With its offers of free 4G voice and data for subscribers for six months, 4G newcomer Reliance Jio turned the Indian mobile market upside down when it launched in September 2016. Jio’s relentless price-cutting has today made India one of the most competitive mobile markets on earth.
As prices tumble from the “Jio effect”, Indian consumers have embraced mobile data. 3G uptake is expected to rise from 14% in 2016 to 29% of the population by 2020: 4G will rise from 8% to 19% over the same time period, as noted in the Global Mobile Trends report by GSMA.
India’s apps and data explosion
According to app market data and insights company App Annie, India’s mobile app market grew sharply in 2016. Indians are not only downloading more apps (six billion in 2016, up from 3.5 billion in 2015), they’re also spending more time on them: along with Brazil, India stands out globally for what App Annie called “staggering” growth in engagement.
A May 2017 article on Indian business news website OfficeChai revealed that the most popular apps in India are OTTs Facebook and WhatsApp, at first and second place respectively in the top ten. Third place belongs to UC Browser, a low-power mobile browser owned by China’s Alibaba Group.
Jio’s own apps are also among the most popular.
Account management app My Jio is India’s sixth most downloaded app, while content and games platform Jio Play and JioCinema, an on-demand video library of movies, TV Shows, music videos, clips, and trailers, also figure in the top twenty.
Video streaming in general has dramatically increased in India over the last two years. International streaming service NetFlix along with India’s own content app Hotstar are both hugely popular with mobile users.
New challenges for operators
But this explosion in apps and data usage among India’s growing mobile user base brings with it new challenges for the country’s operators in terms of monitoring and managing network performance. Since they can no longer compete on price, quality of service (QoS) and user experience have become the key points of differentiation - and therefore a strategic priority.
As with consumers in the rest of the world, Indian mobile subscribers expect a reliable and high-quality user experience on their device. If they don’t receive it, they’re likely to instinctively blame their operator, even if they’re using an OTT like Facebook, WhatsApp, NetFlix or Hotstar and the problem lies with the OTT, not the operator.
The result is staggering customer churn in India, among the highest in the world. 96% of Indian subscribers are continually changing providers in search of a better deal for their money. The average monthly churn rate is 6% (source: IBEF.org).
Network performance isn’t enough anymore
The proliferation and popularity of apps and OTTs means that for operators it’s not now enough for their performance monitoring and assurance systems to focus solely on their own network infrastructure. The interdependence between network and application performance is the new reality. If they want to guarantee a consistent QoE to their customers, operators now also need to see into the applications running over their networks.
Operators also need to visibility into their entire digital infrastructure, across each and every end-to-end application chain. From the app being used by the subscriber on their device, through multiple data centers, to multiple clouds, and beyond to OTT and SaaS applications.
The need for end-to-end visibility
The surge in mobile data traffic, the range of traffic types to manage – VoIP-based voice calls, mobile video streams, encrypted payment data – and the many different “stopping off points” for the data between different data centers, public and private clouds, exchanges and IP switches, make this extra monitoring a hugely complex challenge.
Compounding this problem for operators is that today’s “hybrid cloud” apps are developed and delivered using a variety of dispersed components and hosted resources – both in and outside their infrastructure – which developers and publishers “stitch” together to bring their app to life.
As a result, apps are more dependent than ever on the network to work properly. At the same time, both operators and app providers lack the visibility to identify and isolate the source of any issues or problems with an app, as traditional monitoring tools focus primarily on network or application performance, not the interplay between the two.
The stakes are even higher for operators to deliver an exceptional customer experience for their own apps and services. Operator-branded apps are increasingly the key interface and revenue collection point between an operator and its subscribers. The operator must therefore monitor its entire digital infrastructure involved in hosting its apps, in order to ensure they all function correctly and deliver a flawless experience to subscribers.
Furthermore, it must consider how its apps perform for subscribers on multiple devices and platforms - on their smartphone, PC, tablet, an IVR system or a call center, as part of an omni-channel experience.
To do so, the operator needs to be able to see the performance not only of the apps, but also the server, client and the network that supports them. Without this end-to-end visibility, operators risk overlooking “gaps” in the application chain that threaten performance, speed, and user experience. This in turn threatens operators’ customer retention, plus the return on investment (ROI) from their network and service assets.
Unify network and application performance with end-user experience monitoring
There is a pressing need to unify performance and assurance capabilities for the network and the apps that run over it with end-user experience monitoring. However, these have until now been distributed in a variety of different products and solutions, at different levels across the network.
By bringing network awareness to application monitoring—and vice versa— operators can reduce complexity and total cost of ownership (TCO), and also significantly reduce the time to identify and repair network or application outages. In so doing, they can optimize their QoS and their assets to deliver the best possible user experience for their subscribers.
Scott Sumner is vice president of strategy at Accedian