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April 2015

The Flight to Quality: How Test Call Generation Enables Service Differentiation in Wholesale Voice and SMS

The Flight to Quality: How Test Call Generation Enables Service Differentiation in Wholesale Voice and SMS

The “flight to quality” is a fitting description of today’s wholesale market.  The margins in international voice and SMS are so razor thin that a wholesaler would surely go broke if price were its only selling point.

But if quality is your differentiator, then you need to measure that quality.  You need to quantify it.  And you need to prove to your customer that its traffic can reach far flung global destinations with no voice degradation and with CLIs still visible on the terminating phone.

Test call generators, of course, are a key enabler of quality differentiation and here to explain the business of traffic testing is Robert Wiesheu, VP Global Sales of Quality Assurance Solutions at CSG International, a global leader in test solutions, particularly in the wholesale area.

Robert’s commentary brings to life a QA technology that has remarkably wide uses in telecom — and is clearly growing in importance in wholesale voice, wholesale SMS, and roaming.

Dan Baker: Robert, it would be great to first hear an overview of your business and the use cases you are serving.

Robert Wiesheu: Sure, Dan.  Assure is our test-call solution and it’s a service inside CSG’s Wholesale Business Management Solutions (WBMS) product line.

We have distributed the solution to 144 countries so far — about two-thirds of the world and we continue to expand our coverage on a constant basis.  Our customers basically dial-up those test numbers and get immediate feedback on quality metrics, such as CLI.  Globally we are the dominant test player among tier 1 and 2 wholesalers — that’s our customer base.

And we serve them with all manner of voice quality testing, SMS testing, and fraud detection, such as FAS and international bypass.  We are also now moving into the mobile roaming test area.

Our service is a pure cloud-based service.  No capex is required: the carrier just pays a subscription fee based on the volume of test calls they perform in our network.

There are lots of ways to measure voice call quality, yet the CLI has become the overwhelming favorite in quality measurement.  Why is that?

If I call you now and you see my UK number on your phone, that generally means the quality of the traffic or the transit is very good.

CLI is also revenue impacting.  For instance, if I get a call when I’m abroad and I don’t see the number, I’m less inclined to pick up the call because of the cost incurred.  However, if I see my wife’s number, I will pick up and that earns revenue for the operators.  Same goes if I miss a call.  If there’s no number to call back to, then it’s a lost revenue opportunity.

So, in lots of agreements signed between operators, CLIs are part of the contract and used to measure performance.   That’s where CSG comes in.

I would say second in popularity to CLI in international voice traffic testing is the MOS score, or Mean Opinion Score, which is a measure of how clearly you can actually hear the voice when you call someone.

MOS in a lot of ways provides a more powerful indication of voice quality than the traditional quality measurements that can be extracted from CDRs like ASR, PDD or ALOC.  The only slight issue with the MOS score is that it is somewhat relative: operators can argue whether a MOS score of 3.4 compared to 3.6 is really impacting the end customer on the phone or not.  This is a key reason why CLI is king: it’s indisputable — the CLI either appears on the call or it doesn‘t.

But CLI and MOS are not the only quality measurements.  Strange as it may seem, a lot of our larger customers, for example, also rely on FAX testing because in African and Asian countries FAX is still used quite a bit for critical documents.

Test Flow for Carrier / SMS Testing

CSG Test Flow

It’s interesting that in wholesale there’s no direct billing impact or SLA penalty paid for experiencing low quality traffic.

Yes, traffic quality is not tracked as a billing event, but quality still highly influences the price a wholesaler can command for its voice traffic in the marketplace.

Let’s say an operator in Germany sends all its traffic to Russia via a specific carrier saying: “With guaranteed CLI traffic, I promise to pay you a premium of one cent extra per minute.”

Now if at some point the German operator should discover — through our test call solution — that a high percentage of traffic being terminated doesn’t have a CLI, then they would of course go back to their carrier and say, “Look, I paid a premium price for these routes, so I want a discount on my next month’s bill.”

What is it that distinguishes one test call generation service over another?

Test call generation companies tend to focus on different use cases.  Where our primary focus is on testing wholesale and roaming traffic, other vendors tend to be strong in billing and revenue assurance testing.

Then there are another set of test call vendors who focus primarily on fraud such as SIM box detection where the common strategy is to pair test calls with passive monitoring through a fraud management system.

But I would say the number one key differentiator for a test call supplier is to have a widespread global coverage and the ability to cover all the mobile networks in a particular country.  The idea is to cover all of the possible termination points within all of the available networks in that country.

If it’s a big carrier we will connect to their international switches and they use Assure to send out hundreds of thousands of test calls to all the different countries and terminate into our test nodes.  In turn, they get the results of those test calls back in real-time.

Building out these test networks by the way is not a trivial exercise: you need to find reliable hosting partners who have the right internet connections, take good care of the mobile phones, and perform troubleshooting when required.

We have a team that does nothing else but make sure our network of test nodes is available.  We test them ourselves every day.

Robert, you mentioned SMS message testing, but why is that area the focus of quality if it’s being overtaken by the Facebooks and other OTT players?

Let me clarify a bit.  It’s true that in P2P (Person to Person) SMS traffic, the quality is not so critical.  But where quality really comes into play is A2P (Application to Person) traffic.

A2P SMS testing is a hot area right now.  We added SMS testing to Assure about three years ago and that business has taken off significantly over the last 24 months.

The SMS aggregators act the same way that wholesale carriers do on the voice side: they buy and sell SMS, carry it through, and terminate it on behalf of large corporations as well as mobile operators.

So they need the means to test the quality.  About 90% of all larger SMS aggregators in the world now use our solution to verify the quality of their SMS traffic.

Now let me drill down a bit on why quality is so critical to A2P traffic.  Say, for example, you are the customer of a bank and you lose your PIN number at the cash machine, and you’re desperate to get cash.  Well what the bank will do is send a security check to the phone number of the person via SMS.  Now if a message like that doesn’t arrive in 5 seconds, that’s a problem.

So these A2P connections are critical for the operators and the SMS aggregators to test because they are the lifeblood for airlines, banks, and other financial institutions.  These businesses want a guarantee of SMS quality and the assurance that it arrives fast and the content is correct.  The only way you can keep it up is to test the network regularly.

One of the critical aspects of this to watch is the SMSC network element mapping.  This is hugely relevant because it basically shows the last SMSC from which the SMS was sent to the end customer.

So, coming back to our example above, if our mobile operator in Germany has an agreement with the same carrier to terminate the SMS to Russia, Assure sends a test SMS and checks the last SMSC.  If that SMSC was in China or Brazil, then the mobile operator would know that the message didn’t use a direct route.  Maybe the traffic was sent to another player for termination, so that would be a breach of their agreement.

This is why it’s important to verify how the operator routes the SMS and if it is routed in the way you expected.  Character set validation is also important, for example, if there are Chinese or Hebrew characters sent around the world via SMS.

Finally, the Roaming Test area is a very new area you are pursuing.  Why is that attractive to you?

Well, it’s a natural extension of the testing we currently do since it requires having a global network of test nodes.

The potential of this market is actually much bigger than the wholesale market we currently serve.  Roaming test means working directly with mobile operators and MVNOs in all countries.  It’s a huge market that will become more important as LTE networks expand, and there are very few test competitors.

The way it works in a few simple words is that we have an engine that allows us to virtualize any SIM that we have and send it across to any of our test nodes.

So, let's assume again that mobile operator in Germany is our customer and they want to simulate a subscriber of theirs going to the UK.  Well, our virtual SIM service enables them to send the SIM information to our test node in the UK, so they can make or receive test calls to or from Germany — or to any other destination.  In turn, they can check that the call quality is good — and that they can surf the web and send an SMS.

Robert, thanks for this fine briefing on test call generation.  You’ve shown that the technology has much broader use cases than you would normally suppose.

Copyright 2015 Telexchange Journal

 

About the Expert

Robert Wiesheu

Robert Wiesheu

Robert Wiesheu is the VP Sales Quality Assurance Solutions at CSG International and in charge of the Assure product line.

Robert joined CSG with the acquisition of Ascade where he had been responsible for Sales and Business Development in Europe and Africa since 2005.  Prior to Ascade, he held various sales positions at several OSS and BSS software companies serving the telecoms industry.

He has dual British and German Citizenships and holds a PhD from the Technical University in Munich and an LLB (hons) from the Open University.   Contact Robert via

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