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Ibrahim Gedeon

CTO
TELUS
A
 

Systems & IPTV:

The emergence of IPTV as a critical strategic element of a service provider's offering has taken the traditional technology development processes and operations to a new level. This article examines the challenges associated with the development and implementation of the required systems. Technology evolution is driving an increasing number of delivery elements into the service provider networks to support a broadening product portfolio. The era of vendor specific solutions and vendor driven service roadmaps is over.

 

In this new world, providers must integrate multi vendor solutions and plan for vendor churn & substitution. To facilitate this, the services must be decoupled from the network access and core, and the technology must be abstracted from the service definition. At TELUS, we are redefining the OSS-BSS layer as customer management, service management and network (resource) management to align with the evolving standards.

It would have been simpler to build separate, purpose built broadband and IPTV networks, however that would defeat the economic benefit derived by integration of services on a common IP access layer, compromising competitiveness. To manage our evolution, we established five architectural principles to ensure our evolution as a next generation service provider:

  • Open IP and standards based interfaces
  • Single instance of customer and policy information (note that we distinguish policy from control)
  • Leverage existing Broadband services (High Speed Internet Access HSIA service) systems and processes but continue to drive to an IP infrastructure that is access agnostic
  • Leverage the Broadcast and video on demand (VOD) assets for PCTV and Mobile TV
  • Decouple technology from service definition.

We have found that living the values of the current standards has proved exceedingly difficult to deliver on. It seems every standards body has attempted to redefine what a next generation service provider should look like from the top down, unfortunately resulting in contradictory and unrealizable standards recommendations. Also the standard bodies tend to lag the service and technology evolution. Several examples may be found in the outputs associated with IMS, TMF, SDF, and Telco TV, to name but a few.

Instead, in our systems development activities, we have adopted a pragmatic approach. For instance, in the development of IPTV, we have set out to treat the service as one of many IP applications carried on a unified network with a unified management framework, minimizing the direct, un-abstracted dependencies to only the set top box. Other attributes, including subscriber definition, and network resource requirements are treated uniformly across all IP applications

The key to achieving this was to abstract all of the typical OSS triggers for IPTV. To that end, we developed abstraction layers for the DSL broadband network (ADSL Gateway) and the IP network and applications (TNO Gateway). The service specific attributes such as channel selection and set top box type and counts are exposed to the upper BSS systems. The engineering requirements for delivering the service are hidden in the underlying activation and qualification systems. This enables TELUS to contain the changes required to support new access technologies or new middleware to the lowest layer of the system stack. As the technology domain evolves the impact is minimized. This also enabled TELUS to evolve its technology while evolving its BSS and OSS systems.

In the domain of traditional wireline and wireless voice services, customer management and service portfolios have traditionally been keyed by the telephone number or the mobility terminal identifier. As with IPTV, to evolve the management framework, it was important to decouple the subscriber from physical access and the terminal hardware. Thus, we redefined the subscriber as a user by identifiers to their physical access and associated hardware. This was a lengthy and costly transformation for our BSS layer, but we implemented subscriber management and workflow decoupled from the various network elements and applications, achieving a substantial improvement in system uniformity.

Service management has not traditionally existed as a unique systems layer; it was implemented within either the OSS or BSS layer, with technology and service specific fragments distributed in the most inappropriate places. Our main motivation for creating a distinct service management layer was based on the realization that using new technology while maintaining the connectivity between the service and network did not yield reduced cost of ownership or faster time to market.

We started our definition of a Service Management layer in the care domain by building a portal that presented Tier1 customer care professionals with a technology neutral view of the customer service and providing them with generalized testing capabilities that were decoupled from the technology and vendor. The service management concept extends in product definition and the marketing team by removing technology lingo from service definition, hierarchy and dependencies.

We applied this approach to development of our High Speed Internet Access (HSIA) service. Our approach was to synthesize an abstraction layer between the HSIA service and the various physical access technologies and capabilities. This has become increasingly important as TELUS has evolved its Internet services by launching numerous multi-bandwidth offers for the HSIA service. This is also critically important as TELUS prepares to deploy true self serve capabilities to customers, enabling reduction of physical provisioning requirements and enabling monetization of over-the-top applications.

What has been described here in terms of the need for service management may seem like a small inconvenience. However in the context of IPTV where the IPTV service is leveraging a number of other more basic services and technologies, it is a must. IPTV has unique requirements in terms of bandwidth, IP QoS and end to end surveillance; high definition TV adds another dimension to this along with the number of TVs in the house. TV is an area that service providers and vendors are struggling to define. The challenge here is the uniqueness of the service provider proprietary legacy systems combined with the maturity of the technology and thus the recommendations and standards tend to degenerate to framework recommendations. Each carrier is at a different stage of evolution towards being a next generation service provider, and each has a different level of maturity with respect to understanding of its service offerings with respect to its network evolution plans.

Network management (resource management) has become the basis for ensuring that hardware and software evolution technology evolution do not impact the various services and customer management offerings. The degree of decoupling the resource management layer from the hardware and network has created unique implementation opportunities. In our case we have standardized on a number of vendors consistent with each technology space. In some cases we connected the hardware vendor with the relevant OSS vendor, resulting in elimination of the brokering role between OSS and NEM providers and linking NEM revenue with delivery of the required OSS components. We also created vendor neutral interface points and portals to simplify technology evolution and on-boarding new equipment vendors. This set OSS requirements for new vendors to meet, above and beyond functional technology.

One of our successful testaments to architectural realignment of the basic OSS-BSS layer is our proven ability to change in a timely manner three critical platforms in our IPTV offer: the middleware, HSIA policy manager and DSLAM vendor.

Going forward, our underlying business objectives are simple, we need to streamline our service development cycle and reduce our cost of development especially for application based services. Introducing new technology is not sufficient to leverage the benefits; it is critical to ensure that the relevant processes enable the capabilities of the technology. Costs are contained by minimizing the effect of natural change and evolution and leveraging enablers across multiple services. If service providers introduce IP networks and applications and treat them in the same way as traditional circuit switched infrastructures, then they are simply increasing their overhead with no foreseeable benefits.

Lastly, I believe the most important part in any transformation is the people. A rigorous employee engagement plan is essential to identifying and leveraging the transformational opportunities to the benefit of the organization .

I would like to thank Brian Lakey (Director OSS Strategy & Architecture TELUS) for keeping me honest technically and Jim Slevinsky for reviewing.

 

 
 


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