Open Service Creation ï¿½
Are Carriers Ready?
BY CRAIG FORBES
Experts can debate all day long about whether the
divestiture of ï¿½Ma Bellï¿½ and the Telecom Act of 1996 have benefited
consumers of telecom services, but there is no disputing the fact that
they have changed the dynamics of the industry and the behavior of its
biggest players. Since 1996, we have seen hundred-year-old companies
attempting to improve their customer focus and their own images as
technology leaders. IP was the first battle cry, then convergence, and
most recently, the epitome of customer focus: ï¿½open service creation.ï¿½
From both the technological and market awareness standpoints, the
service creation space has matured enough for us to start distinguishing
the hope from the hype. Just how ready, willing, and able are Telecomï¿½s
ï¿½slow-moving giantsï¿½ ï¿½ or even their younger and supposedly more
nimble challengers ï¿½ to revamp their business and network plans by
adopting profitability models based on truly open service creation?
WHATï¿½S IT GOING TO TAKE?
Since the term has many subjective meanings, letï¿½s define ï¿½service
creationï¿½ for the purposes of this article as the ability for both
service providers and third parties ï¿½ external developers, integrators,
or customers themselves ï¿½ to dynamically create, deliver, and/or consume
services. Most important, the driving force behind carrier and customer
investment, service creation increases the ability of both providers and
consumers to profit from services tailored to user needs.
For users, this means the ability to self-serve more bandwidth on
demand, to adopt new features and applications at will ï¿½ no making
appointments for technician visits ï¿½ and at its most advanced, dynamic
service creation will let users define and deploy their own innovative
services. In short: Freeing customers to focus on their core businesses
without having to worry well in advance about the enabling technologies.
For carriers, empowering customers to use network facilities to solve
their own business problems holds the promise of limitless new revenue
streams, increased customer loyalty, and dramatically improved service
Not all ï¿½service creationï¿½ solutions are created equal. Technically
speaking, a comprehensive platform includes broadband aggregation,
subscriber management, IP services, and other broadband service creation
components with fully integrated business support systems. True, open
service creation reaches from the customer interface ï¿½ a Web portal or
other secure connection ï¿½ to control of bandwidth allocation and
delivery, which may include aggregation platforms, routers and switches,
and finally to billing and other business support systems.
Until recently, providers have been justified in saying they were
hamstrung by piecemeal approaches and lack of vendor interoperability. But
comprehensive vendor solutions, and perhaps more importantly, multi-vendor
forums such as the Service Creation Community are addressing these issues.
Essentially, the ball is back in providersï¿½ courts to begin deployment.
There are some lab trials, and despite the huge paradigm shifts entailed,
early signs are that established carriers are factoring deployments of
service creation platforms into near-term business planning.
Predictably, itï¿½s going to be a long and winding road, fraught with
some formidable hurdles.
MOVING BEYOND MINUTES
With the onset of competition, and the Internet, service providers started
struggling to adopt new business models based on delivering practical
applications as opposed to primarily marketing flat-rate, ï¿½always onï¿½
bandwidth such as private lines. Itï¿½s been a slow go, and some analysts
now believe that carriersï¿½ very survival depends on accelerating the
transformation. Telechoice President Christine Heckart has stated that
within the next few years service providers must not only lower costs of
delivering services 20 percent per year, but also start moving away from
static models. Itï¿½s time to take the plunge and trust that more
flexibility will translate into more ï¿½minutesï¿½ or other unit of
With dynamic service creation, carriers will face the issue of suddenly
being in the design business as never before, something they will need the
help of vendors and other third parties to get comfortable with. The shift
will also necessitate new sales and marketing strategies, and cooperative
forums where carriers take active roles in working with partners ranging
from developers and platform vendors to other providers and customers
Technologically, service creation is equally daunting. It will require
carriers to open up access to their networks and back office systems as
never before, and to begin sharing at the edge.
SHARING THE HALLOWED EDGE
For a while, the migration to service creation-based business models will
largely entail enabling consumers to self-provision greater speeds and
feeds for applications such as video conferencing and multicasting. In
these scenarios, a customer might go to the providersï¿½ Web site and ï¿½orderï¿½
more bandwidth for a given time period.
Sounds easy, right? It isnï¿½t, because even this seemingly simple
transition of control to users affects the entire network and business
Basically, there are three ways to use bandwidth services to create
additional value in a network. The first is to create different tiers of
available bandwidth; the second, to offer throughput guarantees; and the
third is to offer QoS guarantees. Bandwidth services may be combined with
other service layers such as the network or service aware layers to create
additional value in networks or among applications.
It is important that service creation platforms offer an interface
structure that can accommodate these bandwidth service offerings. A
service provider must be able to define their bandwidth offerings in terms
of the guaranteed minimum bandwidth, maximum allowed bandwidth, accounting
requirements, and the relative granularity of the offering. The
granularity could be defined on a per-subscriber, per-protocol,
per-destination, or per-flow basis. The service creation platform should
offer the structured interface in a standard and open fashion. Several
options exist, including XML, CORBA, and SNMP.
Offering bandwidth services in a structured fashion on open interfaces
allows service providers to more easily integrate the service creation
platform into their existing management, provisioning, and BSS models, and
to rapidly turn up new bandwidth services.
Beyond Basic Bandwidth
Even a seemingly simple bandwidth-oriented application, requiring no
actual development or service ï¿½creation,ï¿½ employs a multilevel service
creation model that entails formidable back-end integration. Now, if we
fast-forward to the onset of full-blown service creation where business
users are developing, or commissioning development of custom applications
running on provider networks, now weï¿½re talking some serious
interoperability issues for the provider.
To customers, it must appear that they are driving the network and
controlling the bandwidth layers via point-and-click mechanisms. For
higher-level value-added services more advanced layers of the service
creation model come into play. For example, ASP services involving
network-based software such as CRM services or back office manufacturing
systems not only require software hosting but actual bandwidth guarantees,
QoS, and security.
A New Breed of Vendor Relationship
Providers will clearly need to foster new vendor relationships. From the
service providerï¿½s point of view, a big plus of open service creation is
the promise of liberation from vendor development and delivery schedules.
In the narrowband world, carriers are used to investing in
multi-million-dollar Class 5 switches only to have to go back to the
vendor and pay steep licensing or development fees every time a demands a
new service. Worse yet, they have to subjugate themselves to the vendorsï¿½
delivery schedule. But on the positive side, service providers could
proceed for the most part with confidence that neither their Class 5
switch nor the switch manufacturer was going anywhere any time soon.
Now, open service creation promises to free service providers not only
from vendor development constraints, but also from the risk of having the
vendors sell the new services, once developed, to the competition. But
service creation platform vendors must prove they can deliver.
Skeptics could hardly blame providers for being a little gun shy on
deploying unproven next-generation infrastructures. Straight off, thereï¿½s
the fact that many equipment suppliers in the space are untried start-ups
and migrants from other next-generation spaces such broadband aggregation.
In some cases, the technologies of next-gen vendors repositioning
themselves into the service creation space have already failed to scale,
integrate, or deliver the promised economic benefits expected.
THE TRUE MEANING OF ï¿½OPENï¿½
There is also the issue of how the new model will work. Providers could be
no better off than before if after deploying the basic service creation
architecture they still have to pay the service creation platform vendor
to enable open access to different layers. Already, some vendorsï¿½
pricing packages call for investments of $75,000 to $100,000 for basic
CORBA licenses needed to get started and additional costs to open deeper
levels of the platform, such as the network management and element
management layers, a pricing model not unlike the pay-as-you-go Class 5
switch model. To rightly be considered ï¿½open,ï¿½ a service creation
platform should be based on a publicly described set of programming
interfaces that enable unlimited access to 100 percent of the platform
without charging for additional features.
All of these factors, and the current financial climate in telecom add up
to one reality: The evolution to service creation-based business models
must take place soon, and it must transpire more smoothly than most
introductions of next-gen technology to date. Obviously it wonï¿½t happen
without a few complications along the way, and carriers that have proven
change-resistant despite regulatory and competitive threats may find
themselves at a profound disadvantage in not having weathered their share
of Charlie Brown-like deployments.
Because this time there is literally little margin for error.
Craig Forbes is vice president of marketing at net.com. net.com
offers open, non-proprietary service creation platforms. These platforms
are designed to enable service providers to achieve long-term
profitability by adopting a new business model based on service creation.
A global networking company, net.com pioneered the concept of multiservice
networking and today is a leading innovator of service creation. For more
information, visit www.net.com.
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