Tumbling dice

GTB Editor
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As operators continue to transform their networks for an all-digital and all-IP future, many have embarked on projects to bring OSS and BSS functions into line. Guy Matthews examines a range of these projects to see what challenges they have overcome versus the benefits realised

When operators set out to transform the way their businesses operate and the way customers are managed and billed, they usually find themselves playing for high stakes. 

At the most basic level, the aim is to create certain efficiencies and cost savings within the business. But most Operations Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS) transformation projects these days have their sights set a little higher, and have the more ambitious object of fast-tracking a whole new generation of dynamic services that the future of the business will depend. If transformation does not end with delighted customers and enhanced loyalty, can it have been worth it?

Customers may not appreciate the complexities of creating a streamlined technology structure, but they will certainly know when they are being given a better service experience and a more customizable offer to choose from. These twin aims of frictionless efficiency and fully digital customer care underpin just about all of the major OSS and BSS transformation projects currently ongoing around the world. 

Radical change

It is not necessarily in the most developed markets where the most radical changes are being seen. Many consumers in Eastern Europe are only now getting access to 4G LTE services. But many will soon be benefitting from the revolutionary OSS and BSS transformation being conducted by Vimpelcom, now rebranded Veon, in partnership with Swedish vendor Ericsson.

The project was started in the summer of 2016 and had the aim of completely transforming the operator’s global IT infrastructure across 11 countries and 12 time zones, from Europe to Asia Pacific. Veon is starting by digitalising and globalising its billing infrastructure using Ericsson’s software and cloud technologies. The intended result is the accelerated development of products and services, along with the delivery and use of near real-time analytics to allow greater personalisation of services for customers. 

Called the Digital Stack, the new BSS arrangement will centralise management of the operator’s diverse empire and bring cost savings in its wake. Through simpler management of IT systems, the company says it will be able to unlock new digital services for customers and fast-track its digital innovation strategy in areas like mobile entertainment, the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile financial services.

“This is a big project in its early stages,” says Jaco Fourie, head of technology management with Ericsson. “We’re replacing the entire core, starting with the BSS side across all 11 operating companies. This is not a project that their management would have embarked on if they just wanted to do more of the same. They are apparently thinking more widely than just traditional telecoms.” Israel-based OSS and BSS vendor Amdocs is the force behind the delivery of a next-generation business and operations support system for NetLink Trust, the Singaporean telecommunications infrastructure provider.

Legacy systems are being phased out and replaced with fully automated order management, service design and service assurance. Amdocs says the solution will accelerate delivery time for fibre connectivity and enable quicker fault repair. The ordering experience for NetLink’s customers will be transformed through the creation of an online portal to manage billing and the orchestration of services. A web-based digital dashboard will enable Netlink’s channel of last-mile broadband service providers to manage customer expectations better, it claims. Amdocs will act as the prime systems integrator of third-party software and hardware.

“This is a very important project for NetLink since it encompasses the core IT functions that support the delivery of fibre connectivity for Singapore’s Next-Generation Nationwide Broadband Network,” said Garry Ng, director of IT at NetLink Trust. “We aim to provide a robust and reliable fibre network to all end-users in Singapore.”

Crowded market

When British incumbent operator BT wanted to establish BT Mobile as an MVNO business in an already crowded market, it knew that getting the billing platform right was crucial. To this end, it adopted an NFV-ready customer billing platform from billing solutions vendor Openet which it says will give customers more control of their services. 

The plan is to drive advances in customer experience by delivering real-time insights that can be fed back to users, giving them more control over their mobile service. BT Mobile can provide immediate visibility of account balances, data use notifications and data allowance management, allowing mid-bill cycle contract changes, and letting customers quickly make changes to their bundle plans and add-ons. BT says it can also test and introduce new services more quickly. The BT Mobile service was launched to run on the network of EE, which BT is now buying for £12.5billion. A decision has yet to be made about whether to run Openet’s technology across the EE business

When service providers are considering a partner to help them change operational and billing systems, they can choose a traditional OSS and BSS vendor, or risk an alliance with a newer and more disruptive player. California-based ItsOn in many respects typifies a more recent generation of OSS and BSS solutions developers. ItsOn has developed a cloud-based platform that allows mobile operators to offer highly customisable services to their customers, letting them change what they pay for and how they pay for it at any time, directly from their device. One of the latest operators to switch to this billing model is Saudi Telecom (STC) which last year launched a whole new line of business based around it. 

STC, which serves around 160 million subscribers across the Middle East and Africa, is using the ItsOn platform to target a new generation of young tech-savvy customers with the Jawwy sub-brand. By downloading the Jawwy app and purchasing an appropriate SIM, customers can personalise their plan using social networking as a core part of the service experience. Another unique feature of Jawwy is that STC can use feedback to change and improve services continually. 

Other choices are available

There is another choice to be made between deploying a solution to use in-house or paying for your OSS and BSS functionality as a managed service. All operators are looking for easier ways to manage their operations and billing behind the scenes, and that increasingly means they want to move away from the potentially high cost of maintaining legacy OSS and BSS systems themselves. In recognition of this trend, China-based vendor Huawei has been popularising the idea of paying for OSS and BSS functionality as a service.

Huawei has been providing managed OSS and BSS services to South African operator MTN Group for over two years. In countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Guinea and Benin, MTN is now paying for processes like network operations and performance management on a managed basis. It says the enhanced efficiency it has gained through the deal has come at a crucial time, allowing it to meet soaring demand for data-heavy services without unnecessary internal overheads. 

Preparing for the future

Whichever model is chosen, the aim of any OSS and BSS project will be to get the service provider ready for the future. Three UK, part of CK Hutchison, definitely had one eye on the future when it recently commissioned Nokia to deploy the world’s first fully integrated cloud-native core network. The UK network operator claims the move will enable massive scalability, allowing it to rapidly respond to customers’ dynamic service demands while preparing for IoT and 5G.By applying cloud-native principles into its cloud software design, Nokia says it is enabling Three to leverage the full benefit of the cloud architecture, including massive scalability and better reliability. This will provide the highest quality service experience for Three’s customers, even in the busiest locations, as demand for VoLTE and high-definition video continues to grow. Nokia will begin deployment of Three UK’s new core network in multiple data centre locations during 2017. The scalable cloud platform employed will allow Three to increase efficiencies, while also benefitting from the breadth of Nokia’s technology and services capabilities, including the expertise offered by its Global Cloud Design Centre opened in the UK in September 2016.

Are networks 5G ready?

“This is a significant cloud core network deal with the potential to deliver a wide range of technology and business benefits to Three UK,” says David Snow, principal analyst at Current Analysis. “As carriers gear up for the 5G future it is vital that their core networks are flexible enough to match 5G access network demands, especially regarding latency and scalability.”

Steffen Paulus, head of BSS marketing with Nokia, says the Three deal is a good example of an operator investing in a new billing solution not merely to become a better provider of services but to transition towards becoming a whole new type of business. He said: “With the latest wave of transformations we’re seeing operators move beyond just being a communications service provider and into becoming a more all-encompassing digital service provider, while trying to find new revenue sources to match.” “They often have systems that are already up and running, but are not now able to support this new changed world and new customer expectations.”

There is a process going on within the whole industry, as much as it is going on internally with vendors like Nokia, he says: “It is about creating a new type of digital service provider with an increased focus on the customer. The move to cloud and virtualisation is not in doubt, and the only question from service providers is how can we get there, perhaps living for a period in a hybrid environment.” []