It's a challenge. "A lot of these (carriers) have many, many (OSS) systems," explained Ari Banerjee, vice president of research at Yankee Group. Banerjee said the goal of modern OSS implementations is to "consolidate, rationalize and simplify" a carrier's network support systems, thereby providing a holistic view of what's going on inside the network in real time.
In the real world: MetroPCS
Perhaps the best way to investigate this need for modernization is to look at a specific example. MetroPCS' recent agreement with Amdocs for billing, customer relationship management and operational support systems offers a view into carriers' need for progressive support systems. MetroPCS said the agreement allows it to scrap its legacy systems by outsourcing its OSS, billing and CRM needs to Amdocs.
"Carriers ... need to modernize their support systems," said Amdocs' Millhouse. "Service providers are looking to reduce their costs."
MetroPCS said that the deal would lead to greater efficiencies and help cut costs. "The tight integration of the Amdocs products will help MetroPCS to increase operational efficiencies for quicker product-offering introductions, and to equip our agents with a consolidated view of all customer information for faster resolution of customer issues and an enhanced customer experience," said John Olsen, chief information officer at MetroPCS, in announcing the deal earlier this year. "By having Amdocs operate the systems at their data center, we can also reduce operational costs and offer even lower rates to our customers."
Through its agreement with Amdocs, Millhouse said MetroPCS now has the ability to introduce bundled services and optimize its network capacity--an important function for carriers working to radically increase their customers' use of data services.
Problems are ‘troublesome'
While some in the OSS and BSS market take an optimistic view of the challenges that lay ahead--perhaps a reflection of Americans' typical can-do attitude--at least one analyst sees trouble ahead. And that's putting it mildly.
"This industry cannot move to LTE," asserted Elisabeth Rainge, director of next-generation networks for research and consulting firm IDC.
To back up her rather explosive claim, Rainge offered a broader perspective. The analyst, who commands more than two decades of experience covering both wireless and wireline networks, said that the problems facing the wireless industry are far more complex and troublesome than in any other market. Rainge said wireless networks are largely constructed from non-interoperable components from competing vendors. Thus, each carrier must employ units of engineers who focus on a specific vendor's kit and are unable to get a view into the functions of the equipment from other vendors. This situation, Rainge said, makes getting a comprehensive view of a network's performance almost impossible.
"You need a platform that's a little higher up," she said, explaining that wireline network components from different vendors generally work together such that carriers can purchase assurance and monitoring platforms that peak into all aspects of a network's performance. Wireless, on the other hand, is built in bits and pieces that don't easily fit into one assurance and monitoring solution.
Therefore, the introduction of yet another network technology--LTE--may well stretch the situation to the breaking point, Rainge said, by requiring carriers to employ even more stables of vendor- and network-specific engineers. Carriers "are already stretching their (network) staff" as it is, she said.
Despite Rainge's concerns, the wireless industry appears to be barreling full steam ahead toward an LTE future. And carriers across the board have promised that that future will include a range of services that will have to be implemented by advanced operational and business support systems. Whether these systems will function properly, and in a sensible budget, remains to be seen.