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Telecom outsourcing: Network Planning and operations guidelines

Next-generation networks are increasingly complex, and the number of telecom infrastructure devices to manage is increasing pressure in the network operations center. Outsourcing network operations may be the answer, but first network operators must create specific guidelines to manage the transition process and create day-to-day procedures.

Telecom network operators worldwide are becoming more interested in outsourcing their network operations.

Maintaining stable network operations under all possible operating conditions is far more difficult to achieve and sustain than it used to be.
Tom Nolle
CIMI Corp.
This interest is concentrated in network operations center (NOC) activity, where the increasing complexity of next-generation networks (NGN) is threatening to create cost explosions and an ongoing problem finding skilled NOC staff.

While the justifications for outsourced network operations are many, here's a sampling of the telecom carrier reasoning:

  • Networks are more complex than ever; there are multiple layers of devices (optical/physical, Ethernet, IP) and more devices per layer. Generally the complexity of operating a network is proportional to the number of device relationships in it, which can approach the square of the number of devices.

  • The devices themselves are more complex. The number of parameters required to describe a simple interface is much larger than it was a decade ago, and there are more interfaces per device.

  • Services are more complicated because they require coordinating the behavior of more devices than ever, and that means that there are more things to consider in capacity and performance management and more elements to investigate in fault management.

  • Software and computer elements – part of the IT world -- are increasingly a part of the network, and these elements are not only far more complex to manage than network devices, but they introduce requirements for software updating and management, performance planning and problem troubleshooting that are totally different from those of network devices. Telecom network operations personnel normally have little experience with these new issues.

  • The number of standards is exploding, and the number of standards with extensions and interpretations that may differ among vendors is growing even faster. As a result, maintaining stable network operations under all possible operating conditions is far more difficult to achieve and sustain than it used to be.

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Network operations have always demanded a skilled, stable, labor pool from which to draw candidates, as well as effective policy for personnel retention and development. The increased IT focus of infrastructure investment, the expanding number of providers (including mobile, cable and over-the-top players) and growing competition from enterprises for skilled personnel has created a labor shortage that can be acute in some markets.

If an operator decides to outsource network operations, the process of evaluating outsourcing bids is time-consuming and expensive, and most operators require a qualification phase to reduce the number of bidders. This can be formal or informal and normally involves submitting a basic description of financial strength, available NOC facilities and staff to accommodate the project, references from other providers and sometimes a performance bond for at least the transitional phase of the project.

As addressed in parts two and three, it is critical to manage a network operations outsource project correctly, from the justification and value proposition, to the transition process and daily operations.

Network operations is a critical element in service deployment and customer support, and a failure can not only incur unnecessary costs in field service dispatch, it can reduce service credibility and increase customer churn.

Done correctly, network operations outsourcing can make the NOC a more responsive and powerful part of the overall Operation, Administration, Maintenance and Provisioning (OAM&P) process and a positive contributor to the network operator's revenue and profit.

Continued: Launching a network operations outsourcing project

About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his networking blog Uncommon Wisdom

This was last published in September 2009

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