Mobile networks are playing a major key role in including populations in the digital revolution, particularly in developing countries. Asia Pacific is no exception. This region already accounts for half of the world’s unique subscribers and connections and is expected to add 600 million new subscribers by 2020.

Originally posted on APAC CIO Outlook

However, when it comes to network performance there is a wide gap between countries. According to Ookla’s Net Index, while mobile data in New Zealand and China zooms along at an average of 27.7 and 27.6 Mbps respectively, people in Vietnam are staring at blank white pages on their smartphones as data trickles out at just 1.9 Mbps.

Poor network performance is resulting in subscriber frustration and can sabotage the economic growth that is expected as a result of improved connectivity. The cost and time required to add enough infrastructure just to

keep up with demand may be too little and too late, even without taking into account: expanding services to new subscribers.

Consumers Demand Quality of Experience

For example, in India, where connectivity issues have become a national obsession. In the past decade, nearly one billion people have been connected to wireless phone services as part of India’s mobile communications revolution,making it the second-largest mobile phone market in the world. Most recently there was a launch of the cheapest smartphone in India, and indeed the world, the Freedom 251 was designed to make smartphones available to everyone.

However, along with rapidly increasing number of users, came the network quality problems, making dropped calls a burning issue. Last summer, the government-run national consumer complaints help-line reported that dropped calls ranked at the top of the list. The issue was the cover story of a national news magazine in July. And a TV station has launched a social media campaign called # No Call Drops

At the same time, India is one of the most competitive markets, with 14 different mobile operators to choose from. Operators are competing to provide a positive quality of experience for increased referrals, lasting customer loyalty, reduced churn, and last but not least increased revenues. As network performance becomes a key differentiator, being able to measure, monitor, and improve problem spots could become the critical factor that will decide which operator shall stay ahead of the game.

Barriers to Beefing up Capacity

The sheer volume of new devices and explosive growth of video content is continuing to put a strain on networks. In addition, there are many operators who complain that their governments don’t subsidize telecom infrastructure. In the Philippines, for example, there are no governmental subsidies. There are also several challenges caused by the geography; for example the complexity of connecting islands and covering huge expanses of remote areas.

There are also limited quantities of radio spectrum. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that governments need much more – double the amount of mobile spectrum available today – to meet the growing consumer demand for data. With 4G rising and 5G on the horizon, and without more spectrum identified, ITU believes that Asia Pacific cannot benefit from economies of scale and affordable connectivity that could put the future of its digital economy at risk.

Networks that Work Smarter not Harder

There is another option, to invest in technologies that can make better use of the existing capacity. However, these systems require sophisticated analysis tools with the ability to provide quick response time based on network conditions.

For starters, network performance can be difficult to measure and influence. Especially when performance measurement can cross technologies such as 2G, 3G and 4G and different equipment vendors. Understanding the complexity of the voice and data points, the large amount of data and the modelling of the dynamic relationships between them requires complex systems.

There is also the need to report potential issues or provide an automated loop-back where operational feedback is used to prevent or reduce potentially poor customer experiences.

Self-organized networks, (SON) combined with big data can provide the functionality needed to focus network resources at mobile operator pain points. Combined with SON, big data can measure the real time behaviour of different network segments enabling operators to act faster to avoid dropped calls and a degradation of service. These systems also support shared and converged mobile networks that support the most efficient use of network infrastructure.

In Asia Pacific a whole range of online and network based businesses are dependent on mobile networks. Not ensuring that there are acceptable service levels, and having subscribers suffer from dropped calls and waiting too long for their data to load, could undermine the digital revolution and mobile operator’s competitiveness.

The whole world is banking on Asia Pacific joining the connected world. But the digital revolution is only as good as the technology that stands behind it.