Are National Broadband Networks Doomed?

Over the years, I’ve worked with national broadband projects in Australia, New Zealand, Qatar and Singapore. More recently in Australia, the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Their Retail Service Providers (RSPs) – who sell the NBN services to end customers, have been up in arms about NBN approaching large enterprise customers directly. Today, they announced that they would no longer do that – and that has the RSPs like Vocus, Mactel and Telstra very happy. Arguably, the decicion for NBN to sell direct was in breach of the founding principles that the Australian government put in place when it created NBNCo.

Such controversy is not why I think the NBN and the equivalents in other countries are doomed, although it’s not helping their case in the eyes of the public and end customers.

No, I think the proliferation of 5G networks and more recently global players like SpaceX’s Starlink constellation could be the harbinger of death for NBN.

Slow Rollouts

NBN has been copping a lot of flack lately in the media for taking too long to roll out. I get it, Australia is a HUGE country – even with most Australians living within an hour of the coast, it’s still a lot of physical ground that needs to be covered by the fibre and HFC networks that cover the bulk of the NBN end users. This has lead to a level of dissatisfaction with NBN as a whole.

Slow Network

Those end customers that do have a NBN connection are often complaining to the telecommunications ombudsman about the service they get – and while some of those faults are laid at the doorstep of the RSPs, some of it is due to physical breakages of modems and network termination devices and some are the fault of NBN – in all cases, because in Australia, we include NBN in the product offerings of the RSPs (ie – its customer facing), NBN cops the blame for ALL of the issues. As an example, my RSP (Optus) sold me a 100/40 HFC based NBN connection – which is usually fine. I often get 90-95 Mbps downstream and 30-37 Mbps upstream. However, so many HFC customers were seeing much slower than advertised speeds that Optus removed that speed combination from the market – the fastest they sell now is 50/20. (50 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up).

5G Networks

The 5G rollout in Australia is still pretty limited, but the 4G (LTE) rollout is pretty comprehensive and on 4G, I often see speeds approaching my home NBN based connection. Assuming 5G will bring a significant boost in speed (along with many other advantages including much great density of connections per cell) – which means that a 5G connections promises to deliver faster connections than NBN and without the need to tie the end customer down to their home boundaries.

If you add unlimited plans (in terms of Gb to be transferred up or down) to such as 5G (or even a 4G service) then you have a strong competitor to the NBN.

Some local mobile network providers and even MVNOs are already talking about selling fixed mobile services instead of selling a NBN based home (or office) connection.

Starlink

This morning, SpaceX launched another 60 satellites into orbit, bringing the total to 240 – that’s 120 new satellites within a month – well on the way to 12,000 satellites.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post (see https://telcotalk.online/index.php/2020/01/09/starlink-a-global-csp-disruptor/), SpaceX’s Starlink constellation of communications satellites promise to deliver broadband (up to 10 Gbps) AND low latency (good for gaming) to 100% of Australia (other than the Australian Antarctic Territory). If SpaceX can deliver reasonable plans (in terms of speed, capacity and price) then SpaceX will be a strong competitor for NBN. If the plans are right, it could kill NBN.

Two NBN alternatives – either could kill NBN

Sure, NBN in Australia is facing some significant challenges, but these are exactly the same challenges that all national broadband networks/project face… Customers have zero allegance to NBN – and if 5G or Starlink will provide faster speeds at a competitive price, NBN is doomed.

If you disagree, let me know what you think…

SpaceX launch new batch of Starlink satellites

I’ve just watched the SpaceX launch of the latest batch of 60 starlink satellites into low earth orbit – aimed at providing low latency internet services all over the world. Initially, SpaceX are targeting the North American market – I mean, why wouldn’t they? The US has such a disjointed connectivity marketplace with a mixture of Metro Area Networks (WiFi and Wimax based) in small towns, LTE/5G in larger population centres, HFC cable and Fibre connectivity options for fixed services and probably still a bit of xDSL running around… Not to mention the oft complained about mobile network coverage. Starlink (despite being Internet rather than voice focused) has the potential to steal a lot of the subscribers that live in or travel to marginal coverage areas. Think of it – 100% coverage of North America at up to 10Gbps – if the price is competitive, why wouldn’t you as a subscriber go with that option!

There were a few things that peaked my interest with this launch in particular:

  • The launch of these Starlink satellites in close succession from the December’19 launch of the Kacific comms satellite (ironically on a SpaceX Falcon 9), a more conventional geostationary communications satellite, targeting at providing services to the South Pacific, SE Asia and Himalayan nations (not Australia) via Ka band radio (thus the name). They plan to provide services to over 600 million subscribers – from the following countries (from https://www.kacific.com):
    • American Samoa
    • Bangladesh
    • Bhutan
    • Brunei
    • Cook Islands
    • East Timor
    • Federated States of Micronesia
    • Fiji
    • French Polynesia
    • Guam
    • Indonesia
    • Kiribati
    • Malaysia
    • Myanmar
    • Nepal
    • New Zealand
    • Niue
    • Northern Mariana Islands
    • Papua New Guinea
    • Philippines
    • Samoa
    • Solomon Islands
    • Tonga
    • Tuvalu
    • Vanuatu

Obviously, the bulk of those subscribers are going to be coming from Indonesia, being the highest population country in their target list. It makes me wonder about the competition between Kacific and Starlink for those same subscribers once SpaceX establish their services in the north American market and spread their wings to the rest of the world…

  • The Starlink swarm of satellites have had astronomers up in arms because of the additional light and radio pollution these satellites have been adding to the night sky making it difficult for both visual and radio astronomers to get good observations. With more than 12,000 (!!!) Starlink satellites planned to go into orbit, we’re just seeing the beginning of this problem.
Telescopes at Lowell Observatory in Arizona captured this image of galaxies on May 25, their images marred by the reflected light from more than 25 Starlink satellites as they passed overhead.
Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory – image linked from astro.princeton.edu

I noted during the latest launch coverage, the SpaceX presenter said that one of the satellites launched today had been ‘darkened’ to reduce reflections in the hope that it would lessen the affect on visual (at least) astronomy. Let’s hope it works.

If you want to read up on the Starink’s effect on Astronomy – I’d suggest you read this article on Nat Geo – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/05/elon-musk-starlink-internet-satellites-trouble-for-astronomy-light-pollution/

For sure, these launches are great to watch and remind me of when I watched Apollo 17 launch as a boy (that’s the only one I remember from way back then) and the excitement I felt when I watched that launch…

Driving Analytics in a Telco

Originally posted on 21Sep17 to IBM Developerworks (11,101 views)

An ex-colleague of mine (Violet Le – now the Marketing Director at Imageware) asked me about the drivers for Analytics in Telcos. I’ll admit that it’s a subject that I haven’t really given a lot of thought to – all the projects that I’ve worked on in the past that have included Analytics have had a larger business case that I was trying to solve… Marketing, Future Planning, Sales etc I’ve never worked on an Analytics project for the sake of analytics, nor have I designed a solution that was just (or mainly) analytics.

There is a definite value in analytics in providing an insight into how the business is running – to enable business to plan for the future and to manage how they run in the present. Both Strategic and Tactical cases for analytics would seem to me to be of value to any business. An analytics system that delivers insight into the business (customer behaviour, sales effectiveness, capacity usage and predictions etc) is great, but at the end of the day, a Telco needs to do something about that information/insight to actually deliver business benefits.

As I’m no analytics specialist, I wont’ try to describe how to define or build those systems. What I will try to do is to describe the bits around the analytics systems that make use of that insight to deliver real value for the CSP.

What are the business cases that I’ve seen?

  1. Sales & Marketing 
    • Driving promotions to to positively affect subscriber retention or acquisition… I did a project with Globe Telecom in the Philippines which was primarily aimed at driving SMS based outbound marketing promotions that are targeting based on subscriber behaviour. An example might be if a subscriber had a pre-paid balance less than (say) 5 pesos, and the subscriber topped up more than 20 pesos and less than 50 pesos, then send a promo encouraging the subscriber to top up by more than 100 pesos… all the interaction is via SMS (via a ParlayX SMS API)
    • Back in 2013, I did an Ignite presentation at the IBM Impact Conference in Las Vegas – Here is the presentation (Smarter Marketing for Telecom – Impact 2013)
  • Social networking analysis to determining who should be targeted. IBM’s Research group was pushing for years a Social Networking Analysis capability that looked at Social Networking connection to determine which subscribers are followers, which are community leaders and influencers and based on that assessment.
  1. Networks
  • Ensuring utilisation of the network is optimised for the load requirements. I worked with a telco in Hong Kong that wanted to dynamically adjust the quality of service level to be delivered to a specific user based on their location (in real time) and a historical analysis of the traffic on the network.  For example, if a subscriber was entering the MTR (subway) station and the analytics showed that particular station typically got very high numbers of subscribers all watching youtube clips at that time of day on that day of the week, then lower the QoS setting for that subscriber UNLESS they were a premium or post-paid customer in which case, keep the QoS settings the same. The rating as a premium subscriber could be derived from their past behaviour and spend – from a traditional analytics engine. 
  • Long term planning on network (SDN/NFV will allow Networks to be more agile which will reduce the need for traditional offline analytics to drive network planning and make the real time view more relevant as networks adapt to real time loads dynamically … as traffic increases in particular sections of the network, real time analytics and predictions will drive the SDN to scale up that part of the network on demand. This is where new next gen AI’s may be useful in predicting where the load will be int he network and then using SDN to increase capacity BEFORE the load is detected…  read Watson from IBM and similar….

A few years ago, a number of ex colleagues (from IBM) formed a company on the back of real time marketing use case for Telcos and since then, they’ve gone ahead in leaps and bounds. (Check them out if you’re interested, the company name is Knowesis)

Do you have significant use cases for analytics in a CSP? I’m sure they are and I’m not claiming this is an exhaustive list – merely the cases that I’ve seen multiple times in my time as a solution architect focused on the telecommunications industry.

Progress on the miss-match between the TMF SID and TMF API Data model

Originally posted on 4Sep17 to IBM Developerworks (10,430 Views)

I wouldn’t normally just post a link to someone else’s work here, but in this case Frank Wong – a colleague of mine at my new company (DGIT Systems) has done some terrific work in helping to eliminate the miss-match between the data model used by the TMF’s REST based APIs and the TMF’s Information Model (SID). I know this was an issue that IBM were also looking to resolve.  In the effort to encourage the use of a simple REST interface, the data model used in the TMF’s APIs has been greatly simplified from the comprehensive (some might say complex) data model that is the TMF’s Information Model (SID). This meant that a CSP who is using the SID internally to connect internal systems needed to map to the simplified API data model to expose those APIs externally – there was no easy one-to-one mapping for that mapping which meant that the one could not simply create a API for an existing business service (eTOM or otherwise) – a lot more custom data modelling work would be required.

This interview with Frank by the TMF illustrates some of the latest work to resolve that miss-match – read it at https://inform.tmforum.org/open-apis/2017/08/apis-need-good-parents-catalog-success/?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTm1aa1pUVXhOR001TkRFMSIsInQiOiJXbEpaajNHRmR1Rm9meTZzQlMzMnJRODJDNlllUjdsdFk2RUxNMDVRS25HMEdlOTZzK3NDNkx5YkZXSjlyQW42eDkrQW5lT0pkRVFpdm5lNXJIdW9STGpaYWV5aHZiald0b1JBenhlSTFRV2FUMVhFNXBLUlRkZ05MV2ZZK1JSViJ9

Are MicroServices the future INSIDE a CSP?

Originally posted on 30Aug17 to IBM Developerworks (11,517 Views)

Across many industries, including the Telecommunications sector, there seems to be a strong movement towards a MicroServices Architecture and (somewhat) away from Service Oriented Architecture. I’ve seen this move in a CSP here in Australia. The TeleManagement Forum have a significant project that is trying to standardise the REST APIs that a CSP might publish.

The TMF state:

TM Forum’s Open API program is a global initiative to enable end to end seamless connectivity, interoperability and portability across complex ecosystem based services. The program is creating an Open API suite which is a set of standard REST based APIs enabling rapid, repeatable, and flexible integration among operations and management systems, making it easier to create, build and operate complex innovative services. TM Forum REST based APIs are technology agnostic and can be used in any digital service scenario, including B2B value fabrics, Internet of Things, Smart Health, Smart Grid, Big Data, NFV, Next Generation OSS/BSS and much more.”

“TM Forum is bringing different stakeholders from across industries to work together and build key partnerships to create the APIs and connections. The reference architecture and APIs we are co-creating are critical enablers of our API program and open innovation approach for building innovative new digital services in a number of key areas, including IoT applications, smart cities, mobile banking and more.”

Laurent Leboucher, Vice President of APIs & Ecosystems, Orange

I’ve been a part of a number of projects where these REST APIs have been exposed primarily to a CSPs trading partners – my very first Service Delivery Platform exposed APIs to external developers. Back then, it was Parlay X Web services (REST didn’t really exist and certainly there to external developers.were no Telco standards in place for REST based interfaces) that exposed the functionality of network elements to 3rd party developers. With many of the APIs that the TMF have defined, they seem to be more focused on OSS/BSS functions instead.  Now that the TMF have quite a number of Open APIs defined, there are some network focused APIs that are coming onto the list – for instance, a Location API would have typically be exposed using the ParlayX Web Services or ParlayREST REST interfaces to the network’s Location Based Server (LBS).  As a result, there does seem to be a small amount of crossover between the new TMF APIs and the older ParlayREST APIs.

Does this mean that the new TMF OpenAPIs are of no use? Not at all.  There are certainly advantages to exposing functions that a CSP has to external developers and REST based OpenAPIs make the consumption of those functions easier than the ParlayX web services or Parlay CORBA services have been in the past.  Ease of consumption is not to be underestimated.  An API that is easy to include in an application and provides a real capability that would have been otherwise difficult to provide stands a much greater chance of wide usage.

Sure, there is a place for externalising the OSS/BSS functions of a CSP. Trading partners could place orders against a CSP, they could bill to a subscriber’s post or pre-paid accounts, they could update the subscriber profile held by the CSP. All relevant use cases for externalising the TMF Open APIs.

The big question in my mind is will REST APIs be of use internally?

REST based APIs being easier to integrate internally will drive some value.  But in CSPs that have significant investments in a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), I’m struggling to see the business value in abandoning that in favour of a MicroServices Architecture where there is no common integration tool, no common orchestration capability, rather lots and lots of point to point integrations through REST APIs.

For those of us that have been around a while, you will have seen point to point integrations and the headaches they cause – complex dependencies in mesh architectures make maintenance hard and expensive.  Changing a (say) billing system that is integrated through multiple point to point connections is a nightmare – even if they have a standardised API describing those interfaces. The plane truth of the matter is that not all of those interfaces will be adequately described by the TMF’s Open APIs, so custom specifications APIs will arise and make swapping out the billing system expensive. Additionally, not all of a CSPs internal systems will have TMF Open API compliant interfaces – many won’t even support REST interfaces natively.  Changing all of a CSP’s systems to ensure they have a REST interface is a non-trivial task.

A Hybrid environment may be needed.

I’d suggest that a Hybrid approach is needed – existing Enterprise Service Busses may be able to interface with REST APIs – certainly IBM’s Integration Bus and the (now superseded) WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus could connect to REST APIs just as easily as they could connect to Web Services, Files and other connectivity options.  The protocol transformation capabilities of a ESB are able to provide REST APIs to systems that would have otherwise not supported such modern interfaces. Similarly, where a function is not provided by a single system, a traditional orchestration (BPM) capability can coordinate multiple systems to provide a single interface to that capability even if (behind the scenes) there are multiple end point systems involved in providing the functionality of that transaction/interface. The diagram below shows my thinking of what should be in place….

What’s all the fuss about Orchestration for NFV?

Originally posted on 6Jun17 to IBM Developerworks (11,950 Views)

Think about it – orchestration is everywhere in a Telco – the Order to Cash process, The Ticket to Resolution process, the service and resource  fulfilment process and even the NFV MANO processes.  Orchestration is everywhere…

There is a hierarchy to processes in a Telco – just as the TMF recognises that there is a hierarchy in business services (within the eTOM Process Framework). At the highest level, the Order to Cash process might look like this:

Each task in this swimlane diagram will have multiple sub-processes. If we delve down into the provision resources task for instance, a CSP will need processes that will interrogate the resource catalog and network inventory to determine where in the network that resource can be put and what characteristics need to be set, then tell the resource manager to provision that resource. If it’s a physical resource, that may involve allocating a technician to install the physical resource. If it’s a virtual resource such as a Virtual Network Function (VNF) then the Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) orchestration engine will need to be told to provision that VNF.  If we go one level deeper, the NFV Orchestration engine will need to tell the NFV Manager to provision that VNF and then update the network inventory.

Perhaps the diagram below will help you to understand what i mean:

This diagram is a very simplified hierarchical process model designed to show the layers of process. As you can see, there are many layers of orchestration required in a CSP and as long as the orchestration engine is flexible enough and can handle the integration points with the many systems it needs to interact with, there is no real reason why the same orchestration engine couldn’t be used by all levels of process.

Over the past couple of years as NFV has risen significantly in popularity and interest, I’ve seen many players in the market talk about orchestration engines that just handle NFV orchestration and nothing else.  To me, that seems like a waste. Why put in an orchestration engine that is just used for NFV when you also still need orchestration engines for the higher process layers as well? I’d suggest that a common orchestration and common integration capability makes the most sense delivering:

  • High levels of reuse
  • Maximising utilisation of software capabilities
  • Common Admin and Development skills for all levels of process (be they business focussed or service or resource focussed)
  • Common tooling
  • Common Integration patterns (enabling developers and management staff to work across all layers of the business)
  • Greater Business Agility – able to react to changing business and technical conditions faster

There are a number of Integration platforms – typically marketed as Enterprise Service Buses (ESB) that can handle integration through Web Services, XML/HTTP, File, CORBA/IIOP  even Socket/RPC connections for those legacy systems that many telcos still have hanging around.  An ESB can work well in a MicroServices environment too – so don’t think that just because you have a ESB, you’re fighting against MicroServices – you are not.  MicroServices can make use of the ESB for connectivity to conventional Web Services (SOA) as well as legacy systems.

A common Orchestration layer would drive consistency in processes at all layers of a Telco – and there are a number of Business Process Management orchestration engines out there that have the flexibility to work with the Integration layer to orchestrate processes from the lowest level (such as within a Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) environment) all the way up to the highest levels of business process – the orchestrations should be defined in an standard language such as Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) or Business Process Model Notation (BPMN).

To me, it makes no sense to re-invent the wheel and have orchestration engines just for the NFV environment, different orchestration engines for the Service Order Management, the Resource Order Management, the Customer Order Management, the Service Assurance, the Billing, the Partner/Supplier management etc etc – all of these orchestration requirements could be handled by a single orchestration engine. Additionally, this would make disaster recovery simpler and faster and cheaper as well (fewer software components to be restored in a disaster situation).

Blockchain and BPM – follow up

Originally posted on 31May17 to IBM Developerworks (12,500 Views)

A link to this blog entry (link now broken) popped up in my LinkedIn feed today which in turn linked to a Developerworks article – Combine business process management and blockchain (link now broken) which steps you though a use case and allows you to build your own basic BPM & Blockchain demo. Complex processes could save and get data to/from Blockchain ensuring that every process in any organisation (within the same company and across company boundaries) are using the most up to date data.

I thought it would be appropriate to paste in a link given my previous post on Blockchain in Telcos. As I think about this topic more, I can see a few more use cases in Telecom. I’ll explore them in subsequent posts, but for now, I think it’s important that we be pragmatic about this. Re-engineering processes to make good use of blockchain is non-trivial and therefore will have a cost associated with it.  Will the advantages in transparency and resilience be worth the cost of making the changes? Speaking about resilience, don’t forget the damage that a failure can cause.  British Airways IT system failure (which I believe is outsourced but I cannot be sure) was down for the better part of three days – failures like that have the potential to bring down a business.  We don’t know yet what will happen to BA in the long term, but you certainly don’t want the same sort of failure happening to your business.

Blockchain in Telcos?

Originally posted on 23may17 to IBM Developerworks (16,554 Views)

If you like me are hearing ‘Blockchain this, blockchain that‘, it almost seems like blockchain will solve world peace, global hunger and feed your pets for you!  We’re obviously at the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ of the Gartner hype cycle.

I saw a tweet yesterday from an ex-colleague at IBM yesterday that spoke about using blockchain to combat fraud in a Telco.   While I can see that as a possible use case, I was thinking about other opportunities for blockchain.

Perhaps I need to explain blockchain briefly so that those that don’t understand it can also understand the Telecom use cases for blockchain. Wikipedia defines it like this:

“A blockchain… is a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secured from tampering and revision. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block.By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data — once recorded, the data in a block cannot be altered retroactively. Through the use of a  peer-to-peer network and a distributed timestamping server, a blockchain database is managed autonomously. Blockchains are “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. The ledger itself can also be programmed to trigger transactions automatically.”

So, it’s an immutable record of changes to something.  I was thinking about that yesterday and there were a number of use cases in Telecom that I could think of that could use blockchain.  I’m not suggesting that they should use blockchain or that it’s needed, just that they could. These are the Use cases I came up with:

  • Fraud prevention : being immutable makes it harder to ‘slip one by’ the normal accounting checks and balances that any large company has.  I suppose the real question is ‘exactly which records need to be stored in a blockchain to enable that fraud prevention?’ The obvious one is the billing records.
  • Billing – maintaining state of post-paid billing accounts, who is making payments, billing amounts and other biulling events (such as rate changes, grace periods etc)
  • Tracking changes to the network. At the moment, many of the changes being made in a Telco’s network may be made by staff, but increasingly, maintenance and management of the network is being outsourced to external companies and you want to keep en eye on them to ensure they’re doing what they say they’re doing.  In the new world of Software Defined Networks (SDN) utilising Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) to build and change the network architecture at a rate that we’ve not seen before, it becomes important for a Telco to be able to track changes to the network to diagnose faults and customer complaints. Over a 24 hour period, a path on a network that supports enterprise customer X may change tens of times – much higher frequency than would be possible if the network elements were physical. 
  • Tracking changes to accounts by customers and telco staff – I could imagine a situation where a customer claims that they didn’t request a configuration change, but a blockchain based record of changes could be used to track beck through all the changes in a customer’s account to determine what happened and when – potentially enabling a Telco to limit the liability to the customer… or vice versa…
  • Tracking purchases – A blockchain record of purchases would allow a CSP to rebuild a customer’s liability from base information; provided there was an immutable record of the data records as well…
  • xDRs – any type of Data Record (CDRs, EDRs…) could be stored in a blockchain to facilittate rebuilding of a client’s history and billing records from base data. The problem with using a blockchain to store xDRs is the size requirements.  I know that large CSPs in India for example produce between five and ten BILLION records per day. It wouldn’t take long for that to build up to a very large storage requirement – even if you store the mediated data records, it’s going to be very large. I guess the question is : ‘what is the return on investment?’ – it is worth while doing. I can’t think of a business case to justify such an investment, but there may be one out there.
  • Assurance events – Recording records associated with trouble tickets and problem resolution.

I don’t for a second think that all of these can be justified in terms of cost/benefit analysis, but I could see blockchain being used in these scenarios. 

Do you have any ideas? Please leave a comment below.

<edit>

I realise I missed the usual business case that blockchain is used for – a financial ledger. Obviously storing a CSP’s financial data in a blockchain would work (and make sense) as it would in ANY other enterprise. I really wanted to illustrate the CSP specific use cases for blockchain.

</edit>

Business Agility Through Standards Alignment To Ease The Pain of Major System Changes

Originally posted on 21Mar14 to IBM Developerworks (14,349 Views)

Why TMF Frameworx?

The TeleManagement Forum (TMF) have defined a set of four frameworks collectively known as Frameworx. The key frameworks that will deliver business value to the CSP are the Information Framework(SID) and the Process Framework (eTOM). Both of these can deliver increased business agility – which will reduce time to market and lower IT costs. In particular if a CSP is undertaking with the multiple major IT projects in the near term, TMF Frameworx alignment will ease the pain associated with those major projects.

Without a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), such as many CSP’s have currently, there is no common integration layer, no common way to perform format transformations with that multiple systems can communicate correctly. A typical illustration of this point to point integration might look like the Illustration to the right:

Each of the orange ovals represents a transformation of information so that the two systems can understand each other – each of which must be developed and maintained independently. These transformations will typically be built with a range of different technologies and method, thus increasing the IT costs of integrating, maintaining such transformations, not to mention maintaining competency within the IT organisation.

A basic SOA environment introduces the concept of an Enterprise Service Bus which provides a common way to integrate systems together and a common way of building transformation of information model used by multiple systems. The Illustration below shows this basic Services Oriented Architecture – note that we still have the same number of transformations to build and maintain, but now they can be built using a common method, tools and skills.

If we now introduce a standard information model such as the SID from the TeleManagement Forum, we can reduce the number of transformation that need to be built and maintained to one per system as shown in the Illustration below. Ensuring that all the traffic across the ESB is SID aligned means that as the CSP changes systems (such as CRM or Billing) the effort required to integrate the new system into the environment is dramatically reduced. That will enable the introduction of new systems faster than could otherwise been achieved. It will also reduce the ongoing IT maintenance costs.

As I’m sure you’re aware, most end to end business processes need to orchestrate multiple systems. If we take the next step and insulate those end to end business processes from the functions that are specific to the various end point systems using a standard Process Framework such as eTOM, then business process can be independent of systems such as CRM, Billing, Provisioning etc. That means that if those systems change in the future (as many CSPs are looking to do) the end to end business processes will not need to change – in fact the process will not even be aware that the end system has changed.

When changing (say) the CRM system, you will need to remap the eTOM business services to the specific native services and rebuild a single integration and a single transformation to/from the standard data model (SID). This is a significant reduction in effort required to introduce new systems into the CSP’s environment. Additionally, if the CSP decide to take a phased approach to the migration of the CRM systems (as opposed to a big bang) the eTOM aligned business processes can dynamically select which of the two CRM systems should be used for this particular process instance.

What that means for the CSP.

Putting in place a robust integration and process orchestration environment that is aligned to TMF Frameworx should be the CSP’s first priority; this will not only allow the subsequent major projects integration and migration efforts to be minimised, it will also reduce the time to market for new processes and product that the CSP might offer into the market.

Telekom Slovenia is a perfect example of this. When the Slovenian government forced Mobitel (Slovenia) and Telekom Slovenia to merge, having the alignment with the SID and eTOM within Mobitel allowed the merged organisation to meet the governments deadlines for the specific target KPIs:

  • Be able to provide subscribers with a joint bill
  • Enable CSR from both organisations to sell/service products from both organisations
  • Offer a quad-play product that combined offerings from both Telekom Slovenia and Mobitel
  • All within six months.

Recommended Approach

When a CSP is undertaking multiple concurrent major IT replacement projects, there are a number of recommendations that IBM would make based on past observations with other CSPs that have also undertaken significant and multiple system replacement projects:

  1. Use TMF Frameworx to minimise integration work (requires integration and process orchestration environment such as the ESB/SOA project is building) to be in place
  2. Use TMF eTOM to build system independent business processes so that as those major systems change, end to end business processes do not need to change and can dynamically select the legacy or new system during the migration phases of the system replacement projects.
  3. To achieve, 1 and 2, the CSP will need to have the SOA and BPM infrastructure that is capable of integration with ALL of the systems (not just limited to (say) CRM or ERP) within the CSP in place first
  4. If you have the luxury of time, don’t try to run the projects simultaneously, rather run them linearly. If this cannot be achieved due to business constraints, limit the concurrent projects to as few systems as possible, and preferably to systems that don’t have a lot of interaction with each other.

TeleManagement Forum Africa Summit 2012

Originally posted on 29Sep12 to IBM Developerworks (13,053 Views)

Last week, I was at the TeleManagement Forum’s (TMF) Africa Summit event in Johannesburg, South Africa. The main reason for me attending was to finish of my TMF certifications (I am level 3 currently) in the process framework (eTOM) – if I have passed the exam, I will be Level 4 certified. It was a really tough exam (75% pass mark) so I don’t know if I did enough to get over the line’.   Regardless, the event was well attended with 200-230 attendees for the two days of the conference. It was interesting to hear the presenter’s thoughts on telco usage within Africa into the future. Many seemed to think that video would drive future traffic for telcos. I am not so sure. I n other markets around the world, video was also projected to drive 3G network adoption, yet this has not happened anywhere. Why do all these people think that Africa will be different?  I see similar usage patterns in parts of Asia, yet Video has not take off there. Skype carries many more voice only calls than video calls. Apple’s Facetime video chat hasn’t taken off like Apple predicted. 3G video calls makes a tiny proportion of all calls made. Personally, I think that voice (despite it’s declining popularity relatively speaking in the developed world) will remain the key application, especially voice over LTE for the foreseeable future in Africa. I also think that social networking (be it Facebook, freindster, MySpace or some other African specific tool) will drive consumer data (LTE) traffic. Humans are social animals, and I think these sorts of social interactions will apply just as much in the African scenario as it has in others.