Managing the customer takes control

Karl Whitelock/Stratecast
10 Mar 2010

As networks become more robust and customers gain access to the latest devices that act in multiple capacities, people's lives change as a direct result. What was once considered a marvel, such as loading a video clip on a mobile handset for later replay, is now commonplace.

As customers continue to find new ways to use communications technology and internet access capabilities offered by network carriers throughout the world, customer-generated network traffic has increased exponentially. Perhaps the best evidence of this comes from a look at how the data traffic load across the core IP networks of ten different communication service providers throughout the world increased from an average of 5-6 Gbps at the end of 2008 to an average 24 Gbps by late 2009. This increase was even worse for some, which saw loads change from 1-2 Gbps to over 10 Gbps. Without a doubt, these rates have increased again.

People today are making internet access with instant availability of data-intensive services and business functions a bigger part of their lives. In many regions, mobile TV, fixed and mobile video downloads, and interactive content for education, business and recreation is commonplace for large customer communities. Business customers and consumers are redefining the way they live, work and play according to what the converging communications marketplace offers them. Convergence in this case is far more than just fixed and mobile technologies coming together, it is also the blending of communications with the wares from computing IT, media, entertainment and yes, advertising.

The problem

To provide network connectivity at an acceptable level of service quality, CSPs have three choices in dealing with the rising tide of network traffic. Build more capacity, strike partner deals to carry a portion of the load, or incorporate ways to better manage what is presently available. In each case, the driving force is to keep customers satisfied and thus reduce churn in some markets while attract new customers in others.

Though the first two options are feasible and likely to be implemented in some parts of the world as a means for eliminating customer dissatisfaction when network capacity problems are noticeable to everyone, especially the end-user, they come with additional cost and no guarantee of new revenue to offset those costs. In many other areas, advanced ways to more effectively manage customer traffic volumes are the only option that makes business sense given constraints tied to current technologies, regulatory conditions and budgets.

Traffic shaping, or policy-based traffic management, is not a new concept for the CSP community. In fact, many operators use traffic monitoring and control to keep their networks optimized. Without customer consent, however, if such practices bring noticeable change at the customer level, dissatisfaction is sure to follow. Some network operators caught a severe publicity backlash a couple of years ago over this very issue.

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