The increasing virtualization of telecom networks offers the promise of faster launches of new services. But are back-end business and operational systems ready to support the flexibility and rapid services launches that SDN/NFV is supposed to provide?
Now that operators are past their first steps toward NFV deployment, they are revisiting their return-on-investment calculations for NFV as they seek to justify scaling the technology, according to telecom software and services company Netcracker — and they’re finding that their operations support systems and business support systems are potential bottlenecks for realizing the benefits of SDN.
“What is … obvious in these ROI analyses is that if the business is to realize the efficiencies created by network virtualization, all [OSS], [BSS] (BSS) and related support infrastructure must be up to speed,” Netcracker concluded in a recent blog post. “There is little point in creating a network capable of spinning up new virtualized resources and functions in milliseconds if the provisioning process to provide services over that network takes weeks. Manual processes that are used with monolithic legacy systems have no place in futuristic digital service operations, as OSS or BSS bottlenecks would effectively nullify any benefits generated by the new network.”
In particular, according to Netcracker, there are sticking points around order management, provisioning and orchestration, and resource inventory. The company recently collaborated with Heavy Reading on a survey of global operators, which found that while 44% of those surveyed said that their primary goal for moving toward NFV was driven by the desire to launch new services faster, more than 80% of respondents said that their BSS technology stacks “are not ready to support the pricing and billing flexibility needed to deliver virtualized services.”
Paul Hughes, Netcracker’s director of strategy, said that despite the industry’s ongoing progress in virtualization, it still takes more than a year, in many cases, for projects to move from the conceptualization stage to roll-out. Most communications service providers, he added, have less than half of their network workloads virtualized.
“We’re still very much in the transitional period,” Hughes said, adding that he expects to see the continuing evolution of bringing new services to market during the coming year. “But there’s still a lot internally, that needs to happen in order to make that work effectively,” he added.
One of those areas is in OSS/BSS. Netcracker notes that “because SDN/NFV represents significant extensions to the services portfolio, it, in turn, increases service density and stresses existing infrastructure.” Hughes observed that as new 5G services are beginning to come to market, initial roll-outs have largely been consumer-centered and focused around fixed wireless access — even though many 5G use cases that are anticipated, and much of the potential for new revenues, to center on enterprise and industrial use cases. A consumer play for 5G “has been considered the low-hanging fruit, or maybe consider it more an easier puzzle to initially address or strengthen their position, versus when you think about extending the capabilities of what a carrier is trying to do around positioning more services,” he said.
“The goal for 5G is going to be a great experience for enterprise, through network slicing,” Hughes added, with SDN and NFV supporting the ability to offer additional capacity for services such as cloud virtual private networks, and the ability to launch new internet of things services. The overall strategy with 5G in its early, consumer-oriented form, is on reinforcing growth or taking wallet-share from another technology; or, in the case of SDN/NFV, moving from, say, traditional WAN to SD-WAN, Hughes said. Eventually, operators will have to look at ways to determine how, and what kind, of services specifically address enterprise needs. Traditionally, he said, CSPs have been viewed as being “vertical agnostic” and supporting any type of general communications service that a vertical needs. The focus on 5G, however, has been around the potential to build out use cases that are valuable to specific verticals: industrial automation, for instance. And those new use cases present the opportunity to go beyond providing connectivity to providing related services as well — if operators can capture that aspect.
“You have to be able to monetize … otherwise the effect of bringing a lot of these new services to market is diluted, because you’re not necessarily capturing additional revenues,” Hughes said.
But BSS transformation for an operator, he said, is an 18-month to two-year process of evaluation, review, strategic implementation and data migration, as well as testing.
“It’s a huge-scale process in order to do that,” Hughes added. He says that Netcracker does see a couple of customers focused on that process — and for operators who do make their BSS part of their transformation early on, he said, it becomes easier both to bring new services to market faster as opportunities present themselves, and to deliver them efficiently.
Being able to support the revenue models for early ventures into areas such as SD-WAN, cloud VPNs and similar services “brings a lot of this stuff to light, in terms of what is important in terms of investment to ensure that you can support a lot of this, going forward,” Hughes said.
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