Network quality has long been a top cause of customer churn for telcos. Yet organizations often continue to struggle with delivering adequate quality because the demand for more data has negatively impacted voice service. That demand will likely grow; according to a recent McKinsey study, consumer demand for data will increase by 40 to 80% per year, depending on customer patterns and geographic region. While data might seem more urgent, voice is still important. Telcos that wish to remain competitive are placing new emphasis on network quality testing.
Better Overall Network Quality
On its face, the purpose of network quality testing is to...improve network quality. Ongoing network quality testing can help reduce jitter and packet loss; improve latency; and decrease the risk of outages. Improved network quality translates to two key financial benefits:
- With fewer outages, telcos spend less money on maintenance, patches, and repairs. These savings could be used to improve network speed, offer more competitive pricing, or fund other initiatives that can make a telco more appealing to target customers.
- Improved network quality can help shape public perception of a telco, supporting the acquisition and retention of customers.
Granular Customer Insights
Today’s telco environment is extremely diverse; the number of users continues to grow, and customers can use networks for so many different things. Some might still only need voice, while others stream video, check their email, or use GPS services. These usage patterns mean that telcos must keep up with the needs--and expectations--of diverse user profiles.
To understand emerging user patterns, telcos have increasingly turned to ongoing network quality testing. Using data mining, test results can be analyzed to provide incredibly granular insights on how the network is performing in real time. For example, data can be analyzed for a specific region, or for customers with a specific usage pattern. This data in turn can be used to extrapolate how users likely perceive network quality. Thus insights gleaned from network quality testing can help identify previously unknown network quality issues.
Focused Capacity and Network Improvements
Decades ago, telcos essentially had to deliver only one kind of service: voice, over a wired network. When telcos delivered this homogeneous service to everyone, they could roll out changes with little regard to how it would impact users with a relatively narrow set of use habits. That ecosystem has obviously evolved considerably, and telcos must prioritize improvements in the face of decreased average revenues per user (ARPU), competing demands, and limited budgets.
At its simplest level, network quality testing provides information on where quality could be improved. In most cases, there will be multiple opportunities for improvement--but not the resources to execute them all. Paired with information about the habits of the most profitable customers, network operators can make strategic decisions about where to invest in additional capacity and other network improvements to maximize ROI.
Improved Network Agility
According to the FCC, in 1999 there were only about 2 million internet connections in the US, and 58% of those were through 56kbps dial-up services. In the subsequent decades, the number of connections has exploded, and network speed has increased exponentially. People are accustomed to ubiquitous WiFi, and the advent of 5G has arrived. Network demands will continue to evolve thanks to several factors:
- Continued demand for increased capacity
- The rise of cloud computing
- The proliferation of real-time applications that require extremely low latency
- Further rollout of 5G
Ongoing network quality testing encourages continuous improvement, so telco operators can more easily adapt networks as customers’ needs and expectations evolve over time. After all, it’s easier to update a network that’s already well maintained, than to make changes to one that first requires repairs or maintenance. Telco operators that consistently use network quality testing to identify areas of improvement (and make those improvements as they are discovered) are better positioned to look ahead at what’s next for networks and adapt accordingly.
A New Focus on CX
In the past few years, telco operators have recognized the value of focusing on customer experience (CX), which is, of course, strongly correlated with high network quality. A rigorous network quality testing protocol supports the establishment and monitoring of Key Quality Indicators (KQI’s), that is, objective measures of quality that can be used to set new quality targets and evaluate progress toward better CX.
Incorporating KQI’s alongside other more conventional KPI’s helps to reinforce the importance of CX. This practice also helps to bring attention to quality across the organization, and across the customer lifecycle; no longer is network quality solely the responsibility of an isolated engineering team--it’s central to the success of the entire organization.
It might sound difficult to measure the precise ROI of this strategic approach. However, according to a recent report published by Oracle and IDC, investing in CX can simultaneously reduce cost to serve and increase customer value. The report lists three key ways that focusing on CX can impact a telco’s bottom line:
- Reduced churn, which improves customer lifetime value and decreases customer acquisition costs
- Decreased demand on call centers, which allows for resource redistribution and need for fewer call center employees
- Potential for automation, thanks to the unification of network quality testing data and customer service data
Automation for More Efficient Network Quality Testing
Automation can also play a role in network quality testing itself. Network quality testing has grown increasingly complex with the constant addition of new use cases. Automating the process allows telcos to run repeatable, scalable tests on all the devices that customers actually use. This means that the test team can run hundreds of network quality tests per day, instead of maybe a dozen per person. With the addition of automation, the test team can move past prioritizing only the most common configurations.