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Wireless OSS must address the untethered user challenge

An increasingly wireless world must provide an untethered approach to next-generation operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS). Content quality testing and location-based services may boost the market first.

Editor's note: As service providers roll out next-generation networks and services, they need next-generation operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS) to go along with them. The introduction of more complex service offerings on multiple platforms, and the sheer volume of services rocketing across multiple carrier networks, means more complex revenue tracking, too.

In this series, OSS expert Jeff Cotrupe looks at meeting next generation-network and service challenges with next-generation OSS/BSS. For more information on next-gen OSS/BSS, check out Tackling next-gen network OSS/BSS challenges, and OSS service delivery platforms: New services launch pads. At the end of this article, check out Cotrupe's expert podcast, From NOCs to ROCs: Helping service providers monitor business operations, to listen to what it takes to establish a revenue operations center to track complex service revenue.

In an increasingly wireless world, the wireless ubiquity we all demand calls for an untethered approach to next-generation operations support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS). Given that wireless is where much of the growth is in today's communications markets, at first blush it may seem like a goldmine for any OSS/BSS provider with a pulse.

Yet just as "I want to be in pictures" Hollywood-bound types have created a steady stream of restaurant waiters and tour guides in the greater Los Angeles area, companies that set off to take the wireless market by storm without a focused idea of where the opportunities are can find themselves reduced to bit players or dying of contract starvation.

Here's a quick guide to two areas where next-generation OSS/BSS providers are making a living by helping in-demand wireless services take flight.

1. User- and service-specific global service monitoring, testing and measurement
Far more often than wireless operators and wireless users want to admit, wireless service today is largely a "best effort" affair. Users are still so enamored of the ability to communicate wirelessly that they are remarkably forgiving of dropped calls, noise and sizable dead zones even in major metropolitan areas.

Too many actual users find themselves emulating the well-known character from television commercials who keeps saying, "Can you hear me now?" If we are to advance the state of the art in the wireless world, we must get beyond the finger-pointing between those involved in the wireless supply chain and "in-service" network dashboard generalities, to quantify and report on the actual user experience.

A branch of the next-generation OSS/BSS market is emerging to do precisely that, with software that enables wireless operators to pinpoint sources of downtime, isolate the performance of each component in the end-to-end mobile infrastructure, and monitor advanced services like push-to-talk or applications like rich media streaming. Operators can even benchmark their own performance versus that of other operators. Products employ interactive testing and monitoring of wireless content, applications and services using both real and software-emulated mobile devices to provide user-specific testing across services that include email, IM, streaming video, SMS, MMS, WAP, push-to-talk, over-the-air (OTA) transactions, and Java/BREW applications.

As a result, wireless operators can ensure consistent quality of service (QoS) for subscribers and users. Perhaps someday the big question will no longer be whether the other caller can hear us, but: "How many years has it been since we disconnected our last wireline phone?"

2. OSS/BSS infrastructure for LBS (or LBT)
"Location-based services" (LBS) isn't yet a household term but is getting there in terms of OSS. LBS combines management software with wireless LAN (WLAN) devices, radio frequency identification (RFID), global positioning system (GPS), and geographic information system (GIS) technologies.

Some may think of LBS as a market that boomed briefly, then died. Not so fast. Yes, as recently as 2005 some industry analysts projected that LBS would become a global market generating tens of billions of dollars by 2008. MarketPOWER's most recent estimates of the actual size of the market in 2007 are in the area of $2 billion.

As a result, wireless operators can ensure consistent quality of service for subscribers and users.

Jeff Cotrupe

The reason for the lackluster results so far is that, earlier on, service providers were focused on what we call "Attention shoppers" LBS, a service that alerts consumers to promotions and coupons as they approach shopping areas, plus a variety of overhyped "essential on-the-go information" services that consumers were largely unwilling to pay for.

That also spelled trouble for a legion of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) -- companies that don't own wireless networks but sell (or resell) wireless services under their own brand names using the network of a facilities-based wireless operator such as ESPN Mobile, the now-defunct Amp'd Mobile, and many more names you've never heard of around the globe.

So why are we now projecting that this sluggish market will grow to $18 billion by 2012? Let me introduce the new LBS market, location-based tracking (LBT), whose main demand drivers are in the enterprise. There is a dual or sell-through market at work here: Every facet of LBT is marketable to both service providers and their largest customers, the Fortune 500 and Global 1000. Enterprise LBT tracks enterprise "assets," vehicles, employees, supplies and capital equipment, both on-site at company locations and in the field. LBS vendors are also incorporating location-based security, which includes authorizing usage of software applications depending on an employee's current position inside a given facility.

On the consumer side, tracking the youngest and oldest among us is the primary driver. LBT for consumers provides either so-called "geo-fencing" alerts -- if a child is nearing the borders of a "safe" area, for instance, the system sends a notification to the parents' mobile phones -- or arrival notification, sending an alert to a family member when an elderly person who has left home base arrives at a prescribed destination, for example. Verizon's Migo phone (handset private-labeled from LG) is a good example of a branded LBS/LBT service that has gained traction in the consumer space.

Opportunity abounds in this space. Those such as Pitney-Bowes/MapInfo with business-enhanced GIS solutions provide a core component of LBS that applies to everything from "outside plant" inventory at the heart of any wireless network to mobile navigation systems. Rendering any wireless device GPS-trackable requires management software, and a number of companies are providing it. A growing lineup of information, content, middleware and platform providers -- from giants including Alcatel-Lucent, HP, IBM and Motorola to emerging players such as Navtrak, Newbury, Openwave and Webraska -- is equipping wireless operators with software solutions for roaming, mobile advertising, multimedia messaging gateways, Web portals, mobile Internet, mobile commerce ("M-commerce") and more.

The wireless market indeed beckons with opportunity for next-generation OSS/BSS providers -- if you know where to look.

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About the author: Jeffrey Paul Cotrupe is the CEO of MarketPOWER, LLC. Cotrupe is a former practice leader at Gartner and director at ADC Telecommunications who helped relaunch an OSS/BSS research practice at RHK (now Ovum). Cotrupe has provided analyst services to Yankee Group and strategic consulting services to a variety of companies, relaunched companies and helped others win venture capital funding.

This was last published in September 2008

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