Next-Gen OSS: LTE Puts Planning and Policy Center Stage

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  May 01, 2011

Service providers continue to invest in their broadband networks as new customers, more connected devices, and a wide variety of bandwidth-loving applications seek connectivity. But even as these network operators pour more money into their infrastructure, there is real concern that they won’t be able to keep up with demand.

Indeed, demand is booming. The latest Cisco Visual Networking Index forecasts that worldwide mobile data traffic will increase 26-fold between 2010 and 2015, which would represent a compound annual growth rate of 92 percent over the same period.

That said, it’s going to be important for network operators to get a better handle on what’s happening on their networks and where they are most likely to require upgrades (or, conversely, have extra resources) going forward.

Peter Briscoe, executive director of innovation and solutions in Telcordia’s (News - Alert) strategy office, says that one of the prevalent trends in next-generation OSS is a greater pull toward planning, especially in mobile networks. He says that OSS and network planning used to be two separate departments within service providers, which are in many cases now merging the groups that address these functions.

Leonard Sheahan, senior director of worldwide OSS product marketing at Oracle Communications, talks about the growing importance of planning for wireless networks as well. While mobile network operators are outlaying big capital expenditures on HSPA and LTE (News - Alert) to increase capacity, he says, they’re also struggling to predict where and how much capacity is needed. These carriers, he continues, need the tools to figure that out both before they turn up new networks and on an ongoing basis, especially as it relates to backhaul, he says. And that’s a particularly difficult challenge for carriers that are deploying LTE networks, says Sheahan, who notes that the 4G technology is very different to what telcos are used to working with given it’s all IP-based and typically uses Ethernet-based backhaul.

So service providers can either use their old tools as best they can, he says, or they can look for applications that understand packet-based networks and link-to-multilink services. Oracle Communications Network Intelligence, which the company announced this spring at Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) now supports LTE, addresses these new requirements, says Sheahan.

Oracle Communications Network Intelligence reviews and analyzes network topologies and capacity upfront and can recommend changes to network, and once the network is live it can gather and offer statistics and predictions about where the network is likely to exhaust or have excess capacity. The wireline businesses-to-business group of Cable & Wireless in the U.K. is among the announced users of Oracle Communications Network Intelligence. Cable & Wireless uses the software to do costing so it can quickly and accurately put together bids for its customers, says Sheahan. Meteor, a wireless service provider in Ireland, also uses Oracle Communications Network Intelligence.

Speaking of Ireland, The NowFactory, which is also from the Emerald Isle, offers active subscriber intelligence solutions that allow service providers to see which customers are using what applications when and with what endpoints. The company offers probes that collect traffic information from mobile networks. But its special sauce is in its software applications, which give marketing; network planning and operations; and customer care folks at the operators new insight into subscriber behaviors and related traffic trends, explains Oliver Finn, marketing director.

These applications number six in all and are broken down into the three above-mentioned carrier employee interest groups. They present information in clean, multi-faceted formats – including pie charts, bar charts, matrixes, etc. That can help marketing get a better handle on who’s doing what on the network so the department can more effectively customize packages for particular user groups. It can help engineers more effectively do network and capacity planning, including network investment prioritization (to ensure carrier capex is weighted most heavily to serve the highest margin customers and services). And it can provide customer care representatives with the plain language information they need about the network and subscriptions to assist customers that call in for help.

As mentioned in the previous issue of NGN Magazine, TheNowFactory has at least 31 customers, including such big names a T-Mobile (News - Alert) and Vodafone, in 25 countries.

While these types of tools are coming into more widespread use, they’re a significant departure from the back office systems that wireless network operators have employed in the past. Telcordia’s Briscoe says that most mobile service providers haven’t had a lot of in-depth experience with OSS because turn up in the past was pretty basic. But with LTE, he says, wireless service providers now require new platforms. For example, Telcordia recently helped Telenor (News - Alert) put in place new tools that allow it to address next-generation network needs, including radio planning.

Briscoe goes on to say that OSS traditionally has been more centered on configuration, but now it’s becoming more about real-time functions and policy, which can allow carriers to react to what’s happening with the subscriber and/or the network at any given time.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi