Can SDN help service providers build a better bundle?

Operators looking to unlock the true potential of SDN and NFV need to focus on OSS and BSS integration.

Kelly's article first appeared in RCR Wireless News.

It has been 25 years since Bruce Springsteen bemoaned the fact that although he had both cable and satellite television services, he also had “57 channels and nothin’ on.” For decades, communications service providers of all types – wireless operators, wireline operators, cable MSOs and others – have been telling consumer and business customers that more is better: more channels, more minutes, more data. But the push for more recently has been a “more” of a different sort: more personalized.

In the cable industry there has been a reluctance to change from these big bundles to more a-la-carte services for customers who want a more streamlined service offering. Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam has perhaps been the most vocal about scaling back bundles. According to McAdam, if it were up to him Verizon would only sell “skinny bundles” of services that better fit with today’s viewing habits.

That October 2016 statement from Verizon is in marked contrast to what we’d gotten accustomed to in another part of the communications industry: namely wireless data bundles. Years ago, consumers had access to unlimited data packages from wireless providers. Then those were gradually scaled back one by one so that bundles included only a certain number of gigabytes of data.

Now we’re seeing the pendulum swing back again, and since the beginning of the 2017, across the span of just a few weeks, carriers are re-introducing unlimited data bundles. In January, T-Mobile US led the charge, eliminating all its packages except its T-Mobile One plan. Shortly thereafter, Sprint rolled out two promotional plans that included unlimited data. Verizon Wireless jumped into the game in February, announcing plans with unlimited data. AT&T Mobility followed up the rear, announcing its unlimited data bundles in early March.

What do all these events indicate? The underlying theme points to the need for incredible flexibility in network and in billing and operational support systems that can support a wealth of service types, or even – in the case of T-Mobil US – one really big bundle. How can service providers get that to level of flexibility?

Actually, there are factors at work outside the OSS/BSS realm that will force a significant transformation of OSS/BSS systems. The rise of software-defined networking and network functions virtualization is either being implemented or discussed at virtually every type of service provider worldwide. The benefits of incorporating SDN/NFV functionality into a network operator ecosystem are well documented. The top two benefits – reducing both capital and operational expenditures, and improving operational efficiency and performance though centralized processes – are already proving out in trials throughout the world.

However, one additional benefit may be the most compelling for providers – the ability to respond quickly to shifts in the market and launch new services virtually overnight. This acceleration in time-to-market means teams can dream of a new service one day or week, and launch it the next. New features and capabilities could be added through software while additional capacity required to accommodate new or shifting traffic demands is added through configuration. This will be critical as networks and the systems that support them are forced to scale to support new traffic demands, such as those from bandwidth-on-demand services or even from the internet of things.

This drive to transform networks to support new services and reduce costs has created a vision of a truly virtualized environment. However, SDN and NFV will place incredible new demands on OSS/BSS systems, and existing architectures, which have been patched together and bolted on as new demands emerged, will not be able to keep pace. Until OSS/BSS systems are in alignment and fully automated with new technologies, the true value of SDN and NFV will not be realized.

Many service providers can seemingly turn up (and turn off) new services quickly today, but there’s a significant amount of heavy lifting behind the scenes to make it look seamless. But looking seamless isn’t enough – with the new requirements of SDN and NFV it needs to be seamless. For most providers, service provisioning, configuration and billing are not yet automated in a way to make that provide a seamless experience a reality, and they have the potential to create a bottleneck as billing events and service types multiply.

A migration strategy will be critical, because as with any transformation – digital or otherwise – there will be significant growing pains. Providers looking to reap the bottom-line rewards of SDN and NFV need the support of a flexible OSS platform that works alongside the network to help providers shape, sell, provision and deliver the personalized services packages that customers are demanding. Only when these components are working in lockstep will providers truly be able to build a better bundle.

If you would like to speak with Excelacom about your NFV/SDN strategy please contact