Net Neutrality: Accurate Speed and Quality of Experience Assessments Are Prerequisites

An evolution of the European regulatory framework

While the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal Net Neutrality rules in December 2017, the European Union remains strongly committed to them. The adoption of the European regulation (EU)2015/2120 enforces a new fundamental right for citizens of the European Economic Area: a non-discriminatory access to an open Internet.

In addition to the policies for “Safeguarding of open access”, the regulation introduces the quality experienced by the end user as the baseline and states in paragraph 1 of Article 4 (point d and e):

Providers of internet access services shall ensure that any contract which includes internet access services specifies at least the following:

  • a clear and comprehensible explanation of the minimum, normally available, maximum and advertised download and upload speed of the internet access services in the case of fixed networks, or of the estimated maximum and advertised download and upload speed of the internet access services in the case of mobile networks, and how significant deviations from the respective advertised download and upload speeds could impact the exercise of the end-users’ rights laid down in Article 3;
  • a clear and comprehensible explanation of the remedies available to the consumer in accordance with national law in the event of any continuous or regularly recurring discrepancy between the actual performance of the internet access service regarding speed or other quality of service parameters and the performance indicated in accordance with points (a) to (d).

Dura lex, sed lex.

A challenge for regulators and Internet Service providers

Open Internet Word CloudNational regulatory agencies have the critical tasks to translate, enforce, and monitor an EU-compliant national implementation. This is leading to different initiatives like the sourcing of a reference system for Net Neutrality Measurement Tool by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), a new Voluntary Code of Conduct released by UK regulator Ofcom in March 2018 or the leverage of the existing ecosystem to build a solution in a partnership mode (“co-construction”) by Arcep, the French regulator.

On the other hand, for “providers of internet access”, the “remedies” aspect of the EU regulation translates into risks of higher OPEX (fixing issues in limited timeframe), increased subscriber CHURN, and potential cash outlay. Concurrently this creates opportunities for the service providers to deliver the best quality of experience. Hence, the critical need for accurate speed testing and better understanding and management of the Quality of Experience (QoE) for all customers.

Quality of Experience, the right way to measure it on fixed access

When looking for a proxy for Quality of Experience assessment, speed is the usual suspect. Accurate throughput measurement is a must, no doubt. However, real Quality of Experience, especially for fixed access, requires a more holistic approach. Let’s take, xDSL access for example.  There is a tradeoff between the achievable rate and the protection of the line (Signal to Noise Ratio). Low SNR target settings will lead to higher rates but might cause an intermittent connection. The availability of the connection over time or connectivity needs to be considered.

Access networks are by design, oversubscribed. For some networks that share a medium such as GPON or HFC, there is resource contention on the “last mile”. For all networks there is resource contention at the access node (for example, a 1Gbps backhaul link to an OLT (GPON access node) which is servicing 10,000 subscribers.). Therefore, the throughput measurement needs to be automated and scheduled on regular basis to take into account peak hours when contention is the highest. It needs to be compared to advertised speeds and cannot any longer be a theoretical maximum throughput that could be achieved in perfect conditions.

Finally, high latency can impact real-time services and should be closely monitored as well.

Those automated measurements need to eventually be available for all subscribers, on all technologies, on a frequent enough basis and therefore they must be done without interference to customer usage. This means they are required to be affordable and account for cross traffic while not competing with it.

All those factors rule out traditional approaches based on manually triggered tests done only on end user devices  (e.g. APP or web browser) or additional dedicated hardware.

Quality of Experience is, de facto, an end to end concept. However, a specific segment of the network requires special attention: The Home Network and in today’s world home network = Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi challenge

Measurements made on large networks show that throughput of in-home Wi-Fi can go very low, making wireless the bottleneck of the whole network. This is particularly true for the 2.4 GHz band as well on the 5 GHz band. The coming of Ultra-fast broadband era unveils Wi-Fi issues.

A few years back, a call to a service provider customer support to complain about the quality would have likely started with this question: “Could you please connect to your router using an Ethernet cable” (just after the classic: “Have you tried turning It off and on again?”). With the explosion in number of mobile devices that connect only in Wi-Fi, service providers need at the very least, visibility on Wi-Fi performance.

When it comes to Wi-Fi performance an obvious indicator is the Received Signal Strength or RSSI.  No one can deny the fact that if you have no signal, the probability of having bad service is high. What is sure is that a good coverage (good RSSI) is not always synonym of good quality. It goes back to the 3 metrics we discussed earlier: Speed/Throughput, Connectivity and Latency. Some might wonder whether the service provider is responsible for the in-home Wi-Fi. Well, the answer is complicated but if service providers take an OPEX motivated and pragmatic approach, the answer is yes. However, service providers need to be able to discriminate between issues arising from their own network or from the in-home Wi-Fi as each are tackled differently.

An ideal solution would provide an end-to-end view by combining the measurement made on the two legs of the network (WAN and Wireless LAN).

Is there a solution on the market fulfilling all those requirements? (spoiler alert: the answer is yes, and this solution can do much more.)

Introducing CloudCheck® TruSpeed

TruSpeed software is designed to enable internet service providers (ISPs) and communications regulatory agencies to measure accurately the available throughput at different network points to ensure the network fulfills end-user expectations, contractual commitments, and advertised speed.  The ASSIA TruSpeed solution leverages ASSIA’s unique methods that allow multi-segment testing. (figure below)

ASSIA’s TruSpeed Solution is built upon 5 components:

  • TruSpeed Agent is a measurement agent installed on the Customer Premise Equipment (modem, residential gateway etc.) that allows scheduled tests to be executed automatically (at peak time and at quiet hours). This agent performs tests that are directed towards test nodes as well as towards single-end testing of the Wi-Fi link.  ASSIA’s TruSpeed software determines whether Wi-Fi is the bottleneck or not.  The TruSpeed agent is currently supported by more than 100 platforms and can virtually be supported by any CPE running Linux.
  • TruSpeed SDK/APP can be used as a measurement agent from the end-user device to a test node for an end-to-end assessment of performance. The end-user can also use the SDK/APP to trigger CPE based measurements. Finally, the APP can provide the end user, through its unique SweetSpots feature, visibility of Wi-Fi throughput and coverage limitations while empowering subscribers to take corrective actions.
  • TruSpeed Server manages the agents, collects all the data sources, and stores them while thereby providing powerful analytics and reports . The server also exposes a set of APIs for easy integration to external tools/OSS/BSS.
  • Access Network Data Collector (ANDC) is an optional module of the TruSpeed Solution. The ANDC allows collection of technical settings provisioned on access nodes (maximum rate, access technology). The ANDC can store the network topology, which can be helpful for correlation and for speed prediction of new customer additions based on neighborhood performance.
  • Speed Test Nodes are smartly placed on or off network for throughput measurement.

CloudCheck TruSpeed is the only solution on the market that can truly address the speed measurement challenges introduced by European Union laws.

For more on TruSpeed introduced by ASSIA today, June 6, 2018, please see our new TruSpeed product page at www.assia-inc.com/products/cloudcheck/truspeed    The press release can be found at www.assia-inc.com/about-us/media-center/