With the roll-out of advanced technologies such as 5G, the telecom industry is on the cusp of a major growth curve. 5G, in combination with internet of things (IoT), virtualisation, fast data and artificial intelligence/machine learning, is likely to change the landscape of the telecom industry. It will support new service offerings, use cases, business models and revenue streams. 5G is expected to lower the reliance of operators on end users paying for connectivity by allowing them to generate revenue by charging the companies that will offer customers innovative 5G-based services.
Not only will the roll-out of 5G cause major disruptions in the industry landscape, it will also necessitate the reinvention of operational and business support systems (OSS and BSS) by communications operators in order to leverage the 5G-based opportunities in the near future.
New opportunities for telcos in the 5G era
With its inherent capabilities, 5G has the potential to transform many industries, especially the telecom sector. With the deployment of 5G, telecom operators will be able to create and deliver innovative services like real-time fraud prevention, in-the-moment fleet management, drone-led network maintenance, smart metering and predictive resource conservation. Thus, 5G will serve as an opportunity for operators to churn out more value from their networks.
5G will also bring to the forefront new business models such as business-business-third party (B2B2x). The model follows a monetisation approach focused on selling 5G services to other businesses, which in turn sell those services to other entities or customers as part of their own offerings. The B2B2x model will prove to be a major breakthrough in the sector as under the model currently used for 4G services, the operator offers connectivity and services directly to end users who separately contract with third parties to access their services on that connection.
Service providers are looking at new business avenues and revenue opportunities unlocked by 5G, which will lower their reliance on conventional voice and data offerings. That said, a robust OSS/BSS system is a must-have to capitalise on these opportunities.
Traditional OSS/BSS and 5G challenges
Unlike previous generations, 5G technology is not just about better speed, exceptional latency and quality of service. It has the potential to transform industries and support several use cases. To tap into the potential of the technology, telcos must revamp their current OSS/BSS systems.
Traditional OSS/BSS systems are costly, complex, slow and siloed, and require frequent manual handovers. They are unlikely to support operators in efficiently managing high speed workflows across multiple systems. Thus, to nurture and facilitate new innovation and ecosystem partnership models, telecom operators require more agile internal systems. As operators must speedily create, test and deploy services, it becomes more crucial than ever for their OSS/BSS systems to match the speed and flexibility demanded by the new 5G-based business services.
To meet the evolving requirements of subscribers, telecom operators require agile and real-time internal systems. 5G-based telecom services make use of real-time and data-driven intelligence for complex decision-making in an ultra-low latency manner. The traditional OSS/BSS systems are fundamentally incapable of meeting the high speed and real-time demands that the low latency window of 5G permits.
Telecom operators must therefore make significant changes to their OSS/ BSS architectures by setting up systems that are more flexible, agile and connected. This means putting in place a platform that enables operators to carry out a diverse range of dynamic, real-time changes such as efficiently managing complexity in policy controls, charging in single-digit milliseconds and pushing hyper-personalised, in-the-moment offers to generate new revenue streams. The platform must also equip operators to implement new billing and pricing models at a fast pace, enabling speedy deployment of 5G-based products in the markets.
Modernising and making telcos 5G ready
In order to increase 5G readiness and leverage the new-age use cases, telecom operators need to move away from siloed processes towards an integrated data management environment across networks, systems and devices. In view of this, telecom operators have initiated the process of transforming their OSS/BSS and several key trends are indicative of the same.
Telecom operators are increasingly doing away with legacy systems and monolithic applications and are in the process of adopting an agile, flexible, cloud-based microservices architecture. In this way, OSS/BSS systems are becoming more resilient, efficient and effective. It is also enabling operators to introduce new and innovative offerings speedily. The microservices-based architecture tends to break down large, complex and monolithic systems into several small and easily manageable automated units, each designed to serve a particular purpose. These automated units have been created using Agile and devops methodologies and allow telecom operators to scale up their systems in line with their requirements.
Another approach to ensuring speed and flexibility in internal systems is moving away from traditional OSS/BSS architectures and combining software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV). SDN combines the role of gatekeepers, controllers and traffic cops and NFV is the component that executes programmed network functions. Together, they will help replace the old workflow with an event-driven architecture based on network-as-a-service capabilities and immediately activate changes in the 5G network.
As 5G will play an instrumental role in diversifying use cases for telecom operators, there is a need for the OSS/BSS infrastructure to be automated from both the front end and the back end. This is essential as telecom operators will be working with several different industry verticals and entering into a large number of partnerships to monetise their 5G investments. Telecom operators are increasingly realising the growing relevance of cloud-native solutions like NSW 2.0, which can scale up easily to meet high performance demands without undergoing any kind of quality degradation.
Every single layer in a telecom operator’s technology stack adds latency, and in a 5G-led world, operators cannot afford to lose even milliseconds. Therefore, they must invest in simplifying their technology stacks and getting rid of excess layers to confine latency to single-digit milliseconds. This will help them bring about a significant cost reduction and improve data performance. In order to accelerate digital transformation and build real-time decision capabilities, operators can look towards harnessing the power of edge computing. Edge computing helps keep data and data-driven decisions close together and enables predictive scalability while maintaining extremely low latency.
Telecom service providers are also facing mounting challenges on the customer engagement side. As technology advances, customers expect service providers to match pace with the digital experience provided by web-scale and over-the-top players. Traditional OSS/BSS systems cannot be utilised to provide such digital experiences, making it essential for operators to invest in transforming the OSS/BSS architecture. To maintain and increase customer engagement, service providers require a next-generation engagement platform that addresses the needs of both retail and enterprise customers, right from discovery, acquisition, onboarding, actionable insights to self-care.
The way forward
As telecom operators have largely focused on the consumer market and offered a small range of voice and data connectivity services, they have struggled to monetise their network investments, especially in the case of 4G. With the advent of 5G and its promise of creating new avenues, use cases, revenue streams and business models, operators have the opportunity to yield greater returns on their investment. It is their chance to evolve from merely being connectivity providers to solution creators and enablers.
However, 5G alone cannot assure the expansion of operations. The technology must be supplemented with agile, intelligent, real-time and connected OSS and BSS. At present, many telecom service providers face challenges due to numerous OSS/BSS and siloed approaches. Some continue to bundle up single function solutions. Functionality gaps are likely to create roadblocks in operations due to the huge 5G data volumes and increased transactional charging data.
Going forward, telecom operators must make the necessary investments and take steps to transform their slow and complex systems. To augment 5G and leverage its benefits, they require BSS that can support the evolving complexity of ordering, charging, billing and invoicing in emerging B2B and B2B2x models, as well as operational support systems that can manage the service life cycle and resources essential to individual network slices and IoT devices.