By Marc A. Todd
In the battle against quality-related churn, a target of 99.999 percent network uptime should be pursued by service providers and equipment manufacturers alike, writes Marc A. Todd.
The digital video providers we interact with daily tell us that solving problems associated with poor video quality is vital to their continued success. Fluctuations in picture quality frustrate their customers, and that frustration is increased if the customer stays home for a half day waiting for a service call that may not resolve the problem.
To remain competitive, digital video providers must achieve high levels of satisfaction to gain new customers and minimise subscriber churn. The level of competition also makes it imperative to control costs associated with customer support and remedial services, both of which are paramount in the delivery of clean signal delivery.
The key to maximising customer satisfaction and controlling support costs is to build a highly reliable, end-to-end infrastructure, complete with redundancy and resiliency comparable to that of the traditional POTS telephone network. To achieve optimum end-to-end network programming availability, each component on the end-to-end path between the signal source and the subscriber needs to be available more than 99.999 percent of the time.
While the industry has done a good job of delivering relatively high quality analogue video signals, delivering a digital video signal is still a relatively new technology and is much more complex because it requires so many hardware and software components, any of which could either fail or introduce some form of degradation.
Another fundamental challenge in delivering high-quality video services is that the networking equipment deployed to support these services lacks consistent, embedded management capabilities and product resiliency that customers are used to having in the traditional telecommunications environment. Currently, there is no technology built into routers that will give providers meaningful management data about the quality of video services. That’s why the concept of High Availability is so important: it gives network equipment providers, video providers, and content providers a universal, easy-to-understand metric with which to measure the video network’s total uptime.
High Availability must be based on the notion that the video service is not available whenever the quality of the service falls below a specific threshold. Well-defined video quality of experience (QoE) thresholds are valuable in communicating reliability requirements to network equipment manufacturers (NEMs). Ideally, NEMs would be able to modify their testing procedures to support an additional set of QoE availability specifications that would be more meaningful for digital video service providers.
Providers must establish meaningful QoE thresholds that are supported by video monitoring equipment capable of detecting even short duration errors that can detract from the viewing experience. Such errors may occur at the IP packet layer, or within the MPEG payload, and are experienced by the viewer in a number of ways – any of which can result in a trouble call to the provider’s customer service centre. Some of these anomalies include picture freezing and tiling, channel change lag, lack of on-screen programme information, problems with closed-captioning, noticeable lip sync errors, and missing audio or video.
Service providers must improve the reliability of their digital video networks in order to improve overall viewer QoE. This can be achieved by working with NEMs to devise standards of measurement, and then implementing a real time, per-programme video monitoring solution.
Marc A. Todd is president and CEO of test and measurement and quality assurance solutions provider IneoQuest Technologies.