Network Availability and Why It Matters

By Jeremy Ladner 10 min read

Failure isn’t an option - It’s likely obvious to most why having continuous reliable network connectivity and communications is vital to the daily operations and success of every telecom network.

Network availability concerns are often associated with critical infrastructure and public safety. However, network operators of every kind, from National and local Communication and Internet Service Providers (CSPs ISPs) to the energy sector, finance, and commercial manufacturing, know that network downtime equates to dollars lost.

For CSPs and ISPs, network downtime negatively impacts Quality of Service (QoS) Metrics. Poor service pushes up customer churn, which drives up the costs associated with winning customers back from competing providers.

In this blog, we’ll examine the challenges and benefits of maintaining optimal transport network availability.

What is Network Availability?

If you Imagine your network as a system of roads and highways, then assessing your network’s availability is like listening to the morning traffic report before you hit the road and head to work. Are there road closures causing delays? Faulty traffic signals? Flooded tunnels forcing Detours? Potholes and road repairs? – In Measuring ‘Availability’ you’ll look at anything that slows down or stops data traffic flow. These can be minor or major data delivery issues. A partial data delivery downgrade, or a complete collapse of your communication and operation systems.

Using "nines" is a common method to communicate network availability, and it's a way to express the reliability and uptime of a network or system. It's often used as shorthand to convey the percentage of time a system is operational and available for use. Each "nine" represents a level of availability. The more nines you have, the higher your network’s reliability score is. Here's how it works:

One Nine (90%): This represents 90% availability, which means the network is operational 90% of the time and experiences downtime 10% of the year, or about 36.5 days over a 12-month period.

Two Nines (99%): This indicates 99% availability, with downtime of about 3.65 days per year. It's commonly considered the minimum acceptable level for many services.

Three Nines (99.9%): Often referred to as "three nines," this represents 99.9% availability. The network experiences downtime for roughly 8.76 hours per year. It has a high level of availability and is commonly targeted by service providers.

Four Nines (99.99%): Four nines correspond to 99.99% availability, with downtime of approximately 52.56 minutes per year. This level is often sought after for mission-critical applications.

Five Nines (99.999%): Also known as "five nines," this is extremely high availability. It represents 99.999% uptime, with downtime of just 5.26 minutes per year. It's typically required for services where any disruption is unacceptable, such as emergency services or financial transactions.

As we mentioned earlier, the impact of network availability and downtime can range from costly customer churn for Internet Service Providers to public safety hazards for critical infrastructure operators – let’s take a closer look at the various sectors.

  • Service Providers: 
    User Experience is one of the main reasons for customer churn. End-users have come to expect seamless and uninterrupted connectivity. Whether it's cloud-hosted enterprise services, streaming media, or video calls, any interruption in service can lead to frustration, dissatisfaction, and the very real perception of unreliability. Communication Service Providers and Internet Service Providers need to maintain a high level of availability, according to Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Network downtime directly impacts the user experience, making optimal availability pivotal to the success of any service provider.

  • Enterprise: 
    Both public and private enterprises depend on microwave and millimeter wave transport networks for fast and efficient communication to facilitate their day-to-day operations. Most of these organizations rely on real-time data transfers, which require high-speed, low-latency connections. Any disruptions, even for a short time, can impact their bottom line, engagement with customers, and business effectiveness.

  • Public Safety Applications: 
    Microwave transport networks serve as the backbone for a wide range of public safety applications, including emergency services for police and fire response, public data transactions, healthcare communications, and more. Any downtime in these networks could have dire consequences, affecting public safety, economic stability, and even human lives. Ensuring high availability is paramount to maintaining these essential services.

  • Critical infrastructure:
    Critical infrastructure operations such as water treatment facilities, hydroelectric dams, and energy generation, distribution, and transmission organizations, require robust connectivity of 99.999% availability to ensure the efficient operation of their systems. These operations require constant monitoring and communication, which is only possible with a reliable and secure network. Any loss of connectivity could lead to significant downtime and an increase in maintenance costs. And a potential threat to public safety.

Coping with Availability Challenges

While the benefits of high availability in microwave transport networks are clear, there are a couple of common challenges every network operator needs to plan for:

  • Weather Interference: 
    Microwave signals are often considered safer than fiber connections because they can’t be accidentally cut or intentionally severed by vandals. That said, wireless connectivity can be affected by adverse weather conditions. Proper network design that includes multiple layers of redundancy and Adaptive Coding and Modulation (ACM) can help minimize your network’s Bit Error Rate (BER). Working with a trusted network solution provider will help ensure your network has all the necessary redundancies in place.

  • Physical Obstructions:
    While wireless microwave and millimeter wave networks can be installed far faster and more affordably than fiber, they do require line-of-sight between transmitting and receiving antennas. Visibility obstructions, such as buildings or terrain, can impact signal quality and availability.

Once again, working with an experienced network solution provider like Ceragon will ensure that transmitting and receiving antennas have a clear line of sight and that the installation takes into consideration potential short-term and long-term changes in network area terrain and topology. This often requires auditing and reviewing proposals for any future construction projects in the surrounding areas to verify that the line of site will not be interrupted.

Cutting Through Availability Claims

A key component of availability is reliability. As we mentioned earlier, a good Network Solution Provider will design and build your network with careful consideration paid to multiple redundancies and advanced topology. Network element reliability can also negatively or positively affect availability.

While there are plenty of vendors selling everything from standalone telecom network hardware to complete network solutions, not all vendors are created equal. One way to measure how they stack up against one another is to examine vendor reliability using their Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF).

MTBF provides an estimate of the average time you can expect a system to operate without encountering a failure. The higher the MTBF number, the more reliable it is and the longer you can expect it to run before a failure occurs.

If you compare the MTBF for some of Ceragon’s network elements to those of a leading competitor, the results speak for themselves. While Ceragon’s devices run for an average of 100 to 140 years before failure occurs, some competitors can only be counted on for 25 to 50 years.

You’re probably thinking “Hey, 25 years of problem-free operation sounds great!” But, if your network has 25 of those devices in it, statistically you can expect one to fail every year. Compare that to a device with an MTBF of 100 to 140 years, where a network with 25 devices will only have a single failure every 4 to 6 years. That difference can have a huge impact on your network availability.

Partner with a High Availability Network Solution Provider

Peace of mind is priceless and can often only be found by partnering with the right solution provider. At Ceragon, we put our decades of experience and innovation to work for all our customers. Our family of hardware, software, and service solutions helps to ensure that your network availability will exceed your operational needs.

Ready to maximize your network availability? Discover how Ceragon can help you achieve your network and business objectives today.

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