Owing to stiff competition in the telecom market, operators are shifting their focus from customer acquisition to customer retention. Meanwhile, the industry is witnessing growing uptake in data services. As a result, operators have started revisiting their strategies and investments in the operations support system (OSS) and business support system (BSS) domains. Industry experts share their views on the emerging trends and challenges in this space…

How has the relevance of OSS/BSS changed for telecom operators over the past few years?

Senior Consultant, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan

Rahul Agarwal

In recent years, the line between OSS and BSS has blurred, with some overlap in many systems. For instance, customer care systems and the customer notification function are often included in today’s convergent billing solutions. In addition, the role of OSS/BSS has expanded beyond traditional network-centric boundaries. With competitive pressures increasing and bandwidth services becoming commoditised, operators are turning to OSS/BSS to deliver the comprehensive solutions required to operate and manage emerging networks and services. OSS/BSS transformation is, in fact, considered a continuous process based on the mind-set that the communications business will constantly evolve and operators must have systems and tools in place to keep pace with change. Due to significant disruptions in the industry, new business models and service offerings are emerging, which, in turn, require completely different OSS and BSS support. Operators need to make changes to their networks and support systems corresponding to the new services, in order to keep pace with changing consumer preferences and increasing demand. The adoption of cloud and machine-to-machine (M2M) business models is the new mantra, echoed by many in the industry today, as a way to offset the decline in operator revenues from traditional consumer-focused voice, text, and even data access services. The business challenges include support for cloud-based virtual services, cross-industry services, and M2M services. Each service has different requirements and appeals to very different customers. Developing operations and monetisation support for each new business model category listed above is a challenge and will grow in complexity as confidence builds in the industries that see value in working with network operators who can support virtual business-to-business and business-to-consumer (B2C) services. Policy has an important role to play in enhancing each of these new business models as they mature. For instance, there are a number of quality of service use cases related to M2M. But at this point in their evolution, policy has taken a back seat to direct monetisation needs owing to real-time rating and charging.

We do have models for monetising traditional services like voice, SMS and data, but the same for new and emerging services like M2M are missing. Service providers are quick to launch them but not fast enough to monetise them. OSS and BSS have to continuously evolve to meet the growing needs and keep pace with changing technology, service offerings and business models.

Aditya Chaudhuri

Managing Director, and Lead for Accenture’s Communication, Media and Technology Operating Group in India

In the past decade, the shift from circuit-switched to full-IP services has transformed the telecom business by removing the technology barriers that had previously confined communication services to the physical network layer. OSS and BSS, which were earlier business- and operation-centric, have now become customer-centric. This evolution has created an opportunity to enhance operators’ offerings to enable swifter time-to-market, stronger integration across systems and inclusion of analytics capabilities to support agile decision-making.

As networks converge on IP and business relationships and standards change, there is even more emphasis on OSS and BSS than ever before. Today, operators are demanding immense flexibility; open, interoperable solutions; integration of technical and business process management including billing, customer relationship management (CRM), service activation provisioning and fault management. Component-based OSS and BSS solutions improve the management of service planning, deployment and operations in a multi-service, multivendor, multi-technology environment. Communications service providers are thus relying on their OSS and BSS partners to manage the hybrid legacy/virtualised networks of the near future and provide the systems that will enable them to be digital leaders and compete with web services giants.

Director, Technology, Vodafone India

Vishant Vora

OSS/BSS have always been essential software tools for telecom operators, but as networks converge on IP and standards and technologies evolve, it has become even more important for telecom operators to extract most efficient use of their network assets using OSS/BSS platforms. In fact, over the past few years, the demand for next-generation services has led to a significant shift in the OSS/BSS requirements of telecom operators. OSS/BSS solutions are now becoming dependent on service layer architecture along with the network layer to manage customer experience. Telecom operators need to balance network evolution, new services and changing business needs, which require robust OSS/BSS solutions.

A couple of years back, voice was the key revenue driver for telcos, but with exponential growth in the uptake of smart devices, applications and over-the-top services in recent years, the focus has shifted to data services. Smartphones together with cellular connectivity are fast creating an “always connected” society with an ever-increasing appetite for data. At this pace of evolution, it appears that a shift towards a “dominantly digital economy”, enabled by telecom infrastructure, is inevitable in the near future. To be successful in this pursuit, telcos depend on robust and technologically advanced OSS/BSS stack. Traditionally, OSS platforms mainly focused on the technical control and management of network nodes. However, IP-based networks need end-to-end control of networks, services and customer experience.

Similarly, legacy BSS platforms, that were built to deal with voice and simple data, now need to process rich and complex real-time data. The BSS stack needs to adapt to a range of new services and the associated network traffic as well as multiple, concurrent data sessions running from single or multiple devices.

Vodafone is of the view that a healthy OSS/BSS stack is the key to deliver an unparalleled customer experience. We have recently concluded the transformation of our billing platform, which now offers rich features like dynamic discounting to all our customers across the prepaid, post-paid, wireline and data segments, and provides the capability to offer a common bill to customers availing of services across segments, and interactive e-bill features, thereby simplifying the lives of customers.

Meanwhile, we try to ensure that there is minimal service disruption at any point in time and an immediate response mechanism is available to deal with such disruptions. To achieve this, we have set up a Super Network Operations Centre, which provides a consolidated view of the cross-domain network, IT, enterprise and services. The facility provides a unified view of the entire network infrastructure and is mapped to offer services, which results in proactive monitoring, thus leading to early detection of any issue even before customers realise it and complain. Any dev­iation from key performance indicators threshold values is tapped and appropriate action is taken on priority. We also have a very strong service management system to manage and address problems and detect glitches occurring in IT applications. In addition, we are undergoing transformation on the CRM front, with the aim of providing a unified view of customer profiles to call centre agents and hence completely transform the customer interaction and customer touchpoint experience. All this will not only give us a competitive edge but also improve our brand perception in the minds of our customers.

What are the emerging trends in the OSS/BSS space in India?

Aditya Chaudhuri

As the business scope of telecom service providers is expanding and they are transitioning from voice to content and internet services, OSS/BSS are now providing them convergent platforms that offer a unified view of services, which is leveraged for developing preferential pricing plans and centralised customer support. Meanwhile, there is an increasing demand for customised OSS/BSS software in the Indian OSS/BSS software market. New telecom industry trends are driving OSS/BSS re­quirements, with service layer architecture and customer experience management at the core, leading to a move towards automated systems and management-as-a-service (MaaS). Some of the other trends are a change in the business approach from supply side to demand side, from operations personnel support to automated support, and from management-as-an-overlay to MaaS.

Vishant Vora

The adoption of IP, packet switched and content-driven telecom networks is leading to the creation of a new generation of OSS/BSS platforms, which are likely to deliver a better customer experience and drive revenue growth. These platforms will support next-generation technologies like network function virtualisation (NFV)/software-defined networking (SDN) to deliver services like VoIP, high speed internet, unified communications, video-on-demand and digital applications.

The concept of self-organising networks has introduced a new OSS model for service operations through process automation for high-volume and low-cost services. For some operators, this effect­ively means a major transformation of their OSS/BSS suite and operations.

Some of the emerging trends in the OSS/BSS space are:

  • Virtualised OSS/BSS stack – Cloud-based OSS/BSS solutions are fast catching up with mid-sized and small telcos, thus imparting the agility and speed to roll out new products while remaining cost efficient.
  • Increasing demand for customised OSS/BSS – Telecom operators are shifting from a technology-centric business model to a customer-centric one and customised OSS/BSS software enables them to offer bundled services to end-users.
  • Focus on fraud management – Rapid growth across the telecom value chain has given leeway to fraudsters to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in telecom networks and IT systems. This calls for investments in a robust fault management system.
  • Cloud CRM – Gartner’s research on CRM trends shows that cloud CRM is expected to grow by 14.8 per cent annually till 2025; however, security concerns need to be addressed. The integration of social media and CRM applications is needed to monitor customer reactions, generate leads, improve customer relationships and loyalty, optimise brand promotion and management, and enable quick and timely customer service.
  • Convergent billing – This ensures a single bill and a unified view of multiple services such as voice, data, video, and interactive on-demand value-added services.

Which are the most widely adopted OSS/BSS solutions in the Indian market? How do you see the OSS/BSS requirements changing with the adoption of services like M2M and cloud?

Aditya Chaudhuri

The OSS/BSS domain is marked with rapid technology upgradation. The range of products varies from pure OSS/BSS systems to customised skill-set extension like content settlement. Although the majority of the companies now specialise in customised software, the main focus still remains on traditional OSS/BSS services. OSS caters to network design, monitoring and operations and management, service fulfilment, service assurance, anti-fraud and security, marketing and sales support, while BSS caters to billing, customer care, order entry and provisioning, revenue management, product management and order management.

There is a growing demand for even more advanced OSS/BSS solutions for supporting over-the-horizon services like cloud and M2M, which will be a clear driver for growth in next-generation OSS/ BSS. Telcos have invested significantly in traditional BSS. BSS on software-as-a-service (SaaS) will not replace them but will coexist with the current systems and migrate over time. For the quick launch of new services, BSS on SaaS will be used by telcos. Leading service providers such as Accenture and Salesforce are working on these initiatives and collaborating for the delivery of a “carrier-grade, multi-tenant cloud-based BSS” platform targeting communications service providers in their target markets in India and globally.

“New telecom industry trends are driving OSS/BSS requirements, with service layer architecture and customer experience management at the core.” Aditya Chaudhuri

Vishant Vora

The most widely adopted OSS/BSS solutions in the Indian market are provided by Hewlett-Packard, Mycom-OSI, Info-vista, IBM, Oracle, Amdocs, Subex and Comptel.

Thriving on the ubiquitous connectiv­ity and proliferation of smart devices, M2M communication is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. There will be a need to remotely configure and provision millions of devices without impacting the network while maintaining control over opex. Further, organisations are fast adopting cloud technology for quicker roll-out of new services, optimum hardware utilisation and on-demand scalability.

Seamless and secure M2M communication will require more stringent monitoring of the networks, and enhanced capability to handle complex billing processes, and this will trigger the need for a highly evolved OSS/BSS stack. As far as the movement of OSS/BSS stack on the cloud is concerned, it is predominantly small- or mid-sized operators that are typically exploring the option to host the entire/partial OSS/BSS stack on cloud infrastructure, which will provide them the flexibility to scale up operations on demand and simplify software upgrade procedures.

How have OSS/BSS requirements changed with the 3G service launch? Will the launch of 4G services bring about a drastic change in the current OSS/BSS set-up of operators?

Rahul Agarwal

For nearly all types of B2C billing, there is a strong push to replace the first-generation online or offline systems with a next-generation convergent (online and off-line) rating and charging solution. A major catalyst in this upgradation is 4G long term evolution (LTE) mobile deployments. 4G LTE is capable of supporting multiple data applications and video, all wrapped within a voice call, at faster throughput speeds than previously ins­talled network technologies. This type of use-case requires real-time rating and charging with inextricable links to mediation, policy management, product catalogue, other core billing, partner management, customer notification and self-care functions. As the market looks to deploy next-generation technologies, operators will need to invest in network monitoring, billing and charging, and network optimisation. That need next-generation OSS/ BSS support along with such complex service offerings.

“With competitive pressures increasing and bandwidth services becoming commoditised, operators are turning to OSS/BSS to deliver the comprehensive solutions required to operate and manage emerging networks and services.” Rahul Agarwal

Aditya Chaudhuri

The 3G era saw the launch of many smart devices in the Indian market and increasing data uptake with the emergence of new-age services. As a result, operators needed OSS and BSS solutions that could safeguard their investments and help them in better understanding their customers.

Growth in the OSS/BSS segment has been largely driven by operators deploying solutions for next-generation offerings with the focus on standardisation and the adoption of a modular and pre-integrated approach. Today, OSS/BSS solutions are required to handle the complexities of integration, authentication, billing and revenue management, customer care, etc., thereby improving the user experience.

With the emergence of 4G, there is going to be increasing pressure on operators to better monetise their data consumption and this is where next-generation OSS/BSS will play a vital role. Service providers will need to justify their 4G invest­ments, which may call for new and higher-price revenue models. This may be a challenge, particularly in India. A value-based model based on differential charging for premium service levels may work, but it is still untested in most parts of the world.

OSS/BSS solutions need to support high speed data services like unified communications and high-definition video, in-car real-time communications, and other digital media applications. Network and IT boundaries will blur and impact trad­itional technical service design, orchestration, activation, surveillance and inventory functions. New cost optimisation opportunities coming with SDN and NFV technologies will lead to a radical disruption in the network and IT/OSS architecture, forcing telcos to rethink the way they manage and operate their network infrastructure and services in order to fill the generation gap with OTT content.

Vishant Vora

With 3G networks, OSS/BSS had to be modified to adapt to the necessary changes in operations. The launch of 4G services would demand the introduction of a single radio access network platform, change in the supply of transport bandwidth and connectivity, packet core network, and so on. This will require orderly and quick capacity improvements, network and service management, and provisioning along with strengthening and automation of OSS processes to deliver an error-free customer experience.

As the focus shifts from voice-centric 2G networks to data-centric 3G and 4G networks, OSS/BSS stacks are rapidly being transformed. With 3G, telcos mo­ved from being supply focused to being demand focused. As a result, the service offerings have become highly orchestrated and innovative and the evolved OSS/BSS landscape now provides telcos with the capability to extend bundled service offerings and at the same time, maintain a high quality of service level. With the roll-out of 4G networks, OSS/BSS will need to not only cater to the new network capabilities but also deliver highly customised and bundled services to meet the rapidly changing needs of customers.

“The transformation of the OSS/BSS stack from legacy systems is a very resourceand cost-intensive task.” Vishant Vora

What are the key challenges in the OSS/BSS segment?

Rahul Agarwal

The OSS/BSS domain has failed to keep pace with changing technology and business models, which has limited growth in these segments. Emerging services like cloud and M2M require advanced OSS/ BSS support. As the industry continues to evolve at a fast pace, the OSS/BSS environment needs to be flexible enough to adapt to this evolution.

Aditya Chaudhuri

One of the key challenges still faced in India is the complexity involved in the integration of advanced systems with the existing ones. On the OSS/BSS front, the changes have not been rapid enough to create the complex provisioning, billing and rating functionalities that the new wave of technology requires.

New services are being rapidly laun­ched but they cannot call for a complete overhaul of OSS/BSS. Therefore, the ability to adapt to evolution, both upstream and downstream, will be a key driver for the growth of next-generation OSS/BSS.

The convergence of products and offerings is blurring the boundaries bet­ween OSS/BSS stacks and with other interfacing systems, leading to risks associated with adequate process coverage.

Vishant Vora

  • The transformation of the OSS/BSS stack from legacy systems is a very resource- and cost-intensive task. Tel­cos have an array of OSS products from multiple vendors. These products use different hardware and middleware, different upgrade cycles and change management processes. These overheads come in the way of achieving economies of scale. The existence of pro­prietary interfaces to integrate with other systems or networks further restricts telcos from implementing high availability solutions.
  • Legacy OSS/BSS systems hinder the quick roll-out of new services as they need to be configured and tested rigorously, which is a costly process. This delays the launch of new services, thus challenging telcos’ objective of gaining quick market share and profits. Next-generation OSS/BSS should reduce costs by leveraging more commodity hardware and software, and reusing processes and architecture, resulting in a reduction in capex and opex.
  • The lack of availability of right skills and knowledge pertaining to OSS/BSS processes and procedures is also a major challenge.