Communications service providers (CSPs) find themselves in an interesting position, facing an unprecedented opportunity to transform their approach to building and operating network infrastructure. Yet most CSPs remain reluctant to act, as undergoing such a transformation requires many changes within the functioning of telecommunications systems, such as implementing cloud technologies and enabling agility, decentralized governance, security, scalability, and continuous delivery.
Why is BSS/OSS system architecture transformation critical?
More and more telecom subscribers tend to expect cutting-edge automated service delivery and support from their operators. Moreover, the rapid growth of telecom services has increased the complexity of network operations and management. Keeping up with the telecom market competition has become impossible without a proper operations support system (OSS) and business support system (BSS).
One of the most significant shortcomings of existing telecom mainframes is their rigidity. Telecom software development is painstakingly slow, as vendors have to ensure integration and interoperability of their systems with all components available on the market — or with most of them, at the very least.
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Comparison of 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks
Telecom providers are used to overhauling their OSS/BSS system design every few years or so when newer equipment becomes available — yet this costs quite a lot. As shown above, the shift towards 5G that started in 2018 is pressing telecom operators to revamp their IT infrastructure once more to support up to the 300 GHz bandwidth. But this is hard to do through hardware alone.
Legacy systems consist of multiple hardware and software components that are hard to reconfigure. Any update, upgrade, or adjustment entails significant expenses and leads to a high total cost of ownership.
Also, scaling legacy systems is complicated, as adding more capacity does not remove structural and operational bottlenecks. For example, it doesn’t matter that your network has 15 switches with 1 Gbps bandwidth each if they’re all connected to a 1 Gbps router that physically cannot provide 15 individual 1 Gbps channels. Therefore, installing 15 100 Mbps switches with 70 Mbps max throughput would be a way better option. 5G networks face the same problem, just magnified.
The progress of 5G service rollouts and the constant increase in IoT device deployments consequently create greater demand for business agility. Legacy BSS/OSS architecture in telecom can no longer cover all the market needs or fulfill the necessary security requirements. According to Allied Market Research, the global BSS/OSS market was valued at $36.85 billion in 2019, and it is projected to reach $102.14 billion by 2027.
Source: Allied Market Research
Still, communications service providers are striving to modernize. The emerging OSS/BSS architecture in the telecom sector will help unify the complex system of OSS operations using integral IT paradigms such as network function virtualization (NFV), E2E service orchestration, big data analytics, and software-defined networking (SDN).
Transforming the BSS/OSS system design enables telecom operators to:
- Change the network infrastructure
- Contain costs and investments
- Reduce security risks
- Revolutionize service design and deployment
- Open services to external ecosystem partners
While the transition seems expensive, there’s a way to cut the costs by transitioning to cloud-native OSS/BSS through virtualization. CSPs can now replace hardcoded network functions delivered through a piece of equipment with virtualized network functions (VNFs) enabled via a virtual environment. The result is that scaling the system up and down or reconfiguring it entails no significant capital expenditure. The system has minimal operating expenses, leading to a significantly reduced total cost of ownership.
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Benefits of a microservices-based approach to OSS/BSS transformation
Microservices for BSS/OSS are the next step in the telecommunications industry, as they allow service providers to split any application or function into a bundle of independent functions running in separate Docker containers.
This architecture proves much more effective compared to monolithic architecture, as it allows for:
- Smart distribution of work among several independent teams, promoting team autonomy and scaling development
- Cost-effective scalability, as scaling can be done specifically for the modules that need it; smaller software components hold fewer resources and can be scaled faster
- A more resilient and robust architecture by design
- Language- and technology-independent development, where each microservice stands alone and thus can avoid dependency on legacy development
- An architectural approach with low coupling and API-first principles in place, enabling cloud-native applications
In the case of CSPs, a microservices architecture enables the use of replaceable COTS/SaaS products integrated via standard protocols and open APIs like TM Forum. A microservices architecture goes hand in hand with cloud migration as:
- New generations of networks are cloud-native by nature
- Moving the load to public clouds is a practice that’s been adopted by Tier 1 providers and has become an industry standard
- The hybrid cloud approach keeps most critical functionality on-premises, moves services to the cloud only partially, and requires a flexible architecture
- Containerization is the main approach for building new operations and business support systems
- Software-defined networking leads to Infrastructure as Code and Network as Code
- DevOps and automated CI/CD adoption are now used for network deployment, not only software deployment
- Strong focus on automated network assurance and operations with higher speeds and quality standards
The new approach to network and BSS/OSS requires flexible architectures and containerized (or even serverless) deployments, so microservices are the perfect fit. The key operational benefit of running various components of BSS in the telecom domain and networks as microservices is that you can launch, stop, and restart them independently. This means you can manage, update, and scale each virtual network function seamlessly without destroying the whole system. Docker containers run atop a Kubernetes cluster, and Prometheus + Grafana solutions from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation can help you monitor those clusters.
Schematics of Prometheus + Grafana monitoring for a Kubernetes cluster
Microservices can interact with each other and any number of external tools using RESTful APIs, with a trend to open APIs and standardization for the telco OSS/BSS. This also allows you to quickly add microservices to an existing system without requiring major investments and reorganization. You can monitor complex microservice systems with the help of message brokers like Kafka or RabbitMQ, which help you track the performance of OSS and BSS tools in real time and ensure logging transparency.
Besides, as microservices run in separate containers, a security breach in one container won’t affect the entire system. This reduces security risks, which are always a concern when handling complex software and hardware platforms with a multitude of customer-facing endpoints.
The final important factor is that multiple vendors already use microservices in developing IoT products, big data analytics, machine learning solutions, AR/VR platforms, and so on. Microservices integration via open APIs and common brokers ensures interoperability and the ease of integrating new functions, significantly reducing expenses.
Reimagining existing IT systems, modernizing operation support and business support systems, and transforming workflows is the best way for CSPs to remain competitive. Cloud migration supported by microservices architecture adoption is an essential step in this process, yet for many CSPs, it’s stalled by the lack of required internal resources and skills.
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Five technical criteria for a future-proof telecom BSS architecture
The digital telco transformation journey varies from company to company, as there’s no unique approach everyone can follow on a strategic level. Yet, the technical level provides more clarity, as there are critical criteria to meet when creating a future-proof BSS/OSS system architecture.
1. Two-speed architecture
The two-speed model offers an idea of a lesser reliance on the physical network layer and a transition to full IP services. With this model, telcos can achieve two crucial goals: (1) decouple frontend functions, processes, and software from the core technology level so they can be updated faster; and (2) have a slower pace of data migration to methodically assess all records as well as cleanse and augment data.
2. Extended ICT convergence support
The trend shows the convergence of information and communication technology (ICT) services ready to grow during the new economic growth cycle. A greater toll is placed on existing infrastructure, increasing its overall size and complexity.
3. End-to-end service assurance
Service assurance is crucial for providing a seamless customer experience (CX). The latest OSS solutions allow for consolidation and automation of repetitive tasks related to efficient service routing, network design, regional network performance, and service triage.
4. Bandwidth on Demand (BoD)
This paradigm implies on-demand network capabilities, encouraging telcos to transition from static network services to flexible bandwidth provisioning. Legacy OSS/BSS systems have no real-time network provisioning capability. Telcos need to consider shifting to implementing BoD and network slicing to effectively provide services to their customers.
5. Cloud-based OSS
Cloud solutions help telecoms provide service cheaper and faster. Apart from virtualizing various network functions, telcos have to consider bringing their OSS systems to the cloud, as this results in lower operating expense costs, improved operational agility, better compliance, lower technological barriers to launching new services, and a consistent level of service.
Roadmap for rolling out microservices: 6 key factors for CSPs
A lack of relevant experience can hinder OSS/BSS digitization in large communications service providers. Below is a roadmap that can help you evaluate the feasibility of such a transition for your company and take measures to roll out microservices.
- Determine the most valuable processes that can be automated. Cloud platforms aren’t magic wands. They ease the scaling of business processes that drive value, but moving useless operations to the cloud will bear little fruit.
- Find your IT infrastructure’s most loaded systems and processes and complement them with cloud-native components. Digital OSS/BSS transformation will not happen overnight, so legacy and cloud-native systems will have to work in parallel for some time. Ensuring interoperability is vital for keeping systems active during the transition.
- Use standardized tools and components. Working with vendors that build their systems with proprietary technology guarantees vendor lock-in and complex further adjustments. Leverage industry-standard open-source DevOps tools to ensure the simplicity of integrating and further altering your systems.
- Ensure scalability by design. Adding more capacity doesn’t mean scaling. Doubling or halving the number of active services should happen quickly, predictably, and without any performance bottlenecks. The system architecture should ensure this.
- Think of security from the start. Time to market, customer onboarding costs, and other parameters are important, but cybersecurity is the backbone of long-term success. Security breaches can devastate a business, so ensure that top-notch security measures are integrated with your systems from the start.
- Plan for integration beforehand. You may need to integrate some components at any time. Thus, all your OSS transformation solutions and virtual components must support RESTful APIs to integrate seamlessly with each other and with third-party modules.
While these six factors are essential, the cloud transformation team is critical. Microservices are a niche inside the broader cloud infrastructure orchestration domain. Even IT companies and telecom providers sometimes lack relevant in-house expertise. This is why delegating cloud migration projects to reputable vendors with relevant experience is the best choice.
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Enabling OSS/BSS transformation
The twenty-first century business landscape is fast-paced, and customer preferences change rapidly. Agility is crucial for communications service providers that strive to remain competitive and implement new features while keeping their operation support and business support systems cost-efficient. Building secure, scalable, and manageable infrastructure using microservices will help them reach this business objective.
Cloud migration will help CSPs move away from the regular and significant capital expenditures involved in upgrading and replacing hardware and software components. Instead, you can have more manageable operational expenses for updating microservices code. This will ensure lower risk, better performance, and higher customer satisfaction, enabling your company to become an innovative digital telecommunications services provider.
Intellias can assist with cloud migration and OSS/BSS transformation with microservices. Contact our experts for details.