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Empirix: UC Service Assurance Soon to be a Necessity for Operators

Test and monitoring vendor introduces a new unified communications service assurance platform, saying its experience in the enterprise tells it carriers will soon be needing similar capabilities

March 10, 2011
Connected Planet
by Rich Karpinski

Unified communications (UC) gets a bad rap, in part because the ways in which it was supposed to appear—driven by fancy phones at home and the office – hasn’t really worked out.

But surprise: some very sophisticated pockets of UC services – combining voice, messaging, chat, video and more— have begun to appear. Where? One: in the call center, where UC-equipped agents are taxing enterprise networks with a mix of customer interactions. And two: slowly but surely on mobile networks , where smartphone users are getting used to using a mix of voice, messaging, video, social media (like Twitter) and app services – in some cases simultaneously.

This week, Empirix launched a new Unified Communications Assurance Platform driven by its experiences serving the enterprise call center market but aiming for the bigger prize by ultimately helping service providers – most notably mobile operators – ready their networks to deliver a mix of UC services to their customers.

“Our whole UC assurance platform came out of our enterprise side, but it has major relevance for service providers as well,” said Bob Hockman, director of product marketing for Empirix. “We’ve been helping large contact centers understand the quality of their [network] communications from a user perspective. What we noticed was that as they put in new IP [voice] systems, moving from TDM to VoIP, they also wanted to start using chat [and other UC-style services]. And suddenly, they were having a voice quality problem, and they didn’t know why.”

In the past year, IP service assurance has been a huge topic in the industry (see: Service assurance getting hotter; Service assurance ‘2.0’: Bridging customer experience, network management), with vendors pitching platforms to help service providers manage not just their new IP networks but the services that run over them. Like any new capability, IP service assurance platforms have initially been deployed to support basic services, like voice over IP or mobile data services.

But more complex UC-style IP services are emerging quickly as well.

What Empirix discovered with its call center experiences is that while “UC” may not be a popular concept, it was happening anyway in some areas – and it had a major impact on the quality of IP services from an end user perspective. Call centers, for instance, “don’t call it UC, but that’s what it is – it was all about multiple ways to communicate,” Empirix’s Hockman said. “And it had a major impact on the network.”

To address those issues, Empirix’s new Unified Communications Assurance Platform includes a mix of network elements, including network probes and network and application software agents, along with services to help enterprises and carriers troubleshoot, isolate problems and tweak their networks, Hockman said. The capabilities include both active and passive testing and monitoring, including solutions to simulate a mix of bandwidth- and session-heavy UC-style applications including voice, video and data services.

The announcement by Empirix this week is of its basic UC assurance platform; in the coming months the vendor will deliver a series of solutions targeting specific UC use cases – addressing, for example, enterprise or mobile operator requirements (for the latter, Empirix will leverage its acquisition of wireless testing vendor Mutina, Hockman said).

Empirix can test and monitor “how many users [a network can handle], what are they doing, what type of traffic are the generating, how many voice calls, how much video, email, chat sessions, tweets per second?” said Hockman, adding that users expect the same instantaneous response they get from voice calls from chat or other IP services as well.

While enterprise and call center experiences drove Empirix to tackle UC assurance, the vendor believes an even bigger opportunity may soon arise in the mobile arena. To that end, it also released a survey of smartphone users this week by Harris Interactive that revealed that most users experience service problems when using multimedia services on their phones – and nearly half of those users put the blame on their mobile network providers, regardless of the actual cause.

It’s just those types of problems that service assurance solutions are built to address: keeping an IP network running is one thing, but customers ultimately experience IP services. That means service providers must focus on customer experience and service assurance above all, said Empirix’s Hockman.

As we mentioned, IP service assurance has been a hot topic in the past year.

We’ve covered the trend:

- Service assurance getting hotter
- Service assurance ‘2.0’: Bridging customer experience, network management
- When testing met analytics: A love story
- Analysis: Assurance solutions must be open, flexible and scalable

And tracked vendors delivering IP service assurance solutions:

- Sonus adds performance management tools to VoIP platform
- Exfo continuing down 4G radio/IP monitoring path
- Empirix LTE assurance play balances network, user experience
- Tektronix tool lets telco teams guarantee IP performance

Empirix: UC Service Assurance Soon to be a Necessity for Operators

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