March 30, 2016

Cable MSOs: Keep a Competitive Edge with SDN & NFV

Cable operators hoping to benefit from SDN & NFV need to carefully evaluate and evolve their business support systems.

Cable multiple system operators (MSOs) are experiencing fierce competition due to rapidly changing market dynamics around the world. They are transforming their infrastructures and operations to become more responsive to the competitive pressures and rapidly evolving customer demands.

A virtualized, software-based architecture can help deliver network optimization, increase agility and create new opportunities for MSOs. Any cable operator planning to reap the benefits from network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) capabilities must shift its focus from technology to business, especially business support systems.

They should start the transformation with their personnel. All teams within the organization – operations, IT, marketing, engineering, etc. – must be aligned to successfully execute a transformation strategy.

But the next step, and the focus of this post, is figuring out how the introduction of NFV and SDN will affect the back-office systems, the operations support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS). Most of today’s deployed back-office OSS/BSS infrastructure lacks the ability to support new, dynamic, agile services. Simply extending the legacy OSS/BSS model to account for virtualization and software-based network architectures will not be sufficient, as it will not support the new value-added capabilities and services provided by NFV.

The transformation must be across the entire OSS/BSS stack, from service and network orchestration and automation through systems enabling monetization, access control, and revenue management, as well as mediation and data preparation. Many aspects of the OSS/BSS environment today need to be modernized, such as billing and charging, partner management, policy management, and service assurance, to name a few.

Billing and Charging
Billing and charging will need to evolve to support real-time, on-demand business models. For example, it will need to interface with the self-service engine to provide the necessary usage/chargeback information to users. It must also capture information regarding the provider of the service or event so that settlement can be accurately calculated and partners compensated. Flexibility of pricing, complex bundling capability, and embedded business intelligence to provide customized offers are critical features of a revenue management solution set in a virtualized world.

A virtualized environment will require an innovative and flexible real-time billing solution that incorporates strong partner management and settlement capabilities. It must also be programmable and able to immediately capture any type of chargeable event or trigger. For example, a business customer could use a self-service portal to request new VPN service or modify the parameters of existing service, which in both cases would be automatically provisioned and delivered. But if the billing system can’t identify this event and charge for it accurately and in real-time, the operator loses revenue and impairs the customer’s experience.

Partner Management
Partner management will need the ability to scale to support a broadening ecosystem of VNF partners and vendors, as operators will create new service models in partnership with third-party vendors, including over-the-top (OTT) content providers. However, with these new service mash-ups, operators will need a system that can accommodate multiparty compensation and settlement. Also, many virtual functions will come from a variety of providers, including many offerings that will involve several functions working in tandem in a service chaining scenario. A strong partner management offering will give operators the ability to maximize their revenue potential across the digital value chain, regardless of where services are coming from or how they are delivered to customers.

Policy Management
Policy management will need to be incorporated into all layers of orchestration in order to make decisions in real-time based on user and network policies. This will help create self-managed network scenarios that continuously adjust resources based on policies, QoE, efficiency and other parameters.

Service Assurance
Service assurance and monitoring will need to be performed in order to understand what is happening in the network and see if new services meet customer experience or ROI targets. Service assurance and monitoring of a hybrid network will have to be done seamlessly and not separately, as user traffic can potentially span both networks.

Orchestration has its own unique requirements, founded on the need to automate the highly dynamic delivery of services across a virtual and physical network. It must involve real-time network management, including rapid configuration, provisioning and chaining of virtual network functions in addition to any other resources required for the service. It must also be policy-driven, which allows hybrid, virtualized networks to be provisioned according to specific customer types, security requirements, use cases, applications, and traffic models. New orchestration platforms need to be designed for real-time, on demand programmable services and networks.

With hybrid networks, big data analytics play a big part in providing end-to-end visibility of the services being delivered. In this dynamic environment, the network must be able to automatically make the appropriate adjustments in real-time to accommodate changes in network demand. So it is very important that cable operators deploy analytics solutions that provide real-time, practical intelligence in order to improve network efficiency and quality of service and experience.

The goal of NFV and SDN is to enable service providers to better meet their business objectives of agility and cost reduction, and to enable faster service delivery. To do so, they will have to interwork closely with OSS/BSS systems that can handle the entire service, end to end, in this highly dynamic hybrid environment.


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