|Topic:||Service assurance – defining the way|
|Title:||Board Member, and Senior Vice President|
Asif Naseem is a Board Member of the Service Availability Forum and the Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of GoAhead Software. Dr Naseem previously served as the General Manager and Director, ICSD, EMEA of Motorola, as Director of Engineering at AT&T/NCR and, most recently, as Vice President, Business Operations at Iospan Wireless, a broadband wireless company later acquired by Intel and L3. He started his career at AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he held a variety of technical and management positions. He has served on the Advisory Boards of several start-up companies. Asif Naseem received his MS in Electrical Engineering and a PhD in Computer Engineering from Michigan State University.
Competition has fuelled consumer demand for increasingly sophisticated telecommunications services. Operators and carriers need to upgrade their legacy systems to meet consumer demand. They are pushing telecom equipment manufactures (TEMs) to deliver rapidly advanced, more cost effective equipment. Old proprietary solutions were costly and took years to develop, but industry standards have opened the way for specialised companies to produce efficiently lower-cost specialised systems, components, both hardware and software, that can be quickly assembled to meet the need reliably.
Consumers of telecommunications services demand increasingly sophisticated services from their service providers. The mobile phone is no longer a speak-listen instrument. Consumers are using their mobile phones as converged devices for a variety of real-time and asynchronous communication, to capture and send pictures, for instant messaging, push-to-talk, games, as personal organisers, etc. The first videos of the recent London tube bombings did not come from television crews or reporters, but from passengers with cameras on their mobile phones. This is just one example of today’s consumer driven communication revolution. The growth of multimedia services, a global phenomenon, is especially impressive in emerging markets such as India and China, where the number of mobile phone subscribers has surpassed the wireline subscribers. Worldwide, mobile subscription has long surpassed the one billion mark, and strong growth is expected for the foreseeable future. This impressive growth and spending creates tremendous opportunities for the telecommunications industry and unique challenges for all industry players. Business challenges Price pressures Telecom spending seems to have stabilised. Growth is at best anaemic and a far cry from the go-go years of the late 90s. Service providers are focusing upon their capital expenditures and operational costs to protect profitability and return on investment. The fastest growth in wireless services is occurring in emerging markets where the average revenue per user (ARPU) is low – US$11in India and US$10 in China; the ARPU is US$57 in the USA and US$40 in Europe. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the high subscriber growth rates in 2004, of more than 100 per cent, were due to the expansion of the addressable market each time the tariff was cut during the year. Carrier consolidation, such as the AT&T/Cingular and Sprint/Nextel mergers, left fewer service providers and increased the negotiating leverage of the remaining companies over suppliers and telecom equipment manufactures (TEMs). Consequently, TEMs are faced with mounting price pressures and must constantly re-evaluate their capital and operational expenses to maintain profitability. Enhancing revenues Due to competition, traditional circuit switched voice and best-effort data services are now commodities. These services still generate cash, but they no longer generate profits. Consequently, service providers are forced to find new significant sources of revenue to boost their ARPUs. IP networks let service providers bundle voice, data and video services or triple play into single low-cost packages and offer a compelling set of services such as IP TV, online gaming, distance learning and many new applications. This appeals to both consumers and service providers. The convergence of IP networks with both fixed and wireless networks facilitates the delivery of rich multimedia content, traditionally dominated by cable companies, by telcos. Telecom service providers are encouraged by technology, now available, that lets them cost effectively deliver advanced services to users. There is still some time for telcos to roll out such services. The challenge is to take advantage of the limited time window. Adoption of new technologies To deliver these new converged services, network operators must upgrade their legacy equipment at unprecedented speed and get their IP-based services to market quickly. This puts pressure upon the TEMs to meet the network operators’ speed and cost requirements. Traditionally, TEMs have developed proprietary systems that have been costly, and took years to get to market. Given the cost and speed constraints, this approach no longer works. So TEMs are moving away from building proprietary telecom systems to systems based upon commercially available, pre-integrated pre-tested, standards-based components. The challenge for TEMs is to decide where they must add core value, and where they should rely upon partners and suppliers to deliver the components quickly to build systems that address the carriers’ service, cost and time-to-market requirements. This is not a temporary situation. These challenges will continue to define the telecom environment for the foreseeable future. A paradigm shift In the early days of enterprise computing, single source computer systems suppliers provided a full, vertically integrated, computing solution. They would design, manufacture and deliver their own silicon, hardware, operating systems, middleware and the customer application. The supplier’s differentiating factors were usually distinct features, functionality and speeds and feeds. Such proprietary offerings locked the customer into the solution for the foreseeable future with little flexibility to change or upgrade the pieces without paying the supplier premium prices. Realising that they were locked into expensive proprietary, single-supplier, solutions, companies sought the flexibility to pick and choose solution components from best-of-breed suppliers. This encouraged the development and adoption of standards for all manufacturers to use and helped create an eco-system of suppliers specialised in producing individual systems elements better, faster, cheaper than any other player. Since the elements are standards based, they work perfectly with other complementary systems elements provided by other standards based suppliers to create a cost effective solution for the customer. This gave birth to a successful horizontal industry model and an efficient commercial off-the-shelf supplier (COTS) ecosystem for enterprise computing. Industry players that successfully adopted this model have benefited from it. Others either exited the business or were relegated to niches. The telecom industry is just beginning to benefit from the horizontal industry model with a COTS ecosystem of its own. The emergence of IP in the telecom industry is accelerating the convergence between IT and the telecom network. The shift is made possible by the adoption of a few key standards that define interfaces between the various layers of the telecom equipment systems. Hardware platform standards, such as AdvancedTCA, specify carrier-grade hardware architecture to provide the reliability, performance and scalability required for telecommunication applications. The Open Software Development Laboratory (OSDL) now has a working group specifically dedicated to defining Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) feature roadmaps and specifications to use in telecommunications architectures. Service availability One of the most significant recent developments has been the advent of the Service Availability Forum, an industry consortium dedicated to developing specifications for standard interfaces necessary to enable the delivery of highly available carrier-grade systems with COTS components including hardware platforms, middleware and service applications. The Service Availability Forum is developing three sets of specifications that apply to various layers of a highly available service platform. Hardware Platform Interface specification The Hardware Platform Interface (HPI) specification separates the hardware from management middleware and makes each independent of the other. It specifies services which, when implemented by the hardware platform manufacturer, simplify the integration of third-party middleware that complies with the HPI specification. The interface allows portability of middleware components between various hardware platforms that provide services specified by the interface. Application Interface Specification The Application Interface Specification (AIS) standardises the interface between Service Availability Forum compliant High Availability (HA) middleware and service applications. Just as the HPI interface allows hardware platform abstraction, the AIS enables compliant applications to be ported across AIS compliant middleware from various vendors. Systems Management Specification The Systems Management Specification (SMS), a complementary specification, acts as an umbrella to tie together existing HPI and AIS specifications. The overall goal of the SMS is to address the administrative operations and management of various aspects of the highly available system. The IP telecom network is creating unprecedented demand for new and converged consumer telecommunications services. This in turn is forcing TEMs to rethink their system development strategies and develop telecom network systems quickly and cost effectively. The emergence of a set of key standards is enabling an ecosystem of COTS suppliers. The COTS suppliers help TEMs to build, quickly and cost effectively, highly available systems using standards-based components. The Service Availability Forum’s specifications are playing a pivotal role in the transition from proprietary to standards-based systems.