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Opportunities and challenges of migrating to OSS/BSS systems

December 15, 2010

Operators face an increasingly competitive business environment as the dominant source of ARPU shifts from traditional circuit switched voice and data to a diverse set of packet data services. Driven by rising competition, new technologies (in the 3G and broadband wireless access [BWA] space) and growing concerns over quality of service, the demand for operation systems support/business systems support (OSS/BSS) has been growing steadily in the Indian telecom market. Moreover, as operators roll out next-generation services, they will also need next-generation operations and billing systems. Studies show that revenue leakage from both technical errors and fraud is increasing as carrier services become more complex and personalised. In such an environment, streamlining and optimising operations is a must for telecom service providers.

The deployment of OSS/BSS, which focuses on service fulfilment, service assurance and billing for legacy, next-generation and hybrid networks, ensures a leaner operations environment by reducing costs and increasing service quality and manageability.

Key opportunities 

A large number of operators in India are deploying and operating new telecom networks. So far, four operators in India have launched their 3G services and five more are likely to join the bandwagon by March 2011. Two operators have launched BWA services and six more are expected to launch these services by end-2011. With these rollouts, the importance of OSS/BSS is expected to increase further. Sridhar Pai, CEO, Tonse Telecom, explains it thus, “As operators shift towards delivering more and more bandwidth-hungry services and applications to improve the  experience of end-users, they will need to upgrade their OSS/BSS system from the legacy system to an IP platform.”

This presents a big opportunity for OSS/BSS vendors. In this multi-technology scenario, operators are looking towards a single system across their line of operations that will enable them to not only cater to these new services but also  cut costs and have an integrated view of all the service subscriptions of a customer. Moreover, with the advent of 3G and BWA, both of which are data-centric technologies, an entire new breed of communications companies like media, entertainment and content providers have evolved, offering new avenues for OSS/BSS providers.

Another key opportunity for OSS/BSS vendors lies in the upcoming mobile number portability (MNP) service. Neeraj Jain, director, strategic and commercial intelligence at KPMG, notes, “OSS/BSS has become really critical with the introduction of MNP, the market becoming more mature (especially in urban areas) and the need to migrate one’s key customers from 2G to 3G without losing them to other operators.”

So far, the MNP service has been launched only in the Haryana circle, but it will soon be expanded to all the other circles as well. In order to ensure customer retention, operators should focus on the end-to-end framework that tracks various parameters, predicts customer churn, and enables seamless, online customer communication. “In such a situation, the importance of an intelligent system that equips the operator with all the facts and figures and gathers data across multiple business dimensions is more pronounced. The information drawn out of OSS/BSS systems enables the key stakeholders to take intelligent business decisions,” adds Jain.

Several operators are also looking to get into long-term relationships with large vendors who could either themselves or through integration partners provide managed services. This not only saves costs for the operators, but also frees them from handling multiple vendor relationships by having a single interface. Managed services present a big opportunity in India.

Challenges 

OSS/BSS solutions in the past focused mainly on subscriber management, inventory management and revenue realisation through basic voice and related services. With new services being launched daily, the OSS/BSS platform has to be flexible and scalable while being able to offer new services to both rural and urban subscribers. The OSS/BSS platform should be able to accommodate multiple technologies, customer types and services on the same platform and reduce the per subscriber cost for service providers. Some of the challenges faced by operators in the OSS/BSS space are as follows:

Legacy issues 

Some of the incumbent service providers, carry an operational burden in the form of their legacy architecture. Legacy systems are often inflexible and create additional costs associated with process duplication. Explains R.K. Mittal,  general manager, IT, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, “The existence of legacy networks causes issues with respect to integration and is a hindrance in the movement to centralised OSS/BSS systems across all domains and lines of business.”

Many operators are currently migrating to new-generation operations support and software (NGOSS)/BSS, which allows them to control every element and provide all services through a single platform. Says Mittal, “MTNL has overcome the challenge of moving towards a centralised system, and will be able to do so even for the NGOSS system, which would be deployed in the near future.”

Thus, service providers have to create reliable transformation processes to enable smooth migration to new OSS/BSS environments. It is important to keep evolving and upgrading to new system architectures that are based on components built as per open standards, in order to ensure future flexibility for adopting new products quickly and effortlessly. Operators can go for pre-integrated solutions, utilising service-oriented architecture that facilitates future-proof integration and focus.

Multiple technologies 

As operators evolve beyond pure communication services to incorporate content, media, and financial and retail services across a variety of delivery channels (mobile, pay TV, high speed internet and now BWA), existing investments in BSS and OSS components are being stretched beyond their comfort zones. One of the most challenging decisions for operators in this environment is whether they should continue to tweak and modify existing systems or invest in new application components or even suites. This presents significant transformational opportunities to suppliers with modular, rapid-deployable application components that are built on the latest technology paradigms (SOA, J2EE, in-memory data grids) and industry standards.

Lack of uniform standards 

With an increasing number of vendors offering a wide variety of OSS/BSS solutions, it is difficult to select a vendor that provides the right services at the right price, and has the ability to continuously evolve its products. Operators must be able to identify the right mix of applications without compromising on costs, ease of configurability, extensibility and manageability. For instance, while one vendor may be good at the planning of synchronous digital hierarchy transmission circuits, another may be better in the metro Ethernet domain. Similarly, while one vendor may offer strong auto-discovery capabilities it may not be strong in modelling and representation of assets.

Other challenges 

Not only does the OSS/BSS segment need a substantial capex, it also requires the senior management to invest their energy, time and effort to make it a success. According to telecom operators, a lot of customisation is required for implementing OSS/BSS, which takes time and is often quite difficult. In many cases, it has been seen that operators simply buy these solutions but don’t invest the time to implement them properly. “Thus, the biggest challenge is the amount of effort the senior management puts in to build a structure that enables the solutions deployed to generate output that can be used in a beneficial manner,” says Jain.

More often than not the telecom equipment manufacturer supplies the OSS/BSS layers to telecom operators along with other operational equipment at the initial stage of setting up networks. Telecom operators opt for this arrangement as it is cheaper. However, this becomes an issue in the long run as service providers expand their services and deploy multi-vendor networks and products using two or three network management systems for service activation. This is when implementing common OSS/BSS layers becomes a tough task. Hence, it is important for service providers to plan the OSS/BSS layer as a separate, parallel strategy alongside their network deployment. In this regard, both the TeleManagement Forum’s NGOSS system and Java’s OSS offer practical implementation guidelines for new OSS applications and interfaces.

Besides, OSS/BSS solution providers also face the challenge of scalability and building domain expertise. They will need to keep increasing their competency and capacity. 

In order to address these challenges, service providers will have to revisit the principles on which their OSS/BSS solution sets are built and operated. While across-the-board replacements of existing systems and technologies may not be feasible, there are advantages to be gained in selective adoption of new technology/applications and from a transformational relook at business processes and systems.

 
 

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