opinion


Mind the gap: service-layer evolution is critical to the modern CSP

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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mark Windle, Head of Marketing at OpenCloud explores how CSPs need to adapt their service layer infrastructure to meet the changing needs of the market.

Mobile communication is evolving. Cloud-based services are now commonplace in a world of internet start-ups and pioneering companies like Facebook that are changing the face of modern telecoms. In order to successfully compete in a saturated market, traditional mobile network operators must adopt the best technologies and processes to complement the needs of their subscribers. The service-layer infrastructure that controls voice services, video-calling and other communications must then evolve to put these processes and technologies into practice.

To understand the necessary evolution of the service-layer it is best to consider the communications services market through the eyes of a web start-up. For these companies, access to services will not be restricted by devices, method of connection or location: the subscriber will be able to access services using any device (either via generic interfaces such as browsers or native diallers, or via installed apps), via any connection wherever they are. This is the future operators must aspire to. Communication service providers’ target markets will not necessarily be determined by geographic boundaries, although localisation for languages, cultures and regulatory reasons will need to be supported. Market segmentation will also become more important as CSPs narrow competitive focus, aiming to be best-in-class for specific segments, rather than a jack-of-all-trades.

So how could the service-layer evolve in order to satisfy tomorrow’s challenges?

Breaking with tradition

The most important step for operators is to break away from service-siloes and decouple the service elements from the underlying access mechanism, so a single function, such as handling non-geographic numbers (e.g. 0800 Freephone), can be used for calls delivered over 2G/3G, voice over LTE (VoLTE) and voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi). It is this step that takes the operator on the path towards access-agnostic communication services. Critically, the approach is evolutionary – enabling existing assets that are still commercially viable in older generations of network to be re-used for services delivered through newer access networks. It is also somewhat future-proof – enabling service assets defined for a future generation of access network to serve customers connected through current technology.

A passport overseas

Roaming enables national operators to deliver services to its customers around the world, however its target market is still limited to one country. Expanding the addressable market beyond the national boundary typically means (for licensing and/or regulatory reasons) establishing operations in those other territories, and delivering services according to local regulatory and market requirements. Most multi-national operating groups have almost entirely separate access and service-layer siloes for each nation in which they operate. A single service-layer approach serves to address this problem: the same benefit of cost reduction is a compelling driver for service-layer evolution for these organisations.

There are three notable attributes of the evolved service-layer that support multi-national service delivery. The first is a variation on the access-agnostic approach previously described, with the addition that the evolved service-layer must be flexible enough to interoperate across different vendors’ equipment. The second is that the way in which services are defined needs to be more flexible and should decouple the service flow from nationally-specific service data: number translation, for example, will follow the same pattern in each country yet the translation-tables will be specific. The third attribute for multi-national service is virtualisation: the ability to manage service assets as single entities whilst enabling service delivery to be distributed so that it is local to the subscriber, and to scale-up and scale-down in tune with local market rhythms.

Virtually flexible

Flexibility and virtualisation also provide a path for operators to become pacesetters in chosen market segments; virtualisation will certainly help bring new innovation to market more quickly. However in the future, all communication services providers will employ virtualisation – so improving time to market is not a competitive advantage, in fact competitive advantages is actually reduced. The key is that successful web start-ups have the ability to innovate for themselves, and agile DevOps innovation is integrated into their organisations. It is this additional quality that operators must also acquire.

Operators today find themselves at a crossroads – those that wish to succeed in today’s market must evolve their service-layer. The flexibility and agility afforded by an open, virtualised service-layer will allow them to truly innovate rather than relying on (and spending a lot of money with) network equipment providers. The organisational transformation to DevOps will take time, but if operators start today, it will greatly improve their tomorrow.

 

Mark Windle 03 Mid-resMark Windle is the Head of Marketing at telecoms software innovator OpenCloud. Mark is an experienced telecoms executive having previously worked at Vodafone, and during his tenure at OpenCloud the company has grown at an impressive rate.

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