Operators, change is gonna come
Like it or not, change is being forced on network operators. These are difficult times for all of them because they are being driven by the need to maintain their place at the centre of the communications services market in the face of diverse and powerful competition.
This need to change is impacting on every aspect of operators’ businesses. Nascent technologies such as 5G, the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) promise to open up new possibilities and opportunities, but in order to exploit them, it is vital that operators transform their operational and business systems and processes as well as organisational cultures.
New ways of working, new vulnerabilities
In addition, areas such as security, fraud and privacy must be revisited because, as past experience has shown, new technologies and new ways of working bring new vulnerabilities. So let’s look a little closer at some of the issues facing operators in the coming few years.
Starting in the back office, existing support systems such as network monitoring, trouble ticketing, traffic management and everything else that goes with running a network, are going digital. Of that there is no doubt. However, the step change won’t happen overnight and most operators will be faced with the prospect of running and maintaining hybrid legacy/NFV architectures in parallel for at least five years and possibly longer. Solutions are beginning to appear on the market, but it’s doubtful if many operators’ backend teams will have the skill sets required to run them, which in turn suggests a move towards outsourced OSS (operations support systems).
BSS fit for purpose?
The situation with BSS (business support systems) is no better. Again, digitalisation is inevitable if operators want to compete successfully in the next-generation marketplace because existing systems will not be fit for purpose. However, it is crucial that the business support layer must not only be able to perform the usual functions of charging, billing, CRM, CEM etc., but also be flexible enough to underpin completely new business models that have not previously been in the telco’s remit.
Enter the cloud.
The advent of cloud-based operations is presenting operators with a bewildering number of choices and opportunities on a number of different fronts. As their OSS and BSS infrastructures migrate to the cloud, should they choose a private or a public cloud? Should they host it themselves in-house or go for a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model from a third-party supplier? Or perhaps a mixture of the two where sensitive information such as customer profiles and billing information is kept in-house due to concerns over fraud and/or security and the heavy lifting is carried out in a third-party cloud. These are not easy decisions to make, particularly as the operator’s future profitability is dependent upon them.
So far as the BSS is concerned, a cloud-based digital architecture allows the operator to offer new services such as offering charging, billing and e-payment to non-telco enterprises, thereby relieving them of the need to run their own business processes. BSSaaS if you will. This kind of arrangement also opens the way for an even greater degree of cooperation between the telco and businesses. For example, a telco and an energy utility company sharing a common cloud-based BSS could offer cross-bundling on their products and services. Indeed, examples of this business model have already begun to emerge.
In this type of arrangement however, for the telco the choice of public or private cloud could be crucial and might be dictated by the preferences of its prospective partners. The bottom line is if operators can manage to successfully transform their businesses from the current voice and data model to something more expansive and inclusive, not only will they recoup the investment digital transformation requires, but they will also see revenues start to rise significantly again.
This is of course only a thumbnail view of the issues and opportunities currently facing network operators globally, but in the coming weeks and months, as the title suggests, this regular VanillaPlus column will look at them from an operator’s perspective, reporting their views and opinions of the imminent seismic changes that are about to hit the communications industry. Operator View will canvass opinions from operators globally, both large and small and of all types and operational models. In short, the aim is to provide the definitive Operator View.
By Peter Dykes, freelance telecoms writer
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category: Operator View