The buildout of digital networks in the late 1990s has opened the door to an increasing number of advanced Internet-protocol service possibilities for cable-system operators.
Like the high-speed data services that have already been deployed to more than 15 million households in North America, such new offerings as telephony, IP-based interactive services, gaming and music will enable operators to generate additional revenue from existing subscribers, attract new subscribers to cable and prevent the migration of subscribers to multichannel competitors.
Already, operators have begun to accelerate their entry into new packet-based services. It is expected that the broad rollout of IP telephony will begin in 2004. And there is increased movement toward an all-IP environment that would enable operators to launch an array of interactive entertainment services across their rebuilt infrastructure.
Just as the advent of IP services has forced cable to look beyond its core offerings, so too has it prompted the industry to rethink the operations support systems (OSS) philosophy. New services such as PacketCable-based telephone service are simply too complex to activate and manage without automated support systems.
IP networks are also enabling rapid creation of new services, again requiring advanced, automated operations. Operators who traditionally implemented OSS solutions on an "as-needed" basis now are recognizing that OSS is becoming too important, and too costly, to be addressed without a long-term architecture that reaches across all services.
In an increasingly competitive environment, it is important that cable has the resources to match the features offered by alternative-service providers, and to ensure that revenue is received for services provided. A unified approach that encompasses provisioning, billing, service management, service assurance and feature creation is needed for a new service to provide the two ingredients of success — customer satisfaction and provider profitability.
Competitors have been quick to develop and support IP features designed to attract, retain and generate increased revenue from subscribers. Satellite providers, cable's most notable current threats, have introduced Web-based tools for the creation and customization of packages by subscribers. Cellular telephony providers are developing new features, including video, Internet access and games.
For cable to compete most effectively in the new-services arena, it will not be enough simply to offer new services. It is equally important that back-office functions be developed in concert with new offerings to assure an optimal subscriber experience, reduce service deployment and service management costs, and eliminate revenue leakage.
Cable's entrepreneurial nature traditionally has made it able to resolve its immediate needs. The industry's quick moves into the delivery of new services often have been accompanied by the creation of OSS services that individually fill specific provisioning, billing and service management needs. Unfortunately, the creation of functional silos often is costly in terms of labor and other resources, and amplifies the possibility of human error that could lead to customer management and billing problems, and lost subscribers and revenue.
Cable now has the opportunity and the need to create a more comprehensive approach to OSS. As the industry moves into voice services and ultimately toward the "all-IP" network, operators can utilize solutions that provide real time changes across services and support layers. At the same time, customers accustomed to real-time self-provisioning in other areas increasingly will be seeking the same dynamic experience from cable providers.
As a result, there is a growing need for solutions that target not just a specific task, but the entire service activation and management process. The OSS solution that is appropriate for the challenges of both today and tomorrow will:
- Be standards-based, ensuring interoperability with current and future Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), CableHome, OpenCable and PacketCable-based hardware;
- Support current and future back-office systems, as well as the industry's legacy systems;
- Cross services, so that operators need not re-create systems each time a service is added;
- Provide the ability to proliferate changes throughout the network without the repetitive entries that often are required today; and
- Be scalable and robust enough to solve not only the "sunny day" cases that exist in laboratory environments, but also the problems encountered in field use.
The coming years truly present a golden opportunity for the cable industry. Operators have spent an estimated $65 billion to upgrade their networks into two-way digital plant, placing them in a highly competitive position to deliver the new services that are now at the threshold, or just over the horizon. It is important now that cable ensure that the support systems and overall OSS architectures are in place to enable it to fully recognize the opportunities presented by advanced IP services.