Cablecos Put New Emphasis on Back Office Systems

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

The cable TV companies used to be considered the cowboys of public networking.

While the telephone companies had a reputation for slowly and meticulously designing and maintaining their networks and back office systems, conventional wisdom was that the cablecos were much less methodical in how they built networks and rolled out services.

Of course, that was years ago. To what extent that was true then, or might be accurate today, I’m not exactly sure. But one thing I do know is that both the telcos and cablecos are being forced to move a whole lot quicker these days, both to compete with each other and to take on newcomers that are invading their turfs.

At the same time, these companies have to contend with how to leverage, connect and update their billing and operational support systems to enable them to be more responsive to the competitive pressures of the current environment and to interact with the growing ecosystem of partners with which they need to interconnect, expose resources, and do billing and settlements.

That might help explain why the TM Forum (News - Alert) – an industry association and standards-setting group that traditionally has been considered a telco-oriented organization – has recently seen significant involvement from cablecos.

Craig Bachmann, head of the cable market support center at the TM Forum, says the MSOs, which is just another term for the big incumbent cable TV companies in the U.S., are now facing more complexity on the operational support systems front as they’re challenged to deliver triple play services despite their siloed back office systems. OSS and BSS systems are also becoming more important considerations for cablecos as they look to expand their business series, move to wireless mobility, and seek to peer to address new business requirements, Bachmann adds.

All of the above have prompted cablecos to look at, and in some cases implement, the TM Forum’s eTOM, business process model that defines everything that needs to be done to deliver a service – from order to cash.  There are more than 1,000 individual MSO users of eTOM that employ the framework to support various applications like revenue assurance, Bachmann says.

The MSOs were in the midst of a business transformation last year and will continue on that track in 2011, adds Bachmann, and BSS and OSS transformation are part of those efforts.

The consolidation of the cable TV business, which had key MSOs over the years purchase smaller cablecos in an effort to cluster operations and achieve scale, actually resulted in the creation of businesses that are highly decentralized and operate in what are often far-flung geographies. That means MSOs run operations in multiple areas that have different regulatory requirements and local issues. To lessen the complexity of doing business in all those different environments, MSOs want to create some conformity across those various properties, Bachmann says. Adopting standardized approaches from the TM Forum that address processes like service fulfillment can help achieve that.

He adds that the IP detail records that the TM Forum implemented a couple years ago have since been implemented by nearly every MSO in the world. An IPDR is an IP call detail record that can be captured from CMTS head-end gear. In fact, CableLabs (News - Alert), the technical body serving the MSOs, wrote IPDR service definitions into DOCSIS.

Bachmann told NGN magazine in November that over the last nine months it became obvious that CableLabs was interested in working much more closely with the TM Forum. In addition to all of the above indicators of the cablecos’ growing interest in back office systems, Bachmann says, CableLabs recently hired Dan Lavendar as its director of B/OSS software.

Some of the key areas on which CableLabs, the cablecos and the TM Forum are collaborating, adds Bachmann, are IPDR; business services; operations intelligence, including how to manage a trouble ticket in a standardized way; and OSS/BSS, including how to connect the dots with CableLabs standards like DOCSIS and PacketCable.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi