|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2009|
|Topic:||Service delivery platform – innovation for convergent networks|
|Organisation:||Oracle Communications, Asia Pacific & Japan|
Raghav Sahgal is Vice President for Oracle Communications in Asia Pacific and Japan. A 20-year veteran in the communications and computing industries, Mr Sahgal was previously with Comverse Technologies as the Chief Business Officer of the Converged Billing Group, responsible for the achievement of worldwide bookings and revenues for the Group. He also held Asia Pacific roles at Lucent Technologies, Kenan Systems and Sequent Computer Systems. Mr Sahgal earned a Master of Science degree in Computer Systems Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering from Tulane University in the USA. He also attended Harvard Business School and completed the Executive General Managers program.
IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) defines the IP-based next-generation network architecture for the convergence of voice, data, video and its delivery over any type of broadband network. However, as this technology matures, Internet players – such as Google, Skype, Facebook and MySpace – have taken the lead blending communications and Web 2.0 services, raising customer expectations for integrated functionalities and high-quality user experiences. How can traditional CSPs compete with these Internet leaders, escaping their legacy systems, and delivering services that hit the mark?
It is clear that next-generation network architectures such as IMS can help CSPs (communications service providers) gain a competitive advantage and increase revenue potentials, but a full-scale implementation can be costly and time-intensive. With a priority to compete more effectively with nimble, innovative Internet and broadband players, CSPs often struggle to make a business case for a reinvention of their network architecture to align with IMS specifications. Further, in today’s financial environment, it is difficult to access the capital needed to finance a full-scale IMS roll out. One possible approach for CSPs to continue business innovation, even as the ‘network plane’ transformation to next-generation network technology occurs, is to revamp the ‘service plane’ using a standards-based service delivery platform (SDP). By leveraging SDPs to deliver services and immediately derive revenue from legacy and next-generation communication services, CSPs can modernize their business and operational IT (information technology) systems incrementally, with reduced risk and cost. The challenge Over the next several years, network convergence implemented through networks that are IP-ready will begin to eliminate the boundaries between wireless, wire line and broadband networks. Convergence will even happen to the extent that network domains will no longer matter when it comes to service creation, execution and delivery. CSPs expect IMS will deliver carrier-grade networking, reliability, accounting, security and a range of real-time multimedia service capabilities and, ultimately, provide an industrial strength platform upon which global enterprises and consumer-content providers can build future strategies. However, IMS is a highly complex architecture that could introduce significant risk and expense if service providers rush into full deployments to tackle short-term market challenges. In addition, the industry still needs to flesh out and test critical aspects of IMS, such as service-layer functions including creation, delivery, and orchestration that are not specifically defined. While these maturity issues can and will be resolved, it will not happen quickly enough to give CSPs the services they need to satisfy their immediate time-to-market pressures. The competition Today’s communications industry already has many strong Internet players that have led in driving quick, massive, uptake of new services and delivering multi-channel, communication-enabled Web 2.0 services over IP. These Internet companies are able to create and launch new services quickly because they are not held back by fragmented legacy infrastructures. In contrast, CSPs rely heavily on ‘siloed’, network-specific systems that escalate operational and business costs when they need to be extended or enhanced, thereby hindering providers’ ability to adapt rapidly and compete successfully against more nimble Internet players. The service capabilities of many CSPs are spread across diverse, often redundant, network infrastructures that are not merged effectively, making it difficult to deliver a consistent, efficient customer experience. Meanwhile, customers are demanding bundled, personalized services, and a holistic customer experience based on a complete understanding of their preferences and history – all of which require complex integration. Internet players are succeeding by delivering cross-domain, multimedia services that do not require a sophisticated signalling and orchestration infrastructure. Unfortunately, this success diverts potential revenue away from traditional CSPs. For example, Google can deliver nearly all its services on Internet-capable mobile handsets such as the Apple iPhone, and an increasing number of businesses and individuals are using Skype for inexpensive integrated voice, instant messaging, presence and video conferencing capabilities. Moreover, YouTube video clips are not only making people famous on the Internet, they are even included on network television broadcasts. Organizations such as the English Premier League, the National Basketball Association (NBA), NBC News, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) are making content – once limited to broadcast, cable, and satellite television – available anywhere in the world via the Internet. With all the multimedia services available on the Internet today – many free or at extremely low cost – CSPs cannot wait for IMS to rescue their businesses from Internet competition. The real need revolves around the establishment of a ‘service factory’ infrastructure to let CSPs rapidly create, expose and deploy services across multiple networks at today’s Internet speed. The solution Traditional CSP infrastructures need a standards-based, easily accessible service layer that makes key underlying capabilities such as presence, location, charging, and messaging available so that partners can incorporate them into their own offerings. An effective standards-based services layer architecture cuts across multiple access networks within the SDP, building on existing services and pulling them together without actually merging or migrating them. The goal – before implementing IMS – is to transform the SDP layer into one with a converged service creation and execution environment. This can ensure that services are ‘network-agnostic’ and able to fluidly traverse IP-based domains. In addition, the services layer must draw upon the network capabilities, or service enablers, in the SDP – including presence, messaging, conferencing, location, subscription management, charging, logging, quality of service, policy enforcement, and security. Since these capabilities are not inherent to Internet-based service providers, they are critical competitive differentiators for CSPs. A well-defined enabler unites underlying network technology features and settings into a component that the CSP can tie into a service and deliver predictably. Enablers that encapsulate commonly required capabilities also allow operators to consolidate and share operational support system/business support system (OSS/BSS) functionality across multiple services. The multiple networks within a CSP domain, as the CSP evolves to IMS, are abstracted from the enablers through a layered architecture. This architecture should support a variety of traditional telco and IP-network protocols such as INAP, SMPP, MM7, MLP, SIP and Diameter to provide bi-directional channelling of messages to and from the networks. This network abstraction – along with the service exposure concepts that will be highlighted later – is among the fundamental tenets of a next-generation SDP. Furthermore, CSPs must build IP-based services layers within their SDPs on open industry standards to make them more easily accessible to third party partners and external developers. The simpler the process, the quicker CSPs can deploy and generate revenue from new services. In addition to a standards-based services layer, CSPs must also embrace service-oriented architecture (SOA) concepts. With an open, standards-based platform, partners can combine their own content and applications with the CSP’s specific underlying network capabilities so that users can request, configure, and interact on demand. Partners can then create and quickly take to market well-defined, SOA-based services, since the services will already incorporate key business and technical requirements such as charging, policy execution, and device management. The reality CSPs worldwide are beginning to leverage SDPs for service and business innovation while adopting a pragmatic path to IMS-based services. For example, mobilkom austria group (mag), a leading mobile service provider in Central and Eastern Europe, adopts a services layer to run a new IMS-based service called ‘mag over IP’, which enables end users to send and receive VoIP calls on their PCs or laptops as though they were using their mobile phones. This service provides end-users with greater flexibility in the way they manage calls – while continuing to benefit from unified billing, as well as realizing new functionality such as IMS-based multi-ring that allows one phone number to ring all of a user’s devices. BT, a leading CSP widely recognized as an industry innovator, is also pursuing an SDP-based services layer approach. To maximize the value of its 21st Century Network (21CN), a software-driven customer network that delivers next-generation services faster, BT is implementing its Innovation Platform to provide a single service development and deployment environment for both internal groups and external partners. By instituting a common design process built on reusable service components, BT can deploy network-agnostic applications that cross domains and are not limited or affected by ongoing network transformations. Conclusion There is no doubt that CSPs today face a fierce, expanding competitive landscape that is driving new, diverse revenue models and a rapid pace of innovation. However, if the objective of network convergence is supported by a converged design in the services layer, accompanied by network abstraction and service exposure, CSPs can benefit from more agile, cost-effective infrastructures that can easily evolve with next-generation network architectures. CSPs can then take advantage of their deep customer relationships while creating new revenue streams and partner value chains that carry them into the future.