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The network is a graph poised to help telecoms

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flex)

The global telecommunications services market is on the cusp of a period of substantial growth, driven by the need for telecom operators to optimise their business processes in an increasingly competitive market driven by new technologies.

The contribution of mobile services and the Internet of Things (IoT) are adding to this growth. According to Markets & Markets, the IoT telecoms services market is estimated to grow from $2.90 billion in 2016 to $17.67 billion by 2021, at a staggering compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 43.6 per cent. This is being fuelled primarily by an insatiable demand for mobile data services.

The telecommunications services industry consists primarily of wireline services, including landline connections and landline broadband access, together with wireless services, made up of mobile connections and mobile broadband access. It is a complex ecosystem made up of carriers, telecoms equipment vendors and service providers who all play their role in satisfying customer demand for 24/7 connectivity, whenever and from wherever.

The way we all communicate is continually transforming. Telecoms must continually look at how they deliver their core and ancillary services to survive and thrive. The integration of IoT into our daily lives and the smarter homes and cities we are living in are already becoming a reality, with analyst firm Gartner estimating there will be over 20 billion connected things by 2020.

Obviously telecoms companies can’t rely on a single technology to deliver all these parts. But, it may come as a surprise to you that one technology occurs in many areas of the complex telecoms environment and is used in different ways. These uses include supporting networking-facing operation support systems (OSS), that enable service providers to monitor, control, analyse and manage services on their networks to unified network inventory, planning, traffic engineering and traffic intelligence, performance analytics, detecting fraud, personalisation apps and customer journey analytics to control ‘churn rates’ and try and stop ‘churn’. This technology is known as graph database software.

Very simply, graph database software has been designed to treat relationships between data as equally important to the data itself. Data is stored showing how each individual entity connects with or is related to others.

Looking at data – and the world in a new light

Currently four of the top five global telecoms companies use graph database software as a way of working with their data. Why? Because service assurance requires performance and predictability, such as monitoring real-time end-user experience for automated responses. Because of their native graph storage, graph databases find it easy to query such complexity at scale, easily outperforming relational databases (RDBMS) and other NoSQL data stores. This provides a very strong and flexible new data model.

Enterprises that have adopted graph technology are enthusiastic because they can see it opening up a new route – not just to working with data, but actually thinking about data. In essence this is a pioneering new way of visualising and shaping it for business purposes.

It also opens up a new way of problem solving. Despite being hyper-connected by their very nature, critical data is often siloed away from physical assets such as end devices, routers, servers and applications to activities such as calls, media and data through to customer information, that includes rights and subscriptions.

Telecoms companies are quickly understanding that graph data models are capable of revealing cross-domain dependencies with a single unified view of the infrastructure and topology. Breaking down silos is at the very core of next-generation service assurance solutions.

Graphs can naturally capture relationships between data therefore making the modelling of network and service complexity easier and far more efficient. Networks, by the way they are set up, are to all intents and purposes graphs. Graph databases are, therefore, an ideal solution for modelling physical infrastructure incorporating cables and routers, for example or a virtual network with its cloud platform, servers and associated applications.

Graph software’s in-built capabilities to map connections single it out from traditional RDBMS databases. These require mindful schema building and complex joins to map multiple levels of relationships that becomes inflexible when trying to add new data.

Graph technology is specifically designed to store and process such multi-dimensional associations. This capability underpins service assurance in the telecommunications arena which demands performance and predictability, such as monitoring real-time end-user experience for automated responses.

To deal with this type of processing, RDBMS databases often use batch process or pre-computed schemes which cannot deliver the conclusions needed to provide immediate results. This is where graphs could really help service assurance, which has up until now had to rely on fragmented views of the network and services. These are typically manually curated and often inaccurate. Following RDBMS results in costly and inadequate service quality.

Some of the big name telecoms companies are reaching out to next-generation service assurance that leverages a comprehensive, real-time view of services and infrastructure paying close attention to end-user experiences, new service creation and predictive modelling. Take Orange, for example, whose Senior Enterprise Architect Nicholas Rouyer explains how the company uses graph technology to find security issues in Orange’s key information systems “and (so) have a bird’s eye view of all its components”.

Orange engineers and operators are starting to use graphs to create a singular view of operations across multiple networks at once, including cell towers, fibre lines, cable, customers and consumer subscribers or content providers. As a result they are starting to make measurable improvements in the customer experience by minimising the impact of system maintenance or outages, being able to re-route services during an unexpected interruption, or identifying and pre-emptively upgrading vulnerable servers based on their maintenance history and availability.

Orange isn’t the only company that has seen the merits of graphs. A number of telecoms companies are now using graph software – but there are still some who have yet to note what a powerful tool it could be in their service assurance arsenal.

And a graph platform can provide the visibility, scalability and adaptability needed for next-generation service assurance. Once the telecoms industry as a whole realises this understanding, managing connected data will be faster and easier – and the results hugely compelling.

Emil Eifrem, CEO, Neo4j
Image Credit: Flex