The arrival of 5G, virtualization and ‘cloudification’ have led communications service providers (CSPs) to focus their investments on deploying new technology and re-architecting their networks, all while continuing with their digital and customer engagement transformation.
Meanwhile, operational support systems (OSS) have taken a back seat. Why change something that’s working well, right?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. The complexity of next-generation networks and their surrounding ecosystems cannot be managed by existing operational support systems.
New 5G and cloud-based networks require next-generation OSS and service lifecycle management that can define, orchestrate, assure, and monetize new services rapidly, in an iterative manner.
That’s because the current OSS landscape − with its myriad of siloed, technology-specific OSS stacks − cannot meet the operations and service management requirements in the new network era, and will very soon hit a wall. And this means that right now, transforming OSS must become a top priority for CSPs.
Practically and financially, the best long-term path is to transform the OSS while at the same time unifying and moving it to the cloud.
Not only does this approach simplify management and reduce the cost of maintaining different stacks over the long term, but it also improves a CSP’s agility as changes can be implemented much more quickly.
All the developer, computational and operations technology available is now mature enough for the telco environment, meaning that we have reached a tipping point where OSS transformation on the cloud should be the de-facto way forward for all.
A cloud-based, virtualized communication network cannot live up to its full potential without an ‘operating system’ to manage it in a unified manner.
Legacy telecom OSS systems were set up to manage physical network functions in service-specific silos. They are not well-equipped for managing virtual functions spread over a range of cloud technologies, as is the case with modern NFV/SDN networks.
A next-generation OSS must be able to handle a plethora of different types of network functions (physical, virtual, cloud-native), network domains (core, transport, RAN), and cloud flavors (public, private, hybrid), and provide a holistic view of the entire infrastructure.
A ‘symbiotic’ OSS, which combines cloud-native and cloud-based technology, is best placed to do this, and to ensure that CSPs benefit from the efficiencies and agility that those next-generation networks were built for in the first place.
Not just a technical challenge
Alongside the technical transformation, there are also significant cultural challenges. These encompass the fundamental shift away from CSPs having full, end-to-end control of their infrastructure, as well as the need for new skills and expertise to develop and manage cloud-based systems.
By moving OSS to the cloud, CSPs will be partially relying on public cloud networks owned by the likes of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google to host the systems that deliver and manage their services.
For an industry used to highly proprietary solutions and protective of its network prowess, this is a great step out of the proverbial comfort zone. But although aspects such as built-in redundancy and ‘five-nines reliability’ are no longer within the CSP’s immediate grasp, years of advancement in cloud computing have made these networks highly reliable and more than capable of hosting mission-critical systems.
Another, understandable, concern for CSPs may be that the underlying infrastructure will now be the same as their competitors’. However, differentiation no longer rests on the technical advantages of the underlying computing infrastructure, but is driven by service and customer experience innovation. And these are fueled by operations practices, network and OSS/BSS capabilities - which are software-defined, not dependent on proprietary hardware.
Given this fundamental shift, an additional challenge is empowering staff with the right skill set to manage cloud-based OSS. It is clear that with the fast pace of change, reskilling will become an ongoing concern that cannot be resolved with one-off retraining initiatives. There is a wide range of avenues, including transformation partners, to help CSPs with their skills transformation roadmap, ensuring they can successfully migrate to the cloud − and beyond.
Given the above, OSS transformation can be an overwhelming concept at first glance. But the good news is that it does not require a ‘big bang’ approach, but rather lends itself to a step-by-step roll-out.
A proven approach for CSPs who have embarked on this journey has been to focus on OSS areas where the move to the cloud is most cost-effective as a first step, and then work outwards from there.
To alleviate the pressure on the in-house network and IT teams, it may make sense to work in partnership with external experts. Opting for a managed transformation, for example, will allow the in-house teams to focus on the needs of their internal audiences rather than getting subsumed entirely by the transformation project.
This may make it easier for CSPs to ‘jump in at the deep end’ and get OSS transformation underway before legacy systems start to truly show their cracks, restricting the progress of rapid service innovation and monetization.