Bringing Eyesight to the Blind

3 Mins read

How would you like to be blind to most of all that’s occurring to your home subscribers’ experience? If you are an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you are!

Virtually all Internet services delivered to the home follow a 6-link service-delivery chain:

The (1) User engages the internet via a (2) smart Device which is connected via the (3) In-Home Network (usually WiFi) to the (4) Router which provides the home with Internet connectivity over the “last mile” to the ISP who then expands the connection to the (5) WAN (Internet at large), giving users access to the vast array of (6) Cloud Services (e.g., Netflix, Spotify, Zoom, Fortnite, etc.).

Service delivery chain

The realm of responsibility of the ISP—the part that the ISP provides to its home subscribers—is the home router, its WiFi and the last mile. As long as everything works well—the Zoom session is smooth, the Netflix movie is streaming, the game is keeping up with the sudden movements of other users—the story ends here. No need for much visibility.

But when something goes wrong—the Zoom session is inaudible, the Netflix movie is freezing, lag is killing the game—home users will turn to their ISP Customer Care for help. However, the ISP lacks visibility across the service-delivery chain. If the root cause of the problem is beyond its vision, the ISP won’t have the visibility to see the problem, much less address it. 

Upon receiving a technical-support call from a subscriber, the ISP’s Customer Service Reps (CSRs) often cannot determine the source of the problem. Is it within a device? Dependent on the WAN? The result of a Cloud-Service glitch? Is the Access Point saturated? Is the Router’s CPU overwhelmed? The protocol in their bag of tricks is to collect information and then to instruct the subscriber to re-boot the router. If that doesn’t make the problem disappear, CSRs will often conclude that the problem must be the fault of the router and they will schedule an expensive technician visit and router replacement. 

Would you believe that 75% of replaced routers never had a problem? They were collected and replaced at great expense unnecessarily. What’s worse, the new replacement router will not fix the problem in most of these cases. Soon enough, the problem will return, another technical-support call will be made, and the faulty repair cycle will spin again, piling up costs for the ISP and frustration for the subscriber. 

Blindness beyond the home

While many problems do, in fact, originate within the home, about half do not. For example, if the Netflix server that is streaming a movie is having a problem, the subscriber complaint should be made to Netflix. But many subscribers don’t understand this and will turn to their ISP Customer Care call center. The unfortunate CSRs who handle such calls also won’t be able to observe the condition and will often incorrectly prescribe a router replacement. 

The same is true if the general Internet (WAN) service is slow. Beyond trying a decades-old, one-size-fits-all Internet speedtest, CSRs can’t see the context of the troublesome condition and are unable to relate it to a specific problem and its root cause.

Blindness within the home

While ISPs are utterly blind across the service-delivery chain beyond the home, they are unable to observe many problems even within the home. For example, when a faulty device is the root-cause of a problem, most likely, the CSRs won’t be able to spot it. 

Here’s a case that demonstrates the inability to address an in-home problem:

Last night, a Smart TV manufacturer sent out an over-the-air firmware update to all of its TVs in a given geographic area. Unfortunately, this update distorted the function of hundreds of TVs. All of a sudden, complaints come pouring into the call center faster than water over a broken Michigan dam. Will CSRs be able to perceive the actual problem and determine its root cause? Highly unlikely.

Here’s another case that highlights the problem when several components are involved in an internet service:

A smartphone app has lost contact with the IP camera in a smart doorbell. The subscriber reports what he experiences—that his smart doorbell has stopped working. But the root cause will be found in the cyber or otherwise corrupted app. CSRs cannot discover this condition.

“I am watching the Earth. The visibility is good.” (Yuri Gagarin)

As the number of connected devices increases, along with the complexity and volume of services they consume, problems will increasingly spread from devices to cloud services. The urgency of complete visibility is mounting. To provide cost-effective and efficient support to home subscribers, ISPs must acquire end-to-end visibility across the entire service-delivery chain.

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