What’s the real value of an SLA?

Gwenn Larsson, Telenor Connexion The blog author is Gwenn Larsson of Telenor Connexion

OK, so I know the definition of SLA is Service Level Agreement – and I know that the purpose is to encourage suppliers to live up to the performance requirements of their customers, says Telenor Connexion’s Gwenn Larsson (pictured). And in some cases with business- and life-critical M2M solutions it’s really important that the service works when it’s needed.

Yes, I understand that concept and the need for SLAs, but what I can’t understand is why customers that are doing RFQs (requests for quotations) or inquiries for connected services are asking for SLAs for the radio networks. Do they really think that a communication services provider, mobile network operator (MNO) or any MV(Virtual)NOs are going to make their radio networks or the radio networks of their roaming partners perform better because a new telematics or M2M service is being launched by one of their customers with strict SLAs?

Radio networks are as they are, and each MNO is constantly trying to balance investment vs. performance. And in general, GSM radio networks in the developed world are of very good quality where coverage exists. Downtimes of more than a few minutes are rare – although we know that they do occur.

What is important, however, is that a connected services provider (many times an MNO) is able to point to a good track record of identifying and solving radio network problems and other network problems – even in advance of their end customers noticing a negative effect. Of course, there are always going to be rare instances where radio networks fail. And if you happen to have an M2M or telematics service that is affected by this what you really need is:

1. A connectivity supplier that has a ‘back-up’ roaming partner that can deliver the service instead.
2. A proactive service and support desk that can notify you of a potential problem, what they are doing to help fix it, and regular updates on the progress.
3. A ‘techy’ and skilled support team that can come up with alternative solutions or fixes to help with any given radio network problem.

What you don’t need is a contract that awards you EUR10,000 for a few hours of downtime based on a random SLA of 99 percentiles of performance – because this isn’t really going to help your customers keep their ‘peace of mind’ or enable the connected alarm to send an SMS to the fire brigade when the barbecue inadvertently sets your home ablaze.

Maybe I sound a bit cynical now… but the truth is I do believe in SLAs where they make sense. How about the service components of an M2M or telematics offering? Every good connectivity platform should have SLAs and SLAs that are backed up by redundant servers, HLRs, gateways, etc. and be over zealous with quality control mechanisms. This is where we focus – albeit now through the use of the Ericsson Device Connection Platform (DCP.)

The other area where Telenor Connexion focuses heavily is on the after-sales support – keeping our high level of knowledge and competence on a 24/7 basis dedicated exclusively to our M2M customers. It’s a very proactive group. In fact, one of our customers just emailed a bit of thanks to us. Thanks for keeping them better informed of the radio network problems in a certain European country over Easter weekend than their home country MNO. This is the type of service that is hard to put a value on. But I know for sure that it’s worth more than a few hundred or thousand Euros in penalties.

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