Broadband Service Performance

It’s More than Just a Speed Test!

network speed
Mike Serrano

Earlier this year, I was attending a conference on Next-Gen technology and services for service providers. As most panel discussions go these days, the topic quickly turned to Title II regulation – also known as Net Neutrality. As the various panel members dodged-and-weaved from actually commenting on Title II, one participant made a very interesting comment, “we need to move beyond defining access as a merely raw bandwidth, or a simple speed test. We should be measuring and reporting on the quality of the service.”

What is interesting about this comment is that it gets to the network complexity of providing a broadband connection. That is, the dependency those broadband services have upon network services to actually provide the subscriber or user a connection. The network services I’m referring to are the unglamorous parts of the network:

  • AAA (Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting) servers
  • DNS (Domain Name Servers)
  • DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol)
  • LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol)

What most subscribers and regulators fail to realize is that all of these network services are required in order to provide broadband access. Working together they ensure that the user is authorized to use the network and that they can get to where they are trying to go – even to run a speed test!

The reason service providers need to understand and monitor the performance of their network services is because these services directly impact the user experience. Their impact can affect millions of subscribers and some of these services may not be hosted by the user’s service provider. For example, in the summer of 2014, a service provider we work with noticed an increase in the number of call center calls about users not being able to get to a certain location on the web.  At the same time the operations team using NETSCOUT’s nGeniusONE Service Assurance platform was noticing an increased number of DNS errors. Leveraging NETSCOUT’s service triage approach, the operations team was able to quickly identify the issue as being with the search provider’s DNS server being down and not a problem with their network. Having the proper tools in place, the operator was able to quickly notify their call center with a proper response for users calling in to complain.

An added benefit of monitoring network services fall into the security arena. These are the services that hackers focus on for attack because they cause havoc with the subscriber base. They slow down or cripple the network, bring down sites and services, and generally drive up complaint calls to the customer care center.

So, just running a speed test isn’t really a good measure of broadband access, after all, the subscriber needs to consistently and reliably get to where they want to go for a broadband service to be useful.  Monitoring the performance of network services has the benefit of providing insight to a real measure of connectivity for the user. Of course, this raises the question of how to best monitor network services. Since these services are always running, real-time, always-on-monitoring is required, and since they are interrelated, the operator needs to understand the interactions between the various network services. At NETSCOUT, we’ve found that by monitoring the traffic flow between network services provides operators unmatched service visibility. In addition, NETSCOUT’s advanced analytics allows operators the ability to quickly triage service issues and quickly get to the root cause of an issue.

How well do you know the real performance of your network?  Have questions?  Visit