Ensuring a superior QoE in a complex multiscreen world

Monday, September 10, 2012

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Adding multiscreen services to the mix may cause those issues to spiral out of control, as service operators will be challenged to manage a growing number of operational requirements without adequate visibility of the operational state of the service or the perceived customer experience

As service operators struggle to manage an increasing amount of OTT and multiscreen content, it is critical now, more than ever, to execute on an effective IP video monitoring strategy. Huw Price-Stephens from Mariner Partners looks at the options.

In the early days of IPTV, service operators were focused on finessing their technical ability to deliver IPTV services rather than how to achieve a high quality of experience (QoE). While this strategy may have helped them secure market share early on, increased consumer expectations and technology advancements are transforming the industry. Today’s consumers are increasingly viewing video content on an ever-growing number of IP-connected devices, including smartphones, tablets, and PCs. And there’s no sign of consumer appetite slowing down.  According to recent research, 100 million households will be using hybrid television services by the year 2016, enabling consumers to expand their traditional IPTV television experience onto second screens.

This is a challenging scenario for IPTV service operators who are struggling to monitor their service environment and deliver the highest possible QoE to subscribers’ television screens. Adding the complexity of multiscreen delivery now makes it even more essential for IPTV service operators to adopt a reliable service-monitoring strategy. Adopting a strategy will enable them to manage IP video delivery regardless of the device or network and make QoE a competitive differentiation, while delivering superior, real-time customer care.

Complexities of a Multiscreen Environment
Delivering a traditional IPTV service via a managed network to a set-top box (STB) and TV set can be a relatively seamless process, with the right monitoring tools in place. Yet many IPTV operators today still have little to no visibility of the viewing experience at the point of delivery in customer homes. As a result, hidden network issues and customer dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems are major causes of increased operational cost.

Adding multiscreen services to the mix may cause those issues to spiral out of control, as service operators will be challenged to manage a growing number of operational requirements without adequate visibility of the operational state of the service or the perceived customer experience. In order to effectively monitor multiscreen services, an operator must manage an extremely complex set of content delivery requirements, taking into account a diverse number of viewing platforms, network types, content formats, encapsulation strategies, and bitrates, while simultaneously ensuring that subscribers are receiving a flawless video quality across all devices. 

Embracing a Unified IP Monitoring Solution
Mariner believes that the sooner an operator embraces an effective IP video-monitoring solution, the more successful it will be at managing the vast complexities of value-added services like multiscreen and OTT. While adopting an effective monitoring solution in the traditional IPTV service realm is increasingly regarded as a valuable concept, the complexities of multiscreen and OTT services make it indispensable. As the IP video environment evolves and consumer expectations increase regarding reliability, quality, and functionality, the vast array of technologies and techniques employed to deliver an IPTV service makes it that much more essential to deploy a holistic approach to monitoring across all IP video services.

A unified IP video monitoring solution enables operators to reduce operational costs by significantly increasing the effectiveness of the support infrastructure needed to manage today’s increasingly complex video services. By measuring video quality across multiple devices and networks, modern IP video monitoring solutions provide operators with a real-time portrayal of service quality issues from the edge of the network, so that they can more seamlessly deploy multiscreen services. This enhanced visibility allows them to more quickly and proactively respond to service quality issues in order to ensure a reliable user experience on any device.

Inadequate visibility of the total IP video service inhibits a service operator’s ability to respond to customer issues. In the traditional IPTV set-top box realm, this leads to unnecessary and expensive repeat installations, truck rolls, and set-top box swaps, as well as increased customer churn (in some cases, the unnecessary expenses associated with these impacts have been documented at hundreds of dollars per year per customer!)

It is about Quality, not Quantity
In providing localization and visibility of service issues, the ideal IP video-monitoring solution performs intelligent analysis and intuitive visualization on a targeted data set, rather than gathering the broadest possible range of operational status data. This is an important differentiator of a successful IP video-monitoring solution, and will be critical in the future as IPTV operators begin to support more multiscreen services.  

As the service domain expands to include additional devices, network types, content sources, and so on, the approach of gathering all of the available data and operating after-the-event analysis becomes increasingly time consuming. Too much information can be as much of a barrier to quick and effective action as too little information. In the multiscreen landscape, a smart filtering and rapid analysis approach is crucial to an operator’s success in delivering a superior service.

A successful IPTV monitoring solution provides customized views of service performance based on a wide range of categories such as neighborhood, region, channel, headend, and more. By breaking data down into a more manageable view, the monitoring system helps to accelerate and eliminate the risk of introducing new services, like multiscreen and OTT.
This more manageable view of the service also helps eradicate a common challenge that network operations personnel often face: silent failures. Silent failures are service issues that occur with no alarm registered by the existing monitoring system. Typically, these “silent” issues only get recognized if a customer service agent notices a trend. A monitoring solution that uses correlation rules, on the other hand, enables service operators to more quickly identify and isolate silent service issues, driving improvements in customer satisfaction.
In addition to real-time capabilities, meaningful after-the-event analysis is also important, particularly for trending, periodic reporting and in supporting a more detailed technical investigation of subtle issues. 

A Unique Approach to Monitoring

Many IPTV service assurance solutions involve porting a proprietary client to each consumer device to provide information regarding its operational status and performance. But Mariner’s preferred approach is to seek out existing sources of monitoring data, eliminating the challenge of adding a proprietary piece of software to the device stack. These sources include several standardized or commonly-used technologies which provide the necessary data from the network edge. Mariner concentrates its own intellectual efforts toward effective issue analysis, visualization, reporting, and troubleshooting. This approach is now reaping benefits, as the proprietary client approach is a poor option when dealing with the multiplicity of end devices which characterises the multiscreen and OTT environments. Mariner’s architecture for monitoring involves three tiers:

A deep understanding of the available monitoring data set, and a set of connectors to harvest that data.
A common but flexible analysis engine, rules driven and highly configurable, to provide the most useful ‘rolled-up’ status indicators based on the available data.
Easy-to-interpret dashboards providing rapid insight and action for different operator stakeholders
Mariner identified standardized or commonly-used technologies that could provide the necessary data from the network edge, and concentrated intellectual efforts toward effective issue analysis, visualization, reporting, and troubleshooting.
Mariner addresses the most important issues affecting the IPTV market, including growing operational costs and high levels of customer dissatisfaction, by capturing insight from the end device. Through a unified network architecture and standardized technology, data is collected from the edge of the network and service operators are provided with multiple, customizable views of that information for more effective monitoring and management of their customers’ QoE.

Real-time analysis and simple visualization of the video service status helps the operator pinpoint trouble areas that impact quality of service across many different devices, including traditional set-top boxes and newer IP-connected platforms like tablets, smartphones, PCs, Macs, and mobile gaming devices. Data can seamlessly be collected from a variety of broadband access platforms, such as DSL, DOCSIS, wireless, and Wi-Fi, ensuring a smooth user experience across any device and network.

As the consumers’ insatiable appetite for OTT and multiscreen services grows, an increasing number of adaptive bitrate standards are making their way into the world, including Apple HLS Streaming, Microsoft Smooth Streaming, Adobe HTTP Dynamic Streaming, and the new HTTP streaming standard MPEG DASH. It is therefore imperative for an IP monitoring solution to support all current and future HTTP streaming formats. 

Mariner understands that to succeed in this highly competitive TV marketplace, service operators must meet the quality expectations of an increasingly demanding TV consumer. By delivering a consistent and superior service across all networks and devices, IPTV operators can distinguish themselves in what is becoming a crowded and complex marketplace

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