Steve Hateley, head of marketing at Comptel argues that communications service providers (CSPs) are at a crossroads, forcing them to reconsider their approach to software provision and look seriously at the Cloud.
In the Tyrol, Albert Bierstadt
For years, business models and network architectures have remained relatively stable. But, faster than you can say “WhatsApp,” everything has changed.
The influx of mobile devices and usage of data services, the increasing competition from over-the-top (OTT) providers and the pressure to cut costs and improve efficiency have forced CSPs to seriously reconsider their approaches. Now, businesses are looking less at hardware, and more at the cloud, to automate, scale and simplify infrastructure and operations management.
Recent research shows that the majority of C-level executives are thinking about this – 64% of CMOs and CTOs/CIOs are working to incorporate cloud-based technology into their OSS/BSS systems this year, and 58% believe their OSS/BSS systems need to be modernised and consolidated.
By going ‘virtual’ with software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV), CSPs can become more agile and more responsive to market demands than ever before. They will be able to innovate personalised service packages to fulfill consumers’ infotainment desires, provide and win from more dynamic, contextual marketing offers and, ultimately, achieve more cost-effective operations - bridging silos throughout their organisations.
SDN and NFV have been big focuses at conferences lately, as well as the topic of conversation among industry thought leaders. But how do these technologies work together? And what implications do they have for OSS/BSS systems?
The SDN/NFV Partnership
While NFV and SDN are different technologies, they are, in effect, two sides of the same coin.
NFV focuses on the consolidation of proprietary parts of the network, such as hardware-based routers, and brings those functions to a virtual environment. Meanwhile, SDN works to centralise command and control capabilities within a virtual environment. By decoupling network control and data planes found in network equipment, SDN creates a central layer of control between infrastructure and applications.
When the physical network no longer has to be managed to introduce new services, or adjusted to fulfill complex customer requirements, opportunities will quickly emerge.
The agility that SDN and NFV enable will usher in a new era for CSPs. Provisioning and activation across the network will be more accurate and consistent, allowing for seamless service rollouts and more streamlined inventory management. SDN/NFV won’t just improve operational efficiency and allow for faster time-to-market - these technologies will also help establish partnerships with OTT providers, too, creating a dynamic, virtual layer that will enable a whole new ecosystem of potential service and monetisation opportunities.
Consolidation and Clouds
To maximise these benefits, OSS/BSS systems have to be consolidated and modernised. Currently, a CSP’s operations team can be working with more than a dozen different systems, trying to piece together information from another dozen silos to build a coherent picture of the network and customers’ needs.
Things won’t change radically – OSS/BSS systems will still work to collect customer, network, service and other important data – but SDN and NFV will play an important role in streamlining the data collection, analysis and business decision-making processes. Additionally, SDN/NFV opens the door for automation across the business, whether CSPs are interested in increasing efficiency across the network, operations or charging and billing.
This will mean big changes for OSS/BSS vendors, but the change is likely to be an evolution, rather than a revolution. Instead of creating software that’s based on proprietary hardware, the new OSS/BSS programs will live in the cloud, with software that can integrate with legacy systems and provide new efficiencies. This will ultimately lead to more options for CSPs, because each system will be able to work across any virtual environment.
In this case, modernisation will have to start with consolidation. Once all of the network and customer data from legacy OSS/BSS systems has migrated to a central platform, SDN and NFV technologies can really get to work, and CSPs can finally move infrastructure from the ground up to the cloud.
You can read more from Comptelians at the excellent Comptel Blog.
You can follow Steve Hateley on Twitter @shateley
Portrait of Jimi Hendrix,
oil on canvas,
by the Swedish artist Tommy Tallstig