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Deploying effective service delivery platforms for next-gen networks

Next-generation networks can make legacy networks look simple because all services, applications, billing and operations systems, as well as customer data for fixed and mobile devices must work seamlessly on one network.

Responding to customer demand for wide-ranging fixed and mobile application services creates complex problems for communication service providers, and establishing a service delivery model requires more than deploying switching in the core and edge. The complexity of next-generation networks makes legacy networks look simple.

To keep pace with and keep track of users and their usage patterns, service providers have to deploy service delivery platforms (SDPs), operations support systems (OSS) and billing support systems (BSS) that deliver the in-depth capabilities that help create and manage all the new services, while enabling service providers to bill for them. They must also consider ways to unify their product catalogs to manage product lifecycles effectively.

Demand for application-focused products catalyzes growth in access and long-haul services and equipment. IP transport and services, according to market research firm Ovum, grew 37% in 4Q07 compared with 4Q06. Ovum estimates that revenue exceeded $1.5 billion. During the same period, the company said that Ethernet transport and services topped $1 billion, up 14% from 4Q06.

Overall telecommunications equipment sales in 4Q07 grew to $2.94 billion, a 17% increase compared with the year-ago quarter, according to Ovum, which also said no significant market share movements took place.

Access services growth is starting to slow down as most U.S. homes have access to some type of high-speed service. Ovum said broadband remote access servers accounted for sales of $210 million in 4Q07, down 9% compared with 4Q06. Growth could come from new home construction, but current economic conditions support little expansion there. Consumer spending is down overall, and that could also affect access growth.

A bright spot could appear, however, as consumers and enterprises shift their access services to the newer fiber technologies that service providers (Verizon's FIOS, for example) are currently deploying throughout their operating areas.

Moving past access and transport services to the applications and management creation environment, service providers acquire the capability to go to market in near real-time with new products and services. Quickly supporting and delivering voice, video and data in a consistent manner can prove difficult because customers want to mix and match the various media in ways that range from media downloads to streaming video and Web-based conferencing.

Service delivery platforms must hit the mark

Building and deploying service delivery platforms establishes the network environment service providers need to create multimedia products and services. Internal TSP politics and procedures aside, service delivery platforms could allow carriers to develop solutions that cut across product lines, as well as legacy and third-party systems. Missing the mark on new solutions and services can incur customer revolt and encourage churn; both negatively affect service providers' top and bottom lines (no surprise there).

As they install service delivery platforms and the network infrastructure to support applications delivery, service providers will simultaneously have to deploy all the OSS and BSS necessary to keep track of mobile and fixed users, as well as new and old applications and customer relationship management (CRM). Every OSS/BSS element must relate to its legacy and planned counterparts seamlessly across organizational and product management departments. Department and product borders that grew up and matured in the era before integrated, content-oriented and interactive services have no place in the NGN environment.

Communication service providers deploying next-generation networks must recognize that each new product and service will either complement or replace an existing one. It falls to product managers to negotiate the rate at which products roll out by considering customer expectations, as well as their own product lifecycles. They must also factor in the complexity of OSS/BSS integration across product lines and management structures.

Optimizing product management

Optimizing product management requires service providers to maintain overarching views of all their products and services while facilitating legacy product/service migration to new products (all while moving toward financial goals, operating within the limits established by regulators and meeting customer demand). Automating and managing these service lifecycles must help minimize business risks to service providers, while fostering an exciting launch and post-launch environment that increases customer loyalty.

During the intervals required for service providers to launch new products, myriad opportunities exist for cost overruns, timeline delays, oversights and miscommunications. In today's environment, as the go-to-market interval shrinks to meet customers' expectations, the risks to smooth deployment multiply quickly. Minimizing these possibilities helps create stronger, longer-lived customer relationships, thereby improving service providers' top and bottom lines.

Service delivery platforms could allow carriers to develop solutions that cut across product lines as well as legacy and third-party systems.

H. Paris Burstyn

Services lifecycles -- from inception to launch to maturity to retirement -- require cross-departmental cooperation to effectively create, sell, support and transition to new offers. Departments across the entire company -- including R&D, engineering, procurement, finance, sales, marketing and customer service -- are involved in the product lifecycle process. Some processes run simultaneously, others sequentially, depending on the successful completion of one step before progressing to the next. With all these steps and people involved, collaboration from multiple departments, if not managed properly, can create lags and gaps in the product lifecycle.

Adding complexity, few if any service providers maintain a central database of product characteristics. Most rely on multiple systems across different departments, making data transfer and sharing potentially arduous manual tasks. In legacy networks, manual processes for updating product data caused trouble for network engineers. But now with multimedia applications on the scene, service providers must automate distribution of product data to manage products and service more efficiently and to remain competitive.

Service providers face the most complex operating environment that's ever existed. Their customers use networks for a wider range of purposes -- from work to play -- than ever before. And the many locations and devices from which they want access are part of an ongoing disruptive technology environment. To survive in this environment, they must define their target customers, assess the economic and regulatory environment, create realistic business plans, and then jump into the deep end of the pool by installing the next-generation networks and management systems they'll need to maintain and increase their competitive differentiation and customer base.

About the author: H. Paris Burstyn has more than 25 years of experience working to help clients design and implement creative, effective and efficient approaches to competitive situations. He founded Paris Consults to provide analysis and consulting to competitors in the telecommunications industry. His background includes positions at Yankee Group, IDC, Arthur D. Little and HeavyReading.

This was last published in August 2008

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