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Optimising Operations: Opportunities and challenges for OSS/BSS players

December 31, 2011

While the Indian telecom industry has witnessed remarkable growth, the frequent launch of services, constant upgradation to new technologies and continuous network expansion have resulted in several challenges for service providers on the operating support system (OSS)/ business support system (BSS) front. Service providers have been deploying billing and service activation systems for several years and recently, the focus has shifted to systems that address less tangible business objectives such as operational efficiency, and customer satisfaction and experience. This presents a big market opportunity for OSS/BSS players.

“Today, OSS/BSS solutions play a critical role in an operator’s business, right from customer life cycle management to revenue management and enhancement. Therefore, developing a more customer-focused organisation will rely on support from OSS/BSS systems that are continuously evolving to keep pace with operators’ growing requirements,” says Dhananjay Pavgi, principal consultant and head, portfolio management group, Tech Mahindra.

A look at the opportunities and challenges in this segment…

Poor processes leading to billing errors, poor system integration and configuration changes in network elements are considered the main sources of revenue leakage. Operators today face significant challenges in identifying accurate sources of revenue loss resulting from BSS failures. This calls for optimisation of operations at the service providers’ end. “There is a huge demand for solutions that minimise the risk of revenue loss and maximise the level of revenue generated from all transactions through assurance of margins, tariff plans, new products and efficient network asset utilisation. Systems must be designed to anticipate and prevent revenue loss due to churn, market erosion and fraud. This will mean augmenting technical, finance, investigative, marketing and audit skills across the forensic, correction, control management and compliance domains of revenue assurance,” says Pavgi.

Another challenge for operators, especially the incumbents, is legacy systems. The legacy architecture is often inflexible and results in additional costs associated with process duplication. Further, such networks cause problems in integration and obstruct the movement to a centralised OSS/BSS system across all business verticals.

Service providers today offer blended products in partnership with external suppliers and thus extend their propositions well beyond basic connections to cloud-based infrastructure and software offerings, enterprise machine-to-machine applications and solutions for many verticals including finance and medical. Activating these new and highly complex products creates a greater demand on the legacy systems than they were originally designed to support. Thus, service providers have to create reliable transformation processes to enable smooth migration to the new OSS/BSS environment. Operators need to update their BSS and OSS capabilities on a regular basis to deal with changing market conditions. This, however, requires a lot of customisation, which is both difficult and time consuming.

Many operators are currently migrating to new-generation operations support and software systems, which allows them to control all network elements and provide services through a single platform. With the bundling of new services like 3G and long term evolution (LTE) with the existing ones, convergent billing is being considered a safe bet for operators. However, implementation of the charging norms and policy rules for offerings like convergent billing is constrained by limitations inherent in the current OSS/BSS architecture. Since the customer, subscription, charging and policy functionalities are scattered across various systems, it results in multiple dependencies and touchpoints when offerings are finally created or modified. Further, the major challenge faced during the prepaid-post-paid billing convergence is real-time rating management and balance management for high subscriber volumes in the Indian market. “The introduction of new services leads to increased complexity in subscriber billing, resulting in problems such as bill shocks, revenue settlements with multiple parties and interconnect billing. This requires developments in and modifications to the existing OSS/BSS architecture,” comments Pavgi. He further adds that “from a system integrator’s perspective, implementing a convergent billing solution is not the real challenge. Rather, the proper exploitation, monetisation and gratification of the benefits derived from convergent billing are of concern today.”

Changing telecom dynamics

As operators move beyond offering conventional pure communication-based services towards providing content, media, financial and retail-based services across various delivery channels (mobile, pay TV, high-speed internet and LTE), investments in the OSS/BSS segments are increasing. One of the most challenging decisions facing operators in such an environment is whether to opt for the modification of existing systems or invest in new application components and suites. Moreover, with varied OSS/BSS solutions offered by an increasing number of vendors, it becomes difficult for operators to select one particular vendor who  provides the right services at an optimum price and has the ability to continuously upgrade its products.

Further, the emergence of next-generation services necessitates enhanced billing capabilities. Internet protocol (IP) and 3G services have led to increased complexity in operations such as billing, authentication, network hand-off and management, and roaming. Such a scenario calls for the deployment of OSS/BSS solutions that can combat complexities by simplifying next-generation network operations and enhance user experience.

With the launch of 3G technology, the demand for data applications such as mobile internet, location-based services, m-commerce and app stores has grown manyfold. The usage of 3G services has led to an exponential rise in call and data volumes, posing challenges on the network capacity front for a majority of players. The main challenge with 3G is that it offers realistic mobile data capability, which brings a significant shift in terms of service offerings, delivery and charges. It also leads to bandwidth congestion as more subscribers use data services. This results in poor service quality and poor customer experience.

Operators thus need a solution that gives an insight into the end–to-end performance of 3G services. According to Pavgi, “The challenge with 3G is that the data sources or touchpoints to be considered for key performance indicators get proliferated. The windows include active probes (call set-up, abnormal call release), transmission (congestion, blocked calls), the servicing or gateway GPRS support node (packet data protocol context activation failures, drop rates), the IP backbone (latency, jitter, throughput), value-added services ([VAS] server and application performance), etc. Laying out active or passive probes across the network is not only capex intensive and but also not a full-proof solution. Thus, a hybrid approach (combination of probes and IT solutions) is required that will help an operator to identify the root cause.” This makes OSS/BSS solutions critical for bundled services in a convergent platform. Unlike in other networks where a service provider deals with only a few partners for voice-based services (like roaming and long distance calls), a 3G ecosystem involves a large number of content provider and operator partnerships. The best way to deal with this situation is by opting for an OSS/BSS platform that enables developing relations with different VAS providers.

As far as broadband wireless access services are concerned, the changes that operators need to bring about in their billing systems is the integration of post-paid and pay-as-you-go modes of billing, the incorporation of policy management and the creation of a centralised product catalogue. “Going forward, the legacy charging and billing infrastructure without the support of real-time charging, rating and balance management will be made redundant by the introduction of LTE. Operators would need to invest in a converged billing system that handles both voice and data services and provides support for prepaid, post-paid and real-time payments on a single platform,” asserts Pavgi.

The recently introduced mobile number portability brings with it the challenge of customer retention. Operators need to focus on the end-to-end framework that tracks various parameters, predicts customer churn and enables seamless online customer communication to prevent customers from switching networks. In such a situation, the importance of an intelligent system, which equips the operator with all facts and figures as well as gathers data across multiple business dimensions, becomes more pronounced.

Conclusion

OSS/BSS solutions in the past have focused mainly on subscriber, inventory and revenue management through basic voice and related services. However, with the advent of new technologies and services in the Indian telecom space, the OSS/BSS segment is set to experience a huge demand for solutions that are flexible and scalable to accommodate multiple technologies, customer types and services.

 
 

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