IMS promises the delivery of exciting and innovative services, faster and more easily than ever before. John Wells, Product Portfolio Director at Comptel asks, 'Could IMS spell the end for OSS‾'
Enthusiastic supporters of IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) like to believe that it will bring about the death of OSS (Operations Support Systems) as we know it. They point out that IMS is all about standardisation, and with it, the mechanisms to move toward the long promised vision of the 'plug and play' service offering. In other words, standards will simplify all the things which OSS used to do.
However, the more pragmatic supporters of IMS will note that it is all about engagement of the customer with sophisticated product bundles and charging models which can be rapidly repackaged to pre-empt changes in market requirements and competitive pressures. This can potentially be a powerful tool in the search of the elusive 'killer-app'. However, such focus on innovation and differentiation is placing new pressures on the OSS.
If you follow the standard approach then it is possible to achieve many of the benefits inherent in IMS. With simplified provisioning through standardised profiling, using home subscriber servers and subscription management, as well as alignment with defined online and offline charging practices, IMS has the potential to really simplify the OSS processes.
However, this view of IMS is challenged from a number of directions, not least of all from IMS equipment and application vendors seeking to differentiate outside the framework of standards, and service providers moving ahead of the standards as they seek to meet customer demands for new services. Larger telecoms operators are creating their own extensions to the standards and enforcing these through their own buying power, ensuring sophisticated services requiring provisioning and charging interfaces outside of the IMS core and into the multi-vendor and multi-technology network.
There is also the challenge of new business models , such as the incorporation of third party applications leading to a heavily multi-vendor and non-standardised environment. Quality of Service (QoS) in IMS requires an increased level of network and infrastructure knowledge in order to provision services, and as a result provides a new dimension for charging and rating.
The standard view of IMS is caught up in the short term issues of deploying IMS cost-effectively and utilising existing infrastructure to do so. Making a long term success of IMS is all about customer engagement - using agility and responsiveness to acquire and then defend market share. Sooner or later, operators will have to start thinking of the IMS standard as a framework which can be built on in order to achieve innovation.
The role of the OSS must be considered in light of this long term view:
- Network and Infrastructure Planning - These traditional activities will be more important than ever as IMS increases capacity requirements and introduces QoS into services which must be provisioned, maintained and charged.
- Provisioning - While subscriber provisioning will take place in the IMS core, sophisticated services will still require provisioning outside of the IMS standards domain. The existing challenges of vendor and technology independence will be coupled to the challenges of responsiveness and agility.
- Assurance - Designing the service, session and transport layers to support the required QoS.
- Charging - Innovations in charging policies will drive complexity rather than simplification, requiring numerous integration points for mediation systems - both in the network and infrastructure and within the OSS, such as Service Quality Management and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools for QoS information. The rich source of charging data will lead the demand for real-time correlation of multiple charging records, meaning the customer must have total faith in the bills they receive!
- Evolution - The pace of change is accelerating. OSS tools must be able to react to this new pace by facilitating the introduction of new services, in days and hours rather than months and weeks, and absorbing new technologies while exposing the benefits into the end customer product offerings.
Over the next few years, as IMS matures, operators will be looking for OSS which helps them achieve the short term standards based benefits of IMS, but also allows them to exploit the longer term opportunities - designing, delivering and charging for sophisticated and innovative products which allow them to differentiate, achieve and then defend market share.
So, does IMS spell the end for OSS, or is it the beginning‾
In fact, IMS may liberate OSS, allowing it to take a more integral role in the delivery of services while the infrastructure, be it IMS, 3G or even broadband, provides the 'pipes'. Rather than an end or a beginning, it is the evolution of OSS; from an engineering tool and a necessity for the telecoms business, to a component of the business which can add value in its own right. But this is a vision that OSS vendors need to make a reality, now.
John Wells, Product Portfolio Director at Comptel