19 MAY 2016

Leveraging network analytics and geo-location to reduce the need for drive testing

With poor quality experience one of the key drivers for customer churn, optimizing network performance to retain customers and differentiate services is a priority for every communication service provider (CSP). One of the standard methods of measuring and assessing the quality of service (QoS) to optimize network performance is with drive testing. This is where teams of people with specially equipped vehicles physically drive out to test various locations throughout a radio network. Traditionally, drive tests are performed to test the health of the network for moving calls. This involves testing professionals driving in areas where problems were reported with their test measurement equipment, capturing radio data and analyzing it to provide an understanding of the problems that could impact customer experience.

The Down Side of Drive Tests
Typical drive tests can be costly and time consuming, and not always deliver real-life results. It requires extensive human capital, equipment and time to physically drive around the various areas to test, and they are relatively inefficient.

Below are a few additional shortcomings associated with traditional drive tests:

  • Equipment Costs and Lack of Reliability
    Inside the vehicle, the typical drive tester, at a minimum, has a laptop running testing software, several cell phones and a GPS device. There may also be a frequency scanner and security equipment. In order for test results to be accurate, the technicians must maintain a minimum distance of 12” between cell phones and ensure none of the connections or equipment fails. This means if there are any dead batteries or any equipment comes unplugged, it could invalidate the test results.
  • Fuel & Maintenance Costs
    Drive testing takes time, and is required anywhere the network resides – from sparsely populated rural areas to congested cities and towns. If MNOs utilize in-house testers, this means managing a fleet of vehicles that require fuel and regular maintenance.
  • Labor
    Due to the risk of an equipment problem occurring while the driver is occupied, standard drive tests typically require two people, a driver and a tester. This can create high labor costs, along with training and scheduling issues that need to be managed.

A New Approach

Mentor, TEOCO’s RAN optimization and analytics product, delivers comprehensive ‘Virtual’ Drive Testing capabilities that minimize the need for the standard drive tests. Mentor repurposes actual 2G, 3G and 4G network activity from live users – to better understand individual behavior and network conditions. All layer 2 and 3 messages from calls are collected, anonymized and analyzed, highlighting the necessary parameters for service optimization.

Using actual traffic data greatly reduces costs associated with drive tests and improves accuracy. This represents huge cost savings in human capital, handsets and equipment. And TEOCO’s virtual solution is much more scalable than typical drive testing, which is limited by the size and range of the test team, with results that only provide a single snapshot in time.

Virtual drive testing meets the goal of analyzing data from real-life scenarios, getting as close to the actual user experience as possible. With traditional drive testing, you can zero in on concerns about a specific area or location, but with virtual drive testing, you can combine data points to look at a specific issue or large sections of your network, allowing you to have a view that spans across the country, or just across the street.

With Mentor, data is collected on a continuous basis from the network without the need to send technicians into the field. Using the geo-Location capabilities, the system assigns a geo-tag to each event and measurement of a call and can accurately map a single call, exactly following the customer’s route. Together, with the network KPIs calculated for each point, the system presents a geo-located map highlighting specific user experience-related KPIs. The RAN engineer can analyze the call, point by point, and examine the relevant events and messages.

With Mentor, the geo-location engine follows customers’ mobile call routes by assigning geo tags to each measurement of a call. A virtual drive test map provides a display with an immediate visualization of call flow events associated with specific sectors and terminals, within a specific timeframe. This allows for analyzing each call like a classic drive test.

Virtual drive tests are as efficient as they are accurate. The accuracy of TEOCO’s solution is due to its innovative methodology and algorithms that utilize multiple data points to map the whole view. Virtual drive testing enables visualization of a single call route in a geographical view, based on real, comprehensive subscriber measurements.

Mentor is currently installed at numerous operators and has been successfully geo‑locating data from hundreds of RNCs/BSCs on a daily basis, creating an impressive return on investment. At one operator, TEOCO’s virtual drive test solution has helped:

  • Reduce the need for engineering resources by 65%
  • Reduce the use of traditional drive tests by 50%
  • Reduce the time required to analyze data by 65%
  • Significantly reduce Trouble Ticketing (TT) resolution times

Virtual drive testing is a new and better way to improve network performance and customer satisfaction by leveraging actual network performance data. It is an easier, faster and more cost effective method that uses live subscriber data to provide information on network performance. It’s better for highlighting key problems in the network because it utilizes actual customer data. Results are more realistic, biased to where actual traffic occurs.

Click here for more information about Mentor and virtual drive testing.