OSS/BSS Making Moves To Conquer The Network… And Beyond?

July 3, 2023

Written by Alex Lawrence
CATEGORY: Exclusives

It’s not news to say that the telecoms industry is moving towards a greater focus on software in the network. The impact that this shift can have on service providers – and is having – is twofold. Vodafone Group CTO Scott Petty recently shared details of the Group’s struggles successfully bringing the relevant IT skills in-house.    

Many operators aren’t in as comfortable a position as Petty, however, facing a shortage of relevant skills to recruit or a limited budget to make such a change. This is an area where traditionally OSS/BSS oriented companies like BMC are finding opportunities to leverage their skills base for others. The company is moving to take a greater role in network management and operations. 6GWorld spoke to BMC’s SVP Margaret Lee about how this is working and where it may lead.

IT budgets certainly don’t capture the same attention as the network spend, and equally not so much focus from the wider industry as evolutions in the networks. With the expansion of software-based networking this is, according to Lee, opening up some welcome prospects.

“Our customers have been looking at the IT side of the house, where we do orchestration, create tickets, and so on; and they’re noticing that the network side of the house is looking more and more similar. They’re asking whether we can help with that.”

The motivation for the telecoms providers’ interest is twofold, according to Lee.

“Part of it is a curiosity from the network staff, like “What are you guys doing on the IT side?”

“Part of this is economics, frankly. They say, “Oh, how are you guys able to either run a lot more services on the IT side with a single group of people, or a single group of services with a lot fewer people, and how does that translate to me?””

That increasing overlap between IT and networks is very welcome for companies like BMC.

“It’s very exciting for us that, to get to the network side, I don’t have to build something completely different from scratch. Everything we already have in terms of the service management workflows, approvals, monitoring and so on is, with some extension, able to serve the network side.”

Software Is King

“We are having a lot of discussions with our CSP customers now about AI adoption, operation and orchestration,” Lee noted.

“The second thing is around how to enable them to provide support for a lot more services to their end users and their business customers.”

A lot more services? Yes, because of the way 5G spectrum can be subdivided for different activities, such as IoT services. In industrial settings, for example, the same coverage can be used to manage mobile robots; share sensor or process data; manage video feeds; and connect users’ laptops and mobile devices. 

“What I’m hearing more and more from my customers is “That’s just increased my service catalogue all of a sudden by 10x”. A household before might have just had two services – phone and cable, or something. But now a single household can have a lot more services, now I have to do the billing, the customer support, not to mention the IoT aspect,” Lee explained.

Traditionally the IT groups in OSS/BSS would be making the decisions on how to manage all this. With the proliferation of services, there is a risk of cost proliferation too – for example, in human call centres to help customers diagnose and manage all the different services they have; in network and service operations centres to handle the increasing numbers of alerts coming in; and so on.

The answer from BMC seems to boil down to the idea of using a ‘software-defined’ approach for all the elements a telecoms provider needs. Whether services or network elements, the aim is to break things down into basic, composable containers and then automate the interactions between them.

“It really comes down to our data topology and data monitoring,” Lee explained. “From the IT side of the house we know the world of low-bandwidth, standard servers. So now we just need to learn the language and data models for switches, the Wi-Fi networks and all of that.

“Once we have the data model we can create a topology for the monitoring, the orchestration, the actual way to run all these things. So for example we use AI operations which are algorithmic, but the fundamental building blocks would be very similar if it was events or alerts coming in. We use algorithms to cluster them, give them weights, to understand their relationships to each other. The central piece is building up an understanding in terms of risk profile.”

Partly this is good ‘old-fashioned’ simplifying and reducing friction in the service layer, workflows and so on – something that IT companies have historically tended to do. It is improving users’ ability to manage their services themselves, reducing the impact on call centres. Again, an evolution of long-established trends.

However, BMC has also taken some new strides in monitoring: not just services but also the network elements and the networks themselves “all the way to control at the cell site,” Lee commented. 

At the moment this appears to be working essentially as a way for BMC to run an efficient NOC in real-time, much as other companies can or do. Again, not terribly earth-shattering in itself, though Lee notes modestly that “We know our business quite well.”

There are a couple of interesting ramifications for the longer term, however.

Outside In

Firstly, this trend makes it increasingly practicable for people outside of traditional telecoms to adopt their own network management. That would enable companies to run their own core networks, their own access networks in selected locations and act as MVNOs in others; or to operate private networks more straightforwardly. In a conversation back in 2017, Amdocs’ Niall Norton predicted that software-defined networking, edge computing and more would spark a ‘cambrian explosion’ in telecoms diversity. We are starting to see this taking place but simplifying or automating NOC functions is a part of this, as it reduces both the cost of network management and the level of skills needed to man the NOC. It needn’t even be a ‘telco’ getting involved any more.

“We do have customers – really large banks, government agencies – who are building their equivalent of large networks and huge datacentres,” Lee observed.

“We can definitely help those customers by leveraging what we’re doing because at some level, if you just consider the architecture, they look similar to a great degree.”

The second thing to consider is the way in which network and service resources and capabilities are all composable and capable of orchestration. With the GSMA’s renewed push to open telecoms APIs we are seeing an early move to exploit this. However, orchestration at the moment tends to be conceived of as creating an analogue of what we’ve known before: network functions, resources, and so on. Service orchestration is its own separate thing. However, in many technical advances this tends to be only the first stage before we discover the true capabilities of what we have made.

For example, during the transition from bronze to iron weapons the metal was shaped similarly; but it was not long before slenderer, longer blades that took advantage of iron’s relative lack of brittleness really started transforming how people fought.

In the same way, when we start to compose the different elements and capabilities in the OSS/BSS stack as well as the network we can expect to see some radically new types of business model, service delivery and interactions between the digital services and physical networks. Will or could that play into a nascent metaverse, digital twinning and more? Only time will tell, but the pace of invention is ramping up; and with a shift to comparatively well-understood software systems the innovations could as easily come from areas beyond traditional telecoms – the government or banks Lee mentions above, for example – as anyone within the established value chain.   

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