September 2007 | Volume 10 / Nuber 9
Evolving Cable BSS & OSS
By Richard Grigonis
Cablecos - and telcos for that matter - are in ‘de-silo’ mode, adopting advanced, common architectures to aid in the quick deployment of many new services. Equally advanced Operations Support Systems (OSS) calls upon automation that aids subscribers in provisioning and getting their service up and running. More automation equals fewer truck rolls and thus greater profitability. The Billing Support Systems (BSS) and “back office” connections are also now more sophisticated; these systems can generate all sorts of documentation and valuable analytic output.
For example, Irvine, California-based Primal Solutions (http://www.primal.com) provides platforms and solutions specifically designed to streamline IP transaction management while supporting the rapid rollout and delivery of IP-based services. Their IP Correlytics (IPC) platform integrates transaction management and correlation analytics to identify, track, manage, and assure IP transactions, from customer activity through revenue and settlement. It’s capable of collecting all network events from multiple-service providers, in various formats, which allows for improved monetization, auditing and revenue assurance.
Mark DiCamillo, Primal Solutions’ Vice President of Marketing and Product Development, says, “Much of our initial billing work was done in wireless and paging. Around 2003 we hooked up with Time Warner Cable to help them launch their initial voice service, a facilities-based VoIP play. We’ve been with them ever since. Recently we launched with them their Business Class Service, a VoIP-based commercial offering. We’re a major player in providing rating, mediation, billing, revenue assurance and settlement in the cable industry, primarily around the voice offering, but in some smaller players we actually do some video-on-demand.”
“Our IPC platform takes a unique approach to rating, mediation and settlement,” says DiCamillo. “It takes a true end-to-end view of transactions or activity taking place on the network. We look at what happens from the moment a call or service request hits the switch all the way through to the point where it’s finally settled out not only with the customer using the service but also with any third party providers, LECs or anybody else who facilitate the communication. We take an end-to-end, ‘cross-silo’ view that’s fairly unique.”
“In building and documenting the transactions we maintain the system state,” says DiCamillo, “so at any given moment we know what particular state a transaction is in, whether it’s just a switch record or whether it’s a switch record that’s now been correlated to a piece of information that’s come from something like a rate table, or whether it’s been billed, and if there’s a corresponding record from a LEC that states what the charge was from their end for terminating that particular call, and so forth. Our methodology is patent pending. We wrote our application in Java and it’s a complete Service-Oriented Architecture [SOA]. It’s designed to be incredibly flexible. We built most of the interfaces that define the transactions in XML, which allows establishes more of a configuration exercise instead of a preprogramming exercise when you add a new switch type or type of call record.”
“One key industry change taking place right now regarding the cable companies is that they see a particular opportunity with SMBs,” says DiCamillo. “Cablecos believe that telcos have underserved that market, so they’re bringing enhanced customer service and aggressive pricing to earn share in that area.”
“Not all billing solutions offer what ours does, such as our support for a hierarchical billing structure so that within your billing entity you can have division and business units,” says DiCamillo, “and you can roll up charges into different groups and look at the business from that respect in terms of communications costs. We also support account codes, so professionals such as doctors and lawyers can bill their communications to individual clients. The professionals can go online with their account codes, enter them, and see what the billing is for a particular client.”
Do-It-Yourself Service Provisioning
Just as the customer self-help aspects of IVR (Interactive Voice Response) kept the size of corporate call centers down to a reasonable, profitable size, so too do modern OSS systems provide automation to help consumers drive the provisioning process. JacobsRimell (http://www.jacobsrimell.com) is one of the leading providers of these user-centric service fulfillment solutions.
David Jacobs, CTO and Co-Founder of JacobsRimell, says, “We focus on three different areas. The first is residential services, the second is business IP services, and the third is subscriber information management. The reality is that both residential and business services, from our point of view, are built on top of subscriber information management. So whether or not our customers specifically use our capability, it’s still inherent in the core platform. Our whole starting position is that the world is less about devices, homes or account numbers; instead, it’s about individuals having entitlement to be able to obtain a service. What cable operators have done right is to recognize their role in life as a sort of ‘super duper content aggregator’ wherein they can take content applications and deliver them to the end user. Because cablecos are coming from a situation where they’ve been content aggregators, this mindset is not a change for them. It’s basically more of the same. But they now can leverage things in a very interesting and exciting way.”
“For years we’ve all been looking for the ‘killer application’,” says Jacobs. “It will probably end up being the ability to ‘mash together’ different services. It’s arguable that what the operators absolutely need right now is something that allows them to do that, and that’s largely where our subscriber information management capability comes from. We already have a strongly-deployed residential capability doing well in a number of different accounts. We’re also growing into the area of IP Services. For a year now we’ve had our first customer in this area, Cbeyond, which focuses on SMBs. We’re looking to grow these concepts into other areas as well.”
“As VoIP starts to take hold,” says Jacobs, “it’s clear that the future will be based on SIP signaling. We realize that there’s a related opportunity we’re looking to exploit, where SIP user equipment needs a fair amount of configuration and there’s nothing out there that really manages to do it, so we’ve just launched our QuickStart for SIP User Equipment, which is about how to mass-configure hundreds of network devices simultaneously with a common template, yet making each instance specific to each respective end user. We’ve launched it as a software appliance and that’s not only focused on the cable industry, but also Internet Telephony Service Providers [ITSPs]. No integration is necessary. We’ve also recognized the opportunity to insert some capabilities into this single software appliance so that it can work with legacy equipment and do fulfillment of the full stack. We call that the QuickStart Business Voice Package. With it, operators can rapidly implement and launch a range of business VoIP offerings.”
All Play and No Stress
At Sigma Systems (http://www.sigma-systems.com), their All Play and Sigma OSS Service Management platforms help to deliver any service, any network, any device, any time. All Play is essentially an advanced next-gen converged service creation and delivery environment, bringing together multi-technology networks and integrated services across any residential consumer, or business user’s device. Operators can now manage an integrated view of all network assets. Services can
be optimized and reused, including services delivered via business partners. At the heart of the All Play concept is Sigma’s Service Management Platform (SMP), powered by ServiceBroker, a real-time, J2EE-based intelligent service control engine serving as the foundation to manage subscription, on-demand and real-time VoIP, Internet, wireless, commercial services, IPTV and video services across any network technology, on any functional device.
Sigma’s Vice President of Product Marketing, Preston Gilmer says, “A key trend we’ve seen globally is that operators realize that they can’t have the operational ‘silos’ by service line first. So whether it’s triple-play, x-play, or ‘All Play’, the provider realizes it must have a common OSS and a common service fulfillment platform. That’s where we play. We can take an order from some system, be it a self-care portal, or a BSS system, or a handheld device - we can get an order from a partner, manage that order, put together the appropriate business and workflow processes, then provision and activate the appropriate network elements, applications servers, service delivery platforms, or whatever is in the way and must be dealt with to bring those applications or services to a consumer or their device. In our deployment experience, in order to provide complex bundled services and be able to change and modify them and get them out, you really need to work with one common OSS.”
“The other thing we definitely see emerging relating to this - we have three different deployments in this area - is basically ‘service reuse’,” says Gimer. “You hear a lot about this in the IMS world, but we’re actually doing it without any type of IMS infrastructure. There exist operators that are looking to reach customers, no matter how. They don’t care whether it’s via cable, or two-way broadband satellite, or DSL, or WiFi, or whether they’re doing it directly or reselling it. These types of operators want to define a common set of services or service definitions for high speed data, voice, video, or whatever, and they want to be able to reuse them. We have several implementations of this, such as at Rogers Cable in Canada where they use our common infrastructure to manage ISP and high-speed data services over cable, and they use the same infrastructure to do it over their WiMAX network. They offer slightly different packages but essentially the same types of services. Also, Portugal’s largest cable operator, TV Cabo, uses the same common platform where they manage cable, voice, video and data services from our platform. They also manage WiFi, two-way satellite and DSL resell, so they’re basically reselling access through their business partners or their telco owner. They are doing this to get consumer access and reach thus market share anyway they can. Again, they’re using the same, common infrastructure to do that.”
Cable companies took forever to test VoIP thoroughly. Now their innovations threaten to leapfrog them ahead of more traditional telcos and service providers. IT
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.
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