We recently co-hosted a webinar with Sonar Software where we looked at the rise of hybrid networks and the challenges and best practices associated with them.
During the webinar, co-hosts Dan Siemon, Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Preseem, and Sonar CEO Simon Westlake looked at the key issues for multi-access networks (e.g. fixed wireless and fiber). These included technical challenges, deployment methods, scaling ability, monitoring options, and more. They also considered some not-so-obvious obstacles that fixed wireless ISPs might face when adding fiber to their network mix.
Read on for a recap of the webinar or simply view it for yourself here!
Hybrid Networks Add Complexity
As Dan and Simon discussed, complexity is added when single-access technology networks move to hybrid. As well, hybrid networks can become a problem as ISPs grow.
Typical issues that ISPs might face as they move to a fixed wireless/fiber hybrid network include:
- Access technology and multi-vendor expertise are required to access the root cause of problems
- Provisioning requires either training non-technical staff on multiple tools or relying on technical staff to make changes
- The support team has no single place to understand network quality and see problems
- Once you get to multiple access technologies and multiple vendors within each access technology, provisioning and support become unmanageable when just using vendor tools because you’ll be accessing multiple systems all the time
Also, training on multiple systems can become painful and time-consuming. Onboarding L1 support and expecting them to become masters of multiple systems quickly is impractical.
Hybrid networks automatically become multi-vendor networks because no equipment vendors offer best-in-class products across all access technologies. That’s OK, however, because multi-vendor is a good thing—you want to be able to choose the best vendor and/or access technology for a given problem or situation. For example, fiber might make sense in an urban environment, whereas fixed wireless makes more sense in a rural area.
Scaling Your Team in Hybrid Networks
Having that flexibility is handy. However, with multiple vendors you add new complexity, so how can the business scale in this environment?
As the slide below shows, you can think of it as splitting the network into layers, with the access tech and vendor expertise being the responsibility of the technical team, while customer-facing support and provisioning should really only be concerned with the network quality and billing/monitoring systems. For example, the customer-facing teams shouldn’t need access to tech expertise. They should be focused on ‘are we delivering what our customers expect?’
Getting a single pane of glass where you can look at all your data and having it be accessible for your support people is critical to be able to scale. Support teams shouldn’t have to think or know too much about how the service is being delivered when they’re dealing with customer problems or simply upgrading a service plan.
Choosing a Billing/OSS System for a Hybrid Network
When it comes to choosing billing/OSS systems, Simon highlighted the following:
- Look for systems tailored to abstract service provisioning methods
- The ability to provision CPE and manage IP assignments is important
- Look for strong APIs so you can extend where necessary
Individual network tools are still important for low-level debugging. However, high-level workflows don’t make sense to push from the semi-technical staff on down. You don’t want to have people logging into vendor management tools all the time. You can save time and become more efficient with the right tools in place.
Simon also talked about the importance of inventory mapping, especially as you get into multi-access networks—knowing where your resources are is key. For example, you need to know where your IPs are, where your equipment is, where your techs are and what they can do (e.g. what access technologies are they familiar with, can they climb, can they splice)? You need to be able to track this centrally.
Understand Your Network Quality
Dan then explained Preseem’s ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approach to ensuring network quality.
On the ‘top down’ side, Preseem looks at subscriber traffic in an access-agnostic way, taking everything that characterizes IP/transport layer performance. This is then tied back to topology, and then we identify which parts of the network deliver a poor experience and which subscribers are getting a poor experience.
The ‘bottom up’ end involves extracting information from the network elements themselves. Preseem pulls RF parameters and builds up a model of each AP’s capability. This way, we can aggregate the data, understand the performance, and use this to drive scores. The goal is to provide an abstraction of quality without all the details support teams don’t need. This makes life easier for your support staff and enables proactive management of your network to give your subscribers a better experience.
To recap the main points of the webinar:
- Hybrid/multi-access networks are here to stay
- A multi-access network is a multi-vendor network
- Multi-vendor networks are good but add complexity
- Scaling and reducing operating costs requires abstracting the low-level details for most of the team (e.g. support, provisioning, admin)
Dan and Simon also discussed plan enforcement issues and reducing policy implementation complexity. View the entire webinar below!