Christopher Smith is Chief Operating Officer of Clarity. Mr Smith brings 15 years of business experience in the telecommunications sector to Clarity. Mr Smith joined Clarity in 2009 as Vice President Product Management and Development. He is responsible for driving forward Clarity’s visionary product development.
Prior to joining Clarity, Mr Smith served as Vice President, Product Management at Telcordia Technologies where he was responsible for Telcordia’s next generation OSS product line and managed a customer portfolio of more than 130 customers. Mr Smith also spent time as Director of Operations for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Syndesis, a leading OSS product company, offering service fulfilment solutions to Tier 1 operators. He developed his engineering and business skills at Alcatel in Australia, working in a number of roles including design and systems engineering.
Christopher Smith holds an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management and a Bachelor of Engineering (Elec.) (Hons.) from the University of New South Wales.
Asia-Pacific countries are witnessing soaring numbers of subscribers, devices and applications. Such growth places great pressures on the OSS (Operation Support System). Legacy OSS systems have been augmented over time but are unable to cope with complex multi-vendor, multi-device and multi-technology networks. Eventually OSS will send an SOS message, especially when the only way to support a new technology is to create another OSS silo. Migration to a unified, efficient OSS platform can save operation costs and enables business transformation, but requires the organisation to modernise the tangle of critical operations and business processes.
Over the past decade, wireless devices have become ubiquitous in almost every area of life. Subscribers now demand instant access to a range of high-bandwidth offerings including social media and streaming video that were once the traditional preserve of wired devices like the PC. Today’s reality is that if such services are not available via mobiles, operators not only miss out on lucrative revenue opportunities, their customers may also become frustrated by the lack of flexibility and look elsewhere.
In line with this demand for wireless connectivity, many Asia-Pacific countries like Malaysia and Singapore have long since exceeded 100 per cent mobile saturation and are witnessing unprecedented data consumption over wireless networks. In Singapore, mobile penetration is predicted to reach 160.5 per cent by 2015, as device adoption sees rapid growth.
Meanwhile, IDC has forecast that Asian smartphone shipments will reach 359m units by 2015, totalling 60 per cent of the global market. This new breed of mobile devices has forced the volume of data travelling across mobile networks inexorably skyward. AT&T recently reported that wireless data usage has increased nearly 5,000 per cent in the past three years and a similar trend is emerging across Asia.
Operators are currently striving to differentiate themselves within an expanding competitive landscape by searching for ways to brand and bundle new services. For example, Indian operator MTNL recently launched a next generation Mobile TV offering, designed to function over 2G and 3G networks. These services are crucial to not only raising subscriber ARPU, but also to attracting new customers and reducing churn. According to Frost & Sullivan, operators in the Asia-Pacific region see an ARPU increase of 25-100 per cent after the adoption of a smartphone, making them critical to every operator’s business case.
As consumers move from demanding high-bandwidth services on PCs to expecting the same user experience on mobile devices, the operational support systems (OSS) of mobile operators are coming under strain. Facing unprecedented pressure on their networks from both a rising demand for next-generation services and devices, how can mobile operators ensure that their OSS is up to the challenge of delivering a flawless performance?
The net effect
Legacy operational systems still in use today by many mobile operators are often inflexible, network specific and carry high maintenance costs. These OSS architectures can be extremely complex, having evolved organically over time to support different business initiatives, or through corporate growth and acquisitions. However, for mobile operators across the Asia-Pacific region to survive and thrive in the face of the mobile data boom, their OSS must be capable of supporting their key business needs.
With the number of smartphones and applications in Asia predicted to rise sharply, any OSS must be flexible enough to manage the rapid data growth associated with the boom in both the number of subscribers and applications on the market. China Mobile has just exceeded 600 million customers with an average of 5.6 million new subscribers joining each month, many of whom will be using smart devices for the first time. Clearly, networks that are needed to meet the demands of such high volumes of data must be extremely robust!
With soaring numbers of subscribers, devices and applications, a robust OSS is essential to managing network capacity and congestion. Congested networks result in call dropouts, hand-off management problems and slow data downloads that create a spiralling impact through packet resending. By monitoring key metrics such as capacity usage and packet resends against defined thresholds, a robust OSS can analyse the health of a network, identifying hotspots that may be in need of upgrades. Establishing systems and processes that enable proactive network monitoring can dramatically reduce the occurrence and duration of performance degradation and network failure.
To avoid further subscriber dissatisfaction, it is also vital for the OSS to manage the network’s impact on quality of service. Many subscribers use high-speed mobile connections as a substitute to fixed access, particularly in remote and developing areas. In India, where PCs and fixed connections are prohibitively expensive for the majority of the population, mobile internet is a viable alternative. As of 2010, there were only around 8 million broadband subscribers in India - a country of 1.2 billion people. Nevertheless, India is estimated to have in excess of 60 million internet users across the country, a penetration of almost 5 per cent, which may be largely down to mobile internet access.
Thus, quality of service on mobile networks will increasingly become an essential part of the commercial offering for both businesses and individuals who rely on these devices. In the same way that it can monitor the network, a modern OSS can also monitor the impact of apparent congestion on mobile services and correlate it to individual service impacts, locations or even device categories. An early analysis of performance can help pinpoint whether the underlying issue is with the service, device or network, so that the correct remedial action is instigated. For example, if a new mobile business device is released that is not optimised for network signalling, a number of customer complaints could arise from a business district - initially indicating that there is a localised network issue. Only with comprehensive performance analysis is the true cause identifiable – enabling directing resources where they are needed as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Asia-Pac operators will also continue to feel the financial pinch of supporting network investment to satisfy increasing data usage, without a proportional increase in ARPUs. Internet giants like Google are delivering ever-increasing volumes of content over networks. This necessitates continued pressure to decrease operational costs for maintaining overall profitability.
An obvious antidote is the standardisation and simplification of the support systems architecture to reduce overheads and resource requirements. A modern OSS that is designed to manage any network (fixed, mobile, next generation or hybrid) can replace the silos of systems that inhibit business agility and process automation. The added benefit of such an OSS is that it future-proofs the business for the next generation of network technologies. With fundamental changes in mobile technology occurring every 10-15 years, and many incremental variants emerging in-between, it is essential for operators to be able to manage multiple technologies simultaneously and seamlessly.
Is your OSS sending an SOS?
So what are the warning signs that the time for an OSS overhaul is approaching? Mobile operators with an OSS insufficient to their needs will find themselves unable to deploy new network technologies without investing in an additional OSS silo. As a result, a solution provided by the associated network equipment provider is often implemented. However, these solutions are not inherently designed to manage performance across complex multi-vendor mobile equipment and backhaul network environments - seriously limiting any service, device and network mapping that is needed to manage proactively network performance.
Meanwhile, the same operator may find its margins are desperately thin, despite having higher prices than its main competitors, with profitability whittled away by the overheads of multiple systems and resources. The solution is deploying a unified OSS that can manage any number of networks, regardless of service technology or equipment provider. The unified OSS should manage any new network, but also take any legacy and future network builds into its fold to provide a truly unified view of service and network performance.
So, what is holding back operators from implementing a unified OSS? The organic growth of an operator’s existing operational systems often results in a tangle of business critical processes and data spanning many disparate systems that can make the implementation of a new OSS a very difficult challenge indeed. For these reasons, many operators delay the implementation of an OSS refresh. This is a hazardous approach that pushes the existing legacy OSS to the limit before the need for an upgrade becomes too pressing to ignore. The reality is that operators who continue with such legacy systems risk being out-paced by competitors and ultimately suffer a high level of customer churn.
Instead, operators can take a lead from recent successful OSS deployments. A proven way to mitigate the risks of a new OSS deployment is to focus the delivery on specific business problems, which can be addressed consecutively. This can lead to an OSS being implemented in manageable phases (such as every three-six months) so that a unified OSS can first be deployed for the newest network requiring support and then a phased migration of other networks can follow. This provides immediate business benefits, along with on-going system consolidation and operational expenditure reduction.
Reaping the rewards
In the short term, a new OSS can bring immediate benefits, such as improvements to the time to identify service and network issues for prompt resolution. In the longer-term, a modern OSS enables business transformation, including increased operational efficiency, seamless support for next-generation technology rollouts and a management system that is aligned to industry best practices.
Once powered by a cutting-edge OSS, mobile operators can ensure that they are in a position to take full advantage of the mobile data boom, and harness the most lucrative segment of the Asia-Pacific market.