5 Best Practices for Assuring Carrier-Wi-Fi Quality of Experience (QoE)

Once upon a time, carrier-class access networks and Wi-Fi didn’t have much in common. Wi-Fi was seen as a best effort access technology – not carrier-grade. Today, there is nothing but Wi-Fi for carriers seeking to support their surging traffic levels. Given the scarcity of spectrum and unabated growth of mobile video traffic, the business case for Wi-Fi has never been stronger. What’s more, mobile data is predominantly used indoors, further strengthening the case for Wi-Fi. As a result, carriers are embracing Wi-Fi and working with vendors to evolve to carrier-Wi-Fi which closely integrates Wi-Fi technology with existing carrier networks.

According to a recent survey of leading carriers by IHS, the main business drivers for carrier Wi-Fi are (1) protecting existing revenue / preventing churn, (2) bundling Wi-Fi with mobile broadband subscriptions and (3) increasing coverage of broadband services (source: IHS Infonetics Carrier Wi-Fi Strategies and Vendor Leadership: Global Service Provider Survey: May 2015). So Wi-Fi has a dual attraction: it protects existing revenues and supports new services that can generate incremental revenues. Furthermore, given the ubiquity of Wi-Fi coverage, its cost-per-bit advantages and ongoing innovation (e.g. Passpoint 2.0/3.0, 802.11ac/d/h/x/y, Wi-Fi Direct), carrier-Wi-Fi appears to have a long life ahead of it.

The evolution to delivering carrier-Wi-Fi is about more than technology and standards – it’s also about deploying carrier-grade service assurance processes. Many enterprises depend on Wi-Fi as a critical delivery mechanism for business applications and financial transactions. Likewise, service providers need to ensure Wi-Fi service experience for their end-users in metro areas and in high-profile venues such as stadiums. To assure both enterprises and end-users receive an acceptable QoE, carriers need to adopt similar approaches to their assurance of fixed and mobile services.

QoE Measure what matters

Based on our experience working with leading providers deploying carrier-Wi-Fi, we have developed the following best practice recommendations:

  1. Go beyond the Access Point – Due to the unique nature of Wi-Fi, performance data from the Access Point (AP) provides limited value for assessing service availability and QoE. For example, AP performance data may include users that are trying to access the AP from areas it isn’t designed to serve. That data may also include users experiencing sporadic interference from microwave ovens or other interfering devices. Lastly, the AP may not have visibility of users that tried to access the service and failed, depending on the exact cause. For all these reasons, it’s important to look beyond the AP when crafting a carrier-grade assurance strategy for Wi-Fi.
  2. Be proactive, not passive – A controlled, proactive test approach helps counter the limitations of passively collected performance data available from the AP. By proactively testing the AP with a QoE device in a known location, it’s possible to gather data relevant to a specific coverage area. The test location (or locations) can also be selected to be free from known interference sources. Lastly, an active test approach using a QoE device gives full visibility of initiation failures. 
  3. Measure what matters – The only way to truly understand the customer’s perspective of the Wi-Fi service is to perform tests that replicate typical, real-world activities. In our experience, performance counters or RF connectivity tests often miss obscure configuration issues or other problems that can have a dramatic impact on QoE. To understand the QoE of a typical consumer, the QoE device should be able to perform tests such as downloading files, browsing the web and accessing social media and entertainment apps. For an enterprise customer with a service level agreement (SLA), the QoE device should be able to measure the performance and connectivity of the Wi-Fi service and critical application servers.
  4. Go 24/7 – Carrier-grade service assurance requires around the clock monitoring. Issues can occur anytime day or night. To effectively measure SLAs and ensure visibility of customer issues (before the phone starts ringing with complaints), it’s critical to monitor availability and QoE 24/7. 
  5. Get to the root of the issue – It’s not enough to simply measure QoE and related SLAs – carrier-grade service assurance requires additional information that accelerates segmentation of the issue and identification of the root cause. For carrier-Wi-Fi, that means assurance systems must provide metrics such as RSSI, channel, frequency and SNR and network QoS metrics such as latency and DNS failures. 

To learn more about Spirent’s service assurance solutions for Wi-Fi and other technologies, please visit: http://www.spirent.com/Solutions/Service-Assurance.

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