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It’s all in the Bin: The bright future of Operator SLAs

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A growing number of Service Level Agreements (SLA) between customers and Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are being expressed in terms of percentiles. This practice gives CSPs the opportunity to both refine the SLA collaboratively with their customer and also to monetize performance information obtained from their network. It also enables customer to choose from a wider pool of SLAs and adapt them to their specific needs. Some operators even pay penalties if they fail to meet the conditions of the SLA.

What are SLA percentiles and how are they used?

 In the network environment, a percentile is a measurable percentage of performance either above or below an agreed level.   Percentile measurements are commonly performed over an agreed interval, to ensure they adequately represent the performance of all the packets delivered over that network. A good example is packet delay. Here a SLA might specify that 95% of the packets need to be delivered within 10ms, providing crystal clarity over when a SLA breach occurs. 

Calculating percentiles over a measurement interval, however, is resource intensive and, as a result, can prove cost prohibitive. One elegant way to bring the cost down is to obtain percentile measurements using Measurement Bins. A Bin is a kind of counter that increases every time a measured value falls within pre-determined boundaries. In their simplest form, two kinds of Bins can be defined: one for the measurement interval from zero to a threshold value, and a second from this threshold value upwards, infinitely. By just counting the number of values that fall within the first interval or Bin and dividing this value by the total number of values in the measurement interval, one can directly obtain the percentile of measurements that fall within the SLA. Performing this task is, comparably, very efficient, making it easy to verify whether or not the contractual SLA has been honoured.

Bin-novation

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Free WiFi can be more than just a way of enticing customers into your store

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Thierry Masson, WiFi Product Marketing Specialist at OneAccess discusses the monetization potential of free customer WiFi services.

The subject of free WiFi for customers seems to leave many traditional “bricks and mortar” high street retailers with a bit of a dilemma; on the one hand it can be a relatively low cost way of getting the always-connected consumers through the front door, but on the other there is the nagging concern that maybe those consumers are using the service for reasons that are not obviously helping to drive revenue or improve the bottom line.

I think it is fairly safe to say that at one time or another we have all taken advantage of an in-store hot-spot, saving on our mobile data charges to compare prices for the item we have our eye on (before purchasing elsewhere), no? Just me then.

Given this scenario it is perhaps understandable why many of the high street chains are sitting on the fence in terms of turning their stores into a digital friendly, 21st century smart-spaces. Recent UK research found that only around 30% of the top 50 retailers provided free WiFi for customers and, oddly, of those that did only a small handful actually made the service widely known through in-store signage.

While there are undoubtedly many different reasons why the other 70% have yet to work out how they can monetize a free WiFi service, they are meanwhile missing out on a rich seam of customer behaviour data that is waiting to be mined and used to help convert casual shoppers into long term loyal customers.

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Do CLI Experts Need to Worry about Their Jobs?

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Our customers tell us that NETCONF is fast becoming the preferred way to provision virtualized networking devices. Tail-f has been the main advocate of this protocol, with a pitch that goes roughly as follows: “NETCONF provides the toolset to configure an end-to-end service with a single network-wide transaction. OSS programmers spend less time in handling error cases –as the role of transactions is precisely to ensure success and rollback in case of errors. You do not need to pay high-salary CLI experts to handle such rollbacks manually, when the OSS has failed to do it in a proper way. And you can now automate service creation at an unprecedented level.”

The more you automate the less people you need and with the transactional capabilities of NETCONF you do not need them to recover the disaster of accidental automation glitches. That has got to be rather scary for the cohorts of CCIE-certified engineers and other CLI experts, doesn’t it? Does it mean their expertise will become redundant? Do they need to find a new mission in life?

I recently met some CLI engineers. They see the change coming but as they are buried by the demands of their day-to-day activities, they have not yet had the time to study and experiment with NETCONF. So, this protocol along with YANG data modelling remains very abstract, if not confusing to them. Of course they understand quite clearly that NETCONF is about a programmatic approach to the process of service creation. Network engineers thus understand they must acquire new skills in programming but it is certainly not their comfort zone today.

In many cases, an OSS will not manipulate YANG models or NETCONF directly. The likely way to program network services is to use tools that generate an interface code from the relevant YANG models and programmers will use that API to create the services. For IT engineers, service creation is not much more than mapping a Service Abstract Layer (SAL) data model to objects on a set of networking functions or devices, nothing more.

But that is not the starting point for network engineers. Their initial steps are still the same (as before NETCONF): create a network design, prepare a reference setup, elaborate configuration templates, write troubleshooting guides, etc., with the notable difference being that such templates must be written in NETCONF XML. With OneAccess products, this is a fairly natural step: first create the reference configuration using the familiar Command-Line Interface, then use some commands to export it as XML or a set of xpath statements. Using this process, CLI can be mapped to NETCONF pretty intuitively. In other words, an extensive CLI knowledge is still a valuable asset for engineers. Working with NETCONF is then an easy next step and defining XML templates is after all not so difficult.

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A Gig Ticket: A Chance for Operators to Grow the Market for 1Gbps L3 Services

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Recent innovations in customer premises equipment (CPE) mean that operators can now bring 1Gbps Layer 3 connectivity to a much bigger market. Just in time, too, explains Pravin Mirchandani, CMO, OneAccess Networks.

Industry dialogue about ‘the race to 1Gbps’ has, until now, largely focused on the challenge of laying fiber and how operators might backhaul via ‘dark fiber’ laid in the dotcom boom.

Huge strides have been made. In the US, ultra-fast networking university collective, Gig.U., revealed last year that ‘scores of American communities are now deeply engaged in deploying ultra-fast networks’. And it’s no secret that forward thinking players like Google and AT&T are intent on hooking up America’s major cities to fiber networks. Across Europe, challenged by terrain, borders and a fragmented marketplace, all-fiber connectivity has been harder to achieve but, like the US, fiber to the premises rollouts are well underway in most major cities.

It’s a good job, too. As the world’s businesses continue to migrate into the Cloud, the global market’s appetite for 1Gbps Layer 3 connectivity is growing, fast. Business adoption of increasingly bandwidth-hungry cloud apps and services is driving up speed requirements and putting pressure on operators to democratize 1Gbps connectivity by offering service contracts to the masses of distributed enterprises and SMBs at price points they can afford.

In this effort, operators have faced an equipment challenge. Cost effective 1Gbps in Carrier Ethernet has been around for some time but, until now, application-oriented ‘Layer 3’ 1Gbps connectivity has remained exclusive to the enterprise HQ. This is largely because the customer premises equipment (CPE) capable of delivering 1Gbps Layer 3 services has been ill-suited to mass deployment by operators. Having been designed for the Enterprise HQ, it is disproportionately expensive, big, cumbersome to deploy and laden with ports and features that operators simply don’t need. As a result, ultra-fast connectivity ‘for the masses’ has been neither economically nor operationally viable.

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Managing the machines: How operators can get ahead in M2M

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The deployment of Machine to Machine (M2M) initiatives is generating new revenue opportunities for operators and communication service providers (CSPs). Pravin Mirchandani, CMO, OneAccess Networks, explains how innovative traffic management services, delivered via customer premises-based equipment, or CPE, can help them capitalize on these opportunities.

Vodafone’s third annual M2M Barometer survey has confirmed that businesses are embracing M2M technologies faster than ever before. Over a quarter (27 per cent) of all companies worldwide are now using connected technology to develop and grow their businesses. In particular, the retail sector, together with the healthcare, utilities and automotive industries are all moving to maximize M2M’s potential. The returns are substantial: 59 percent of early adopters reported a significant ROI on their M2M investment.

Despite the market buzz, many operators and CSPs are yet to zero in on the most profitable and operationally efficient way to support this new wave of industrialized connectivity. Not least because the range of possible M2M use cases is vast. The diversity of devices being connected, their whereabouts, the conditions in which they operate and the amount of data they produce all impact on the CSP’s choice of supporting network equipment. One key commonality, however, is that all deployments require a connectivity infrastructure capable of aggregating, securing and backhauling M2M data in a cost-effective, fast and reliable manner.

As the number of connected devices skyrockets, the ability to offer a range of traffic management services will be a clincher for operators and CSPs looking to gain a foothold in this market and differentiate their offerings. The good news is that many of these can now be delivered via the CPE, without the need for additional devices. Establishing always-on connectivity is of course vital, but the ability to provide a robust business continuity failover to LTE could also prove attractive to customers for whom any amount of network downtime is harmful, no matter how small. Network monitoring and dynamic traffic routing software managed via the CPE can also be used to support traffic throughput at peak load times.

Before the M2M market can reach true maturity, however, fears relating to data protection and security must be assuaged. Given the limited processing power of M2M’s connecting sensors – which are incapable of performing heavy duty computational functions such as encryption – the opportunity here is in the hands of CSPs and, again, the CPE can help.

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Thinking ahead: Eradicating downtime needs strategic vision as well as technology

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Organizations focused on delivering network connectivity services, from big national telcos to small, regional service providers, are under pressure to reduce network downtime. A recent report from IHS Research(1) highlighted that US organizations are losing as much as $100m per year to the problem. It seems to be a similar story in Europe, too, where network outages are estimated to be costing companies an average of €75.5k per year(2).

Meanwhile, business technologies are evolving at a blistering pace, raising the stakes even further. The steady march into the Cloud, together with the rise of enterprise mobility are increasing network traffic and deepening the enterprise’s dependency on the network. Looking not so far ahead, the surge of un-manned connections from machine-to-machine (M2M) initiatives is set to compound matters. Against this backdrop, communication service providers (CSPs) are making it their mission to futureproof their networks so they can maintain network stability, speed and security as their customer’s demands intensify.

Organizations that manage multiple branches across dispersed geographic locations, like hotel chains, petrol stations and retailers, have multifaceted dependencies. Here, network performance outages can halt the business in its tracks, severing the link through which customers engage, card payments are verified and the supply chain is managed.

One such organization demonstrating ‘best practice’ in network management is Tokheim, a global managed service provider specializing in the retail oil and gas industry, whose purpose-built international network connects 5000 petrol service station customers worldwide. The success of Tokheim’s business rests on the quality of its network.

In 2013, with the future in mind, Tokheim set about evolving its business-critical network to ensure that it could support the fast growing, always-on transaction environment required by its network of branches To meet performance requirements, Tokheim centralized the application infrastructure management functions needed to monitor the variety of networked point-of-sales (POS) devices deployed on its customers’ forecourts. This upgrade delivers a faster, more reliable payment experience to its customers, supporting its efforts to increase market share. Importantly, the organization also delivered PCI-DSS compliant POS connectivity for its real-time transaction processing and, to minimise the risk of network down time, integrated a number of backup options including 3G and secure VPN remote access to networked locations worldwide.

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Latest News

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    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI), a leading supplier of telecommunications solutions for telecom operators, today completes the acquisition of the OTN-Switch (Optical Transport Network) platform developed by Padtec, an optical communications system manufacturer based in Brazil.

     
  • A record 2nd quarter with sequential growth of 17%. H1 2019: revenue of €45 million and expected improvement in EBITDA margin

    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI), a leading supplier of telecommunications solutions for telecom operators, has published its revenue for the second quarter of 2019.

     
  • EKINOPS Launches Channel Partner Program in EMEA and APAC

    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI), a leading supplier of optical transport equipment and router solutions, today announces the launch of the EKINOPS Channel Partner Program (ECPP). The program has been designed to support value-added resellers (VARs) and system integrators to differentiate in the market by providing them with the opportunity to build, sell and deliver solutions tailored to their customer needs, while still benefitting from the Ekinops’ extensive knowledge, resources and expertise.

     

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