ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells
January 2007
Volume 10 / Number 1

Billing and OSS - the Last Barrier to VoIP and IMS

By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis: ( Page 1 || Page 2 || Page 3 || Page 4 || Page 5 || Page 6 || Page 7)


Leave the Driving to Us

Solegy ( offers a managed service deployment platform for VoIP, IMS and other next-gen services. They offer solutions for VoIP service providers, network operators and content providers.

Eric Hernaez, CEO and Co-Founder of Solegy, says, “You can’t really separate billing and OSS anymore. It used to be very easy to point to the OSS parts of the network and then point to the separate billing components of the network in another building or, in the case of the big telcos, another state. But these days it’s all converged. The whole point of converging it is to enable things such as self-provisioning of users where not only does it allow people to provision their own service, but set up their own billing profile at the same time.”

“We basically offer a managed service delivery platform, but that’s really just another way of saying billing and OSS,” says Hernaez. “Everybody has their own definition for ‘service delivery platform’, and it’s still sort of in flux. But in our case it means being able to put all of the components of a service into the same box in a network diagram, at least in terms of a management perspective. We provide an outsourced service for our customers who are primarily ITSPs that allows them to not only provision customers but also to ‘provision the service’ by making the necessary configurations in the network required for that service. At the same time they set up a profile for the customer who’s going to use that service as well as set up the billing rules that apply to that person. So basically we have a turnkey solution that gives you the ‘one-click’ ability to create a customer and provision his or her service. That entails taking all of those different parts of the network that used to be separate silos of information, if you will, and converging them.”

“We’ve been doing this for almost seven years now, and although VoIP or broadband telephony service providers are our main market, our services are also used by other types of network operators and content developers, so our service can be used for provisioning WiFi hot spots, for example,” says Hernaez. “We have customers who use us to manage the process for the service of downloading ringtones or sending SMS messages through an international SMS gateway.”

“As for where BSS and OSS are going,” says Hernaez, “the reason that everything is converging is because people expect to use services in real-time. Real-time is the key that forces you to merge all of the processes, if you will. In the old days you had a BSS that built rate plans and things like that, and you had the marketing guys who were formulating the pricing aspects of the service. Then you had the OSS which was responsible for getting whatever configurations had to be in the network equipment. Then the users would actually use the service and the result would be a CDR or some kind of record that was spat out of the network equipment, and then that was fed into the billing side of things. First there was a mediation platform that would take that raw CDR record and then rate it according to what ever the business rules were. And then the data would go off and be formatted into a bill.”

“Usually those three processes were separate,” says Hernaez. “There were defined interfaces between each of them, but they were clearly separate processes. Now, however, if you want to be able to do things in real time, that is, allow a customer to come onto a Web page, fill out a form, click ‘submit’, use a payment process and then be able to place calls immediately, you really need to not treat the processes as three separate things. Obviously, it’s possible to configure separate things on-the-fly, but it’s very difficult. It’s best to have it all in one managed process.”

“So one aspect of the modern telecom world is flow-through provisioning and the other is running things in real-time,” says Hernaez. “In the past everybody used to treat prepaid services as a whole separate service. That’s an expensive way to do things because if you want to come out with a prepaid version of your service, it usually means bolting on some other system next to whatever you already have, and sending whatever the process flow is through that in order to rate it and charge it as the event occurs. It required a lot of processing power and storage and so it cost a lot to make a prepaid call. The technology is less expensive now, and it doesn’t make sense to treat these processes separately. Today, any transaction though the network should be able to be handled as a prepaid transaction.”

Hernaez speculates: “So this is where I see things going: When a service is provisioned, the customer will be able to do it on-the-fly; they will be able to order it as a prepaid, postpaid or whatever kind of service matches their business criteria, without respect to the underlying systems. For that to happen, the systems have to be converged. You can’t have those three different ‘silos’, each dealing with a separate process; they all must be handled by a single master controller.”

“In IMS the BSS and OSS are supposed to be abstracted out of the applications,” says Hernaez. “IMS is not a big uniform thing; take the appearance of A-IMS [Advances to IMS], for example. Even though things might be different on a vendor-to-vendor basis, within a vendor’s architecture, it’s a converged model where everything gets treated in an abstracted way, and so any service that’s created could be postpaid or prepaid. So there’s really no distinction anymore between billing and the other system components. It’s all very closely intertwined. That’s the cynical view, of course. Personally, I’d like to think that there will ultimately be some modicum of a real standard and that you can plug in applications on-the-fly to a standard interface. Actually, the mechanism is already there in IMS, which is DIAMETER, the charging gateway part of the IMS network. The DIAMETER specification is fairly well agreed-upon and established, so in that respect if the rest of the network is able to talk to that DIAMETER charging gateway, then much of IMS’ alleged capabilities can be realized. The problem is, every vendor tries to differentiate itself by doing something a little bit differently. DIAMETER is extensible so you can add your own ‘special sauce’ to the way things are done. That’s part of what makes it flexible, but yes, there will always be certain issues cropping up. Otherwise, everybody would have a ‘vanilla’ implementation and how would any given vendor differentiate itself from any other vendor?”


The Three Pillars

Rick Mallon, VP of Product Management at Sigma Systems (, says: “Sigma Systems focuses on OSS. There are ‘three pillars’ in this business: fulfillment, assurance and billing. We’re primarily in the fulfillment space, with 50 customers worldwide, serving 30 million lines of service, two-thirds of which are IP. It’s a combination of high-speed access lines and VoIP services.”

“Sigma Systems has a lot of familiarity with problems in this space,” says Mallon. “By and large, the provision of high bandwidth services has been mastered, whether that’s cable access or DSL or what have you. It has pretty much been automated and it seems to be pretty smooth. In other words, if you order a high-speed service from someone, you’re very likely to get it when you expect to. Certainly for the basic provisioning of softswitches, SIP endpoints or any of the infrastructure, that’s all now fairly well mastered, especially on the residential voice service side. However, things are still a bit challenging on the business voice side. VoIP has challenges relating to local number portability [LNP]. LNP doesn’t have anything to do with IP technology per se, it’s just that LNP in general is still in the process of being automated in the industry, but even that has shown a lot of improvement in the last three years.”

“Sigma does a lot of work with LNP vendors,” says Mallon. “We’ve seen companies such as Level 3, Sprint and NeuStar step into a void and they’ve become a kind of a service bureau for LNP transactions. So smaller providers, the Tier-2s and so on, use those service bureaus, submitting their LNP transactions to a Level 3, and those in turn go up the ILEC to finally get the numbers ported. That process appears to have made a bit of impact the last two or three years, settling things down. Sigma helps here by building out adapters to Level 3 and Sprint, both of whom now happen to be two of our partners. We take LNP transactions from half of our service providers and pass them to those companies and they in turn pass them to Qwest, SBC or AT&T.”

“IMS is a quite interesting topic,” says Mallon. “Sigma is now working with many of the softswitch vendors; we partner with Nortel, Siemens, Cisco, Cedar Point and now BroadSoft, Sylantro, and so forth. As a consequence, we’ve seen a lot of the early work that they’ve been doing in IMS. We’ve had lots of discussions with their engineering, CTOs and product management people. I’d say that, holistically, the IMS standards — such as they are — have been implemented differently in various devices so at the moment many of those boxes don’t interoperate properly. So you’re seeing something that’s fairly typical for a new technology. You might have a box from one vendor and a box from another, but when you try to interop them, they don’t quite get along together. So there’s a lot of work that needs to happen with the basic IMS architecture and standards so we can get to the point where you can plug-and-play the boxes. Once we realize that goal, the challenge is going to be to operationalize the role of new sources based on IMS.”

“Most of the existing service providers are not going to throw their entire network out just to install IMS,” says Mallon. “I think what you’ll see is a hybrid of networks, a combination of old technology that works just fine, and then IMS will be used for developing and deploying new services. As a consequence, the providers’ billing and OSS systems are going to have to expand into two worlds: the old legacy world and the new IMS world. I think that’s the way things will play out.”

“From Sigma’s perspective,” says Mallon, “the IMS architecture is just another thing we have to master. It’s another set of devices — such as the HSS [Home Subscriber Server] in particular — that we have to send provisioning transactions down to.”

Because of the size and depth of Zippy’s article, readers can peruse this feature in its entirety below.

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.


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