While telcos worldwide are increasingly embracing IPTV as a strategic weapon to reduce churn rates, they are also struggling to find a business case that justifies their huge investment in quality and reliability.
Because of the huge capex investment needed to upgrading infrastructure to support IPTV, telcos now are trying to keep support and ongoing operational costs as low as possible. To do so, they need to ensure that IPTV services are delivered efficiently and seamlessly to end-users.
This won't be an easy task. Telcos need to handle many processes and activities flawlessly. For one thing, there are many dependent processes to complete, and the failure of a single process can have a cascading effect and negative impact on the entire customer installation.
Consequently, this can increase both the number of customer service representative help-desk calls and truck rolls to customer premises. It will also increase installation costs and customer churn, all of which will significantly boost opex for telcos.
Many industry players expect that the service fulfillment process - including order management, service activation, and inventory and network management - is positioned to play a critical role in any IPTV deployment.
"The delivery of IPTV introduces a more complex set of sequences and dependencies between the configuration of access, core and content platforms than other IP residential services," says Peter Briscoe, senior product marketing manager at Amdocs. "Therefore, having a central coordination process that ensures all these steps are carried out correctly is vital in reducing the fallout from the volume of services expected."
Briscoe notes that unlike VoIP, IPTV puts much more demand for bandwidth on the entire network. VoIP streams are very small and can be provided over existing core and access links with little planning or additional configuration," he says.
"IPTV requires major new network configuration and planning to ensure that the VoD streams are able to be maintained for all customers."
At this stage, as content is typically a single codec and format, the complexity is in ensuring that the access has been set up to match the requirements for the service. This includes using one of potentially many complex forwarding models to maximize the potential use from the network and ensure the highest quality for each user, he explains.
Another challenge is the access network itself, which is still a major bottleneck to the number of concurrent services any single household can have. While this issue can be resolved through the introduction of VDSL and fiber technology, operators are hesitant to do so because it not only requires upgrading the current DSLAM devices, but the whole backhaul network.
"These major infrastructure projects need to be very carefully balanced with the new demand for services to ensure investment is not put into the wrong part of the network too soon, or is omitted from a high-demand area," Briscoe says.
At the core network, he adds, the complexity is in managing the traffic, policy server and IPTV meta-data alignments to ensure that content requested can be delivered within the limitations of the network.
"This is more of a concern when the volume of content morphs from the standard 200 channels packages today to more complex offerings," he points out.
Arindam Banerjee, a Yankee Group analyst, says to ensure a successful IPTV deployment, telcos need to implement an integrated service-fulfillment process that understand the basic network and the complexity and size of processes used.
"Critical to IPTV provisioning is the intricate interplay between service orders, which constitute complex workflows, and the dependencies between service and fulfillment service orders and the underlying network model and network capacity to fulfill those orders."
Some of the critical steps that need to be handled flawlessly for successful IPTV deployment include: correct snapshots of physical and logical inventory; horizontal configuration/device management as part of change management; network performance and monitoring; management of network capacity; order analysis; and jeopardy handling and rolling bulk orders in real-time.
Meanwhile, service activation, a part of the solution set, needs to perform all the tasks required to activate services, from the configuration of individual network elements to the activation of entire technological domains.
In addition, says Banerjee, because the deployment of IPTV depends so much on supplier partner inventory stock and delivery processes, it is vital for the service fulfillment solution to have access to the partner delivery system in real-time to anticipate delays and provide correct delivery dates to subscribers.
It is also important for service-fulfillment solutions to have a mechanism to break down all the tasks that are expected from partners so that these tasks can be properly allocated and time-lines monitored.
At the same time, service provisioning processes must be tightly coupled with network and physical inventory, the product catalog, CRM systems, trouble-ticketing solutions, configuration management and device management solutions, he adds.
For telcos, the good news is that leading
For instance, Axiom Systems, with its Axioss solution, combines an integrated service design with a creation and delivery mechanism for IPTV. Axiom also works with Mariner Partners, Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper Networks and other major network equipment vendors to define business processes and best practices for IPTV.
Axioss is a library of IPTV-component designs that provides architects with tools for accessing the component library. These pre-configured components help to speed provisioning of the network involved.
The company recently secured a contract from SingTel to provide the Axioss service fulfillment suite to support its launch of complex packaged broadband services such as multi-play, and IPTV, says Brad Niven, regional director for the Americans, Axiom Systems.
On the other hand, Amdocs, with its Cramer acquisition, provides an inventory-centric IPTV fulfillment offering encapsulating pre-built business processes. It relies on core processes centered on automation, activation, discovery and reconciliation.
"Amdocs brings automation and prepackaged adapters with key network equipment vendors, workflows, product and service catalogue, IP capacity planning solutions and so on, which provide a robust solution set," Yankee's Banerjee notes.
"Through its acquisition of QPass, Amdocs has gained a market-leading content management and settlement capability, one that is crucial in an end-to-end, order-to-cash scenario."
Meanwhile, TeleManagement Forum's NGOSS architecture, which uses OSS/J APIs, and the eTOM process model, also assists many IPTV service fulfillments. Most
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Despite this, Banerjee notes that these solutions and efforts will only help operators resolve some of the problems, not all of them. But with the increased rollout of IP-based services like IPTV and implementation of IMS, telcos spending on service-fulfillment solutions will grow from $2.6 billion in 2006 to $4.7 billion in 2010. Service activation is becoming the fastest-growing sector, with a CAGR of 16.7%, followed by inventory and resource management with 12.3% during the period, he predicts.