Too many acronyms in that headline? Sorry, I was at a telecom conference this week — the Metro Ethernet Forum’s (MEF) GEN14 conference in Washington D.C., where operating support systems (OSS) and billing support systems (BSS) were a theme that ran through wide-ranging discussions about the future of the global telecommunications networks.
Here’s the dope: We’ve already heard about the promise for newer, open architectures such as SDN and NFV, which have the potential to open up telecom networks and lower costs. And here at the conference, there was a lot of talk about open source technology. This has shaken up he way telecom CTOs think about building their platforms. Meanwhile, the OSSs and BSSs of the world have barely budged.
The OSS and BSS systems are often large pieces of proprietary software, the brains of a telecom business, settling up bills and contractual arrangements and keeping track of network assets. So if the network’s really going to undergo revolutionary change, the OSS and BSS will need to change along with the underlying hardware and software infrastructure.
This was a big theme running throughout the three days of discussions here, as network operators discussed their future technology plans, including the move to SDN and NFV platforms, open source, and yes, the dreaded topic of network neutrality.
“We’re missing a critical piece: The wholesale operational environment,” chimed in Marc Halbfinger, chief operating officer of Hong Kong-based provider PCCW.
It makes sense. If the idea of moving to SDN and NFV is to promote more flexibility and interoperability, the OSS and BSS systems are behind the times. In North America, many of the systems date back to the Bell era — or earlier.
The MEF, a nonprofit standards organization and host of this show, is making a big push to upgrade the environment with something it calls Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO). This would create new standards used for a wide range of functions accomplished in OSS/BSS systems, such as: service fulfillment, performance, control, assurance, useage, analytics, security, and network policy.
One of the service provider leading the charge is CenturyLink, which has famously announced that it is ripping out its legacy OSS/BSS, including the Osmine platform, a common legacy OSS/BSS that originated in the pre-Bell-breakup AT&T network.
What will the new OSS/BSS look like? As of now, we don’t have any idea — but that’s what could make it exciting. If a new, open OSS/BSS ecosystem were to develop, taking on the characteristics of SDN and NFV such as open source and interoperability, it could be one of the biggest service-provider changes in decades, akin to moving from the mainframe straight to open-source cloud networking.