Since the future is wireless, there is intense competition in that space. Networks can no longer afford to be "down" at all or there is a price to be paid in the form of high customer churn.
Agilent Technologies, one of the leading test and measurement companies which was spun out of Hewlett Packard in November 1999, is seeing increasing business from the wireless space in India.
The company has worked on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks and is now involved with the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks that are being rolled out.
One of its solutions which is creating waves in the market, and for which it has recently bagged deals, is its network "benchmarking" services.
Aimed at the wireless operators, it measures the performance of the operators network and benchmarks the quality of the network with that of competitors. Given the intensity of competition in the wireless space, it is no surprise that there are a large number of takers for these services.
To collect the raw network performance data for benchmarking, mobile vans fitted with some fancy equipment do the rounds of the city in what is called a "drive test."
Dead zones (where there is no coverage), frequency interference (legal and sometime illegal), strength of the signal (of the client company as well as that of its competitors) and call quality data are among the things which the drive test throws light on.
"Drive testing is a very common and most frequently used testing, troubleshooting and optimisation technology in wireless networks," says Agilent's wireless network services division sales manager Madhu Nair.
Of course, the service provider always has the option to collect and analyse realms of data in-house. "It is economical to outsource it, if you factor in the investment in time, money and human resources that an in-house exercise would require," avers Mr Nair.
Under Agilent's benchmarking service, called RECON, the voice quality of up to eight networks can be measured concurrently. Now, with data traffic picking up, data quality measurement has been added to RECON's portfolio.
There is also a web-based version of the service eRECON - which offers 24 hour access to the data collected.
Agilent will also soon be introducing in the Indian market its unmanned drivetest systems.
These ruggedised one-box probes are planned to be installed in public vechicles like buses and taxis so that data can be collected automatically.
After seeing the benchmarking data analysis, it is time to set the house in order. The fancy word for that is network optimisation. Some problems could be solved by merely changing the direction of the base station or frequency reallocation may be required. The cell-site may sometimes need to be changed. "Optimisation of the networks is a continuous ongoing process. Companies cannot and should not do without it," says Mr Nair.