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Managing Network Challenges: OSS/BSS strategies to keep pace with changing market dynamics

January 30, 2015

As the voice customer base hits saturation point in most urban markets in India and ARPUs continue to slide, the telecom industry is witnessing a paradigm shift in operator focus from customer acquisition to customer retention. The launch of mobile number portability has simplified the process of switching between operators in an already hypercompetitive market. Coupled with this trend is the growing prominence of data services in operators’ portfolios. The launch of 3G/4G services has opened up a new world of applications that users can access and demand from service providers.

The saturating voice market and shift towards data services are an indication of a maturing telecom sector, which calls for agility, sophistication and enhanced customer relationship management (CRM) on the part of operators. This has made operators revisit their existing strategies and investments in the operations support system (OSS) and business support system (BSS) domains.

Traditionally, OSS/BSS did not figure in operator business and growth strategies, and its contribution was limited to back-end support. The focus was on integrating the systems during network set-up and thereafter no further attention was given to these systems. However, as the technology landscape of the telecom sector has changed in recent years, the OSS/BSS domain has evolved both in terms of technology and strategic outlook. OSS/BSS solutions have emerged as a key means of helping operators offer an enhanced customer experience, thereby differentiating their offerings from those of their competitors.

OSS typically comprises software/ hardware applications that support back-office activities related to operators’ network, and customer service provisioning and maintenance. In addition, it supports functions such as service level management, performance management, service provisioning, resource inventory management, network management, fault management, element management systems and activation. BSS, on the other hand, comprises software applications that support customer-facing activities such as billing, assurance, fulfilment, order management, CRM, call centre automation and operations support readiness.

Together, these platforms provide a consolidated view of the entire cycle of customer data and network assets, enabling operators to streamline and automate solutions in order to reduce the time-to-market of their services. Besides facilitating critical processes of order completion, service provisioning, assurance and billing, these platforms help operators adopt a customer-centric approach by providing an integrated customer profile, reducing revenue leakage and helping operators take informed real-time decisions. They also form the basis of the user experience that an operator offers to its end-customer, and play a critical role in business areas such as cross-selling, revenue management and service experience.

As the Indian telecom industry turns to IP- and long term evolution (LTE)-based networks, the OSS/BSS segment will witness enhanced competition and market maturity. As per industry estimates, the OSS/BSS market in India is expected to reach $3.45 billion by 2020, driven by the higher adoption of 3G/LTE services, resulting in enhanced CRM activities and regular revision of pricing plans. The Indian telecom market, which accounted for just over 24 per cent of the overall OSS/BSS Asia-Pacific market in 2012, is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate of 16.3 per cent by 2020.

tele.net takes a look at the key growth drivers and emerging trends in the OSS/BSS space…

Network complexity and user expectations

The operators’ shift in focus from pure-play voice services to non-voice services has helped them arrest the decline in ARPUs and profitability, but has increased network complexity. In most cases, several different services such as value-added services, 2G data and bandwidth-intensive services are hosted on a common network. In order to manage such varied content and its delivery on traditional networks, and keep track of the entire business, operators need to have an effective and upgraded OSS in place. 

Further, the traffic flowing through operator networks has undergone a significant change, in terms of both volume and type. Today, all operators offer multi-play services including data, voice and video to their subscribers. With the growing proliferation of smartphones, data speed and video quality have become as important parameters as call drops and network congestion to gauge service experience. Customers are now becoming actively involved in selecting the services that they wish to access and be charged for. A wireless subscriber equipped with a smartphone is a device owner, bill payer, user of real-time notifications and consumer of online information, all at the same time. This calls for a modification, particularly in terms of scalability, in the existing OSS/BSS, given that traditional systems are not built to handle these experience-driven service-level agreements, user experience and dynamic customisation needs.

Facing stagnant revenues, operators have opted to serve newer customer segments. Small, medium and large enterprises today constitute a significant part of operators’ customer portfolios, but their needs in terms of services differ substantially from those of individual users. Enterprise customers look for telecom solutions that can help them save on opex while bringing in business efficiency. Such demands call for a revisit of the existing OSS/BSS capabilities of operators.

Real-time interaction

Real-time charging and policy control to provide the right experience at the right time in the right context are very crucial for operators to stay ahead of competition. Further, given the quantum of data that gets generated on networks, operators have to ensure effective mining of relevant information to convert it into insights.

Users today want enhanced control over the subscriptions and services being offered to them. To ensure provision of a personalised experience to users, operators need to have access to updated information about current services, usage data and real-time operational status.

Traditionally, operators monitored usage thresholds on a real-time basis to offer volume discounts for all users, with less personalisation. However, as more advanced applications are being introduced, there is a growing requirement of real-time interaction with the network and the OSS. Operators are now involved in advanced traffic monitoring such as giving a relatively higher quality of service to a specific VIP contact user or blocking in-appropriate content for children.

Further, advanced capabilities facilitate real-time understanding of the network, and ensure appropriate actions for self-optimisation, self-healing and more efficient provisioning of new services. Introducing real-time interaction in business functions such as customer care and marketing, which traditionally did not use real-time information, is a positive for operators who are trying to establish a strong business case. For instance, if a subscriber is trying to access applications and content that are not covered in the existing plan, the system should be able to dynamically interact with the user on a real-time basis for an upgrade. This will not only enhance the user experience and loyalty but will open up upselling opportunities for operators.

The deployment of innovative services and an increasing customer base have created pressure on existing network charging systems as well. Convergent billing and charging solutions are gaining traction in the market. These are real-time integrated platforms, which provide a unified bill for all services, prepaid as well as post-paid.

OSS/BSS for LTE

As operators get on to the LTE bandwagon, the OSS needs to be transformed to accommodate and facilitate network planning, and designing of new cell sites and backhaul transmission. In the future, operator networks will become more software driven and the OSS will need to interface with self-organising networks. There will be a growing focus on the standardisation of OSS/BSS services across integration layers.

LTE roll-out will also have a significant impact on BSS solutions, which have traditionally dealt with voice and simple data. With the launch of high speed broadband services and associated network signalling traffic, BSS is bound to undergo modification. Increased traffic volumes will not only be a function of more devices getting connected to networks, but the same devices experiencing higher online views and transactions. Further, most of these transactions are now moving from long to short durations and have become more personalised than standardised in terms of services and tariff profiles.

Though India is yet to witness a mass launch of 4G services, in the past two years operators have made significant efforts towards making their networks LTE ready and have also started modifying/upgrading their OSS/BSS solutions accordingly. For instance, Ericsson has received a three-year OSS deal worth around $10 million from Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL), wherein it will provide its service fulfilment software solutions to the service provider. RJIL has also partnered with other vendors including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, SAP, Cognizant and Subex to streamline its OSS and BSS operations.

Conclusion

As next-generation networks and services are rolled out in the country, operators will need to enhance their OSS/BSS capabilities accordingly. In the future, OSS/BSS will need to be more closely integrated with customer management systems and business intelligence tools to meet challenges as well as leverage opportunities arising from the changing telecom market dynamics.

 
 

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