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Deployment Hurdles: OSS/BSS issues and challenges

January 12, 2016

The business landscape for telecom operators is undergoing a rapid change with declining margins and rising capex requirements forcing them to seek newer sources of operational efficiency. The increased market competition and greater flexibility offered by mobile number portability have also made customer retention a key concern. Thus, investing in operations support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS) to track various parameters, predict churn rates and enable online customer communication to prevent users from switching networks has become more significant.

OSS and BSS solutions are also useful as the operators increasingly require streamlined processes for billing, inventory management and customer relationship management. With the launch of 3G and long term evolution (LTE), there has been an increased demand for advanced OSS and BSS solutions that ensure content and service delivery, provide network gateways and manage digital rights.

Challenges

Traditional OSS and BSS solutions face various hurdles while supporting operators in providing an enhanced customer experience at a lower cost. A key challenge for operators lies in maintaining their existing legacy systems as the launch of new services often calls for a complete OSS and BSS overhaul. For instance, the emergence of 3G and LTE technologies requires operators to support wireless, VoIP, videos, high-speed data, and a host of digital media applications and services across numerous consumer and business devices. Service providers are expected to continuously monitor performance, add bandwidth on demand, provide new services, track customer usage, and charge appropriately.

With the telecom market migrating from voice to data, operators’ challenges have increased as the billing procedure for data services becomes more complex than that of voice services. This is because a customer uses several internet applications simultaneously, making billing a more complicated process as each URL might have to be billed separately. For instance, if a customer is to be billed for a certain amount of data usage for accessing an application, the system has to first track the time of day the application was used. It also has to monitor if the limit of data usage has been exhausted as the user has to be charged for additional usage. The process of tracking data usage and billing is also becoming more complex with the emergence of converged networks. Customers using multiple devices prefer to receive a single bill for the services they have subscribed to. In fact, a large number are opting for shared plans. For instance, a subscriber using a certain volume of data would prefer to distribute it equally across multiple devices like laptops, smartphones, iPads and IPTV services. Therefore, an OSS/BSS solution has to consider that billing is not done for an individual but for the entire household. This gives rise to a major challenge as each device has a different rate of communication and screen resolution. OSS/BSS solutions have to ensure that content is billed the same way, irrespective of the medium of data consumption.

Hence, there is often a need to migrate from legacy systems in order to adopt new technologies, a very resource- and cost-intensive task. Telecom operators have an array of OSS/BSS products from multiple vendors that use different hardware, middleware, upgrade cycles and management processes. These overheads prevent them from achieving economies of scale. Moreover, legacy OSS/BSS hinder the swift roll-out of new services as they need to be configured and tested rigorously. Apart from being costly, these processes delay the launch of new services and prevent operators from gaining a market share and making profits. Therefore, adapting to this evolution, both upstream and downstream, is the main challenge.

Another issue is the lack of business flexibility as the on-demand scaling up of systems is not feasible on existing OSS/BSS platforms. Moreover, management complexities are involved in maintaining numerous OSS/BSS products with varying infrastructure requirements. Apart from this, there are high operational costs associated with legacy and new OSS/BSS solutions deployed for meeting existing and new service or product requirements. As a result, operators have to make significant investments in IT infrastructure. Meanwhile, established operators who have already invested in OSS and BSS stacks are investing in newer systems to replace their existing set-ups. This type of unforeseen expenditure has an adverse impact on the finances of telecom operators, who are already facing a high debt load owing to spectrum payments. There are also high risks associated with IT investments.

Operators are also facing challenges in the enterprise segment, which now makes up a significant part of customer portfolios. The service requirements of small, medium and large enterprises differ substantially from those of individual users. Enterprise customers look for telecom solutions that can help them save on opex and also bring in business efficiency. Such demands call for revisiting the OSS/BSS capabilities of operators.

Traditionally, operators have been monitoring usage thresholds on a real-time basis to offer volume discounts for all users, with little emphasis on personalisation. However, with the introduction of more advanced applications, there is a growing requirement for real-time interaction with the network and OSS/BSS. Operators are now involved in advanced traffic monitoring, like giving a relatively higher quality of service to a specific user or blocking inappropriate content for children. Meanwhile, with online transactions gaining traction, OSS/BSS platforms are required to be strengthened in order to effectively check the authenticity of payments and analyse security breaches in payment processes.

Other issues relate to under-billing, incorrect call records, inter-partner disputes, inconsistent calculations and fraud accounts. These situations usually occur due to process discontinuity, information gaps, and the lack of integration between network elements and interfacing systems. Therefore, operators require OSS/BSS solutions that can identify the source of the problem. These challenges are only set to grow as product portfolios become more complex and the time-to-market for new services reduces.

Cloud solutions for OSS/BSS

Deploying OSS/BSS solutions over cloud platforms is one way of addressing several business and technical challenges, including the management of software patches and upgrades, and the on-demand scaling up of operations.

Cloud-based infrastructure offers an efficient and easy way to enable resource sharing, automation and monitoring. It provides the flexibility to scale up operations on demand and simplifies software upgrade procedures, considerably reducing costs. Moreover, it entails near-zero downtimes during upgrades. New versions can be deployed on virtual machines using the same physical hardware. After the software is tested, the network load can easily be redirected to the new virtual machines. There is no single point of failure as software can be configured on multiple virtual machines. Big data solutions and analytics for OSS/BSS are easily complemented by cloud owing to its scalability.

The way forward

Operators can provide an enhanced experience at a lower cost by optimally utilising OSS and BSS solutions that improve their ability to roll out new services and help evaluate the quality of service. The exponential growth in data consumption in recent years has forced them to prioritise investments in network upgrades over OSS/BSS transformations. However, it is imperative for them to enhance their investments in this segment in order to adopt next-generation technologies. In addition to this, they need to develop innovative solutions that integrate diverse customer preferences and cater to the requirements of increasingly complex network platforms.

 
 

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