that will attract and retain those subscribers; customers will not pay a premium for a disappointing LTE experience. Mobile service providers have little choice but to improve QoE for the new generation of mobile services; else, they will find it exceedingly tough to achieve sustainable ROI for their network infrastructure.

The VoLTE angle

There is another, related, dynamic at play here: the relationship between OTT services and decisions by telcos to develop and roll out VoLTE services as quickly as they can, without risking a sub-par user experience.

In India, OTT services – especially messaging apps like WhatsApp – create further data demands on existing networks, and make it tough for service providers to compete when they focus on QoE. That’s because investments in network quality and capacity don’t lead to more revenue – ironically, it makes OTT services even more attractive because they work better. The result is further erosion of voice revenue.

Taking a cue from their global counterparts, Indian service providers are banking on VoLTE services to help them compete with OTT players. VoLTE doesn’t just offer better voice call– it’s also more spectrally efficient, a feature of interest to Indian service providers who pay huge amounts to procure spectrum.

However, to leverage this opportunity, service providers must deliver assured end-to-end QoS and QoE to support their VoLTE services. Since voice and data travel over the same network, it is tough for service providers to deliver superior service. The only way forward is to take complete control over service quality, and keep a near real-time check on the actual user experience. Major service providers elsewhere, such as SK Telecom in South Korea and Softbank in Japan, have aggressively deployed performance monitoring and big data analytics to ensure exceptional QoE in LTE networks.

The road ahead: LTE-A and 5G

Even as Indian service providers prepare for VoLTE, they are also gearing up to grab the opportunity around IoT and 5G. The GSMA expects that 5G networks will be able to support 100 times more devices and 1,000 times more bandwidth consumption than 4G networks will allow.

5G network capabilities can only be achieved by using SDN and NFV, which lend flexibility and elasticity to networks. Service providers can use SDN and big data analytics to merge performance monitoring and network control, ensuring that the quality is not compromised.

As LTE gathers pace in India, the time is right for service providers to focus on offering high-quality and reliable services to their subscribers. This is possible with virtualized instrumentation, performance monitoring, and big data analytics. Together, these tools empower service providers to reduce churn, generate new revenue streams, and prepare for the IoT and 5G era.

Written by Pramod Prasad, senior project manager at Accedian Networks

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