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Friday, 07 May 2010 17:22

More questions than answers on TNZ's XT mobile network's failures


Telecom New Zealand has released a nine page summary of the report into the failures of its new XT mobile network earlier this year, but the experts from Analysys Mason failed to find any single 'smoking gun' and their report raises almost as many questions as it answers.


Analysys Mason did find one specific problem: "As network traffic increased, as yet unidentified software issues, in particular those related to the RNC [radio network controller] software, contributed to parts of the network becoming unstable under certain conditions."

That aside, the general gist of the report was that the high profile failures were the result of higher than anticipated demands on the network with design, management, operational and capacity shortcomings.

The overall impression one gets is that this was something of a 'pioneering' project, breaking new ground and that problems, if not inevitable were at least understandable.

And that surely is the biggest question of all. Given the experience of Alcatel-Lucent, and the industry in general, in rolling out cellular networks, why did they get it so wrong?

The main finding was that "The network failed because the network and supporting operations were not ready to manage the levels of traffic it experienced'¦The approach to operating the network was not appropriate for a new, quickly changing network that included leading-edge technology.


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"Consequently, systems and processes were not capable of managing the rapid pace of customer and traffic acquisition and migration and the operational systems/processes were not mature enough to predict and pre-empt the issues."

Analysys Mason also found that, although coverage was supposed to match that of the CDMA network that XT was built to replace "Due to the lack of operational system and process maturity, in particular the lack of effective network performance measuring systems, it was difficult to address coverage issues quickly." The report does not explain why these systems were not in place.

"Telecom and Alcatel-Lucent have recognised that capacity planning and network dimensioning is an area for improvement and are currently working to improve the capacity planning, network monitoring systems and operational capacity management processes."

The report also suggests that the network architecture fell short of industry best practice "Compared to industry standards, there is scope to improve some aspects of the network architecture and element resilience and the automatic resolution of faults, which will lead to improved network reliability." Elsewhere it describes the architecture as "overly complex."





Management systems and processes were also found to be lacking. Analysys Mason found that a number of faults could be "attributed to the failure of operational processes that were more appropriate for a mature, well-established network, rather than for a network that was in its early stages of life" and that support systems able to "monitor, identify, prioritise and manage faults," were "inadequate"

The report is careful not to point the finger of blame at either Telecom NZ or its supplier, Alcatel-Lucent. It does say that "The XT network is designed, built and operated by Alcatel-Lucent," but adds: " Analysys Mason was not asked or required to comment on the responsibility or accountability of either Telecom or Alcatel-Lucent for the issues experienced with the XT network. This will be a matter to be determined on the basis of the contractual arrangements between the parties."

Telecom NZ CEO, Paul Reynolds acknowledged that "some serious errors were made," (he did say by whom) but claimed the report "shows that XT is fundamentally sound." He added: "Significant progress in improving the robustness and reliability of XT has been made."

The problems identified by Analysys Mason could result from lack of expertise, lack of funding, lack of time or a combination of all three.



TUANZ CEO, Ernie Newman suggested that Telecom had been in too much of a hurry "Telecom are not the first company in the fast-moving, highly competitive technology industry to have launched a product too early, and it is unlikely that they will be the last," he said. "The important thing is that they have accepted that mistakes were made, and taken all the necessary remedial action."

Communications minister, Stephen Joyce's take on the report was blunt and to the point" 'The review identified problems with the design, planning and operation of the XT network," but pointed out that: "the Government's primary focus is on Telecom's ability to provide a robust 111 emergency calling service to its XT customers. New Zealanders must have confidence in their telecommunications infrastructure for emergency calling."

He made no comment on the Government's confidence in XT's emergency calling capabilities and the public version of the report was rather vague on detailing how well Telecom's XT network was meeting 111 requirements.

"The review also examined the XT network 111 emergency protocol to ensure that it meets international best practice and to identify any potential risks to this service'¦ Analysys Mason has also confirmed that the 111 service is aligned to international standards."

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