Why we need to talk about OSS Mediation and why everyone else is starting to do the same.
Guest writer, Keith Brody.
About a year ago, OSSLine published a blog introducing (and discussing) OSS Mediation. Newly conceptualized and productized by the ISV DigitalRoute (historically the market leader in BSS Mediation), in broad terms OSS Mediation sought to apply familiar data integration and management principles to handling activity in the OSS stack. In BSS, mediation’s function has historically been to collect and pre-process usage records before upstreaming them for billing. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, with over 360 deployments, DigitalRoute is the specialist market leader in that area.
However, mediation’s established presence in BSS has been the result of pull rather than push, circumstance rather than grand design. In reality, a mediation solution is not a ‘box’ designed with simply enabling monetization or handling usage records in mind. Its purpose is broader; it’s data integration and management as well as infrastructure and application enablement. It can handle many use cases in many different vertical industries and if designed to be flexible, scalable and operational in both batch and real-time modes; these can quickly be accommodated through configuration rather than coding.
Billing Mediation is – for now at least – without doubt the technology’s most widely deployed Use Case. But it’s far from the only one. Deployments of mediation technology in Railway ticketing, logistic delivery, postal services management, airline maintenance, utility grid balancing, online gaming and multiple other non-monetization related deployments are increasingly common. And, of course, deployments in telco OSS.
In recent months, the proliferation of mediation technology into the OSS domain has picked up pace. Why now? It’s probably related to the CSP-to-DSP journey many telcos are embarking upon. As operators are being driven to introduce new processes and management tools to fuel service innovation, so they need to integrate and manage an increasingly broad range of new elements (think probes, for example). As a result, mediation’s foothold in OSS is hardening. It’s not just delivering services that matters; it’s delivering them in a way that maximizes their impact and sees revenue potential realized.
The new generation of OSS also encompasses the expanding role of analytics and service assurance. For instance, new Use Cases that analyze service rather than just network resources are now critical. Analytics based on dimensions such as subscribers, handsets and location all rely on access to raw transactional data collected from the network. These evolutions blur the line between traditional OSS and BSS functions and open up possibilities for the Service Provider to better use resources and improve both performance and customer experience.
These new directions are critical. Traditional Analytics and OSS systems were mainly based around processing aggregated counter data. Now, they need to accommodate raw event data at higher volumes and in real-time. Network quality is central to defining service experience yet misconfiguration, damaged equipment, failed upgrades and handset-related problems still often go undetected for long periods. Without the proper tools for creating and acting on information at the network-, customer- and session levels, hidden service problems, lack of root-cause analysis and a failure of pro-active retention activity the next generation future will just repeat the shortcomings of the past. Via a new set of management tools, OSS Mediation can help ensure this doesn’t happen.
Furthermore, OSS tools have historically been network-centric, displaying node health and performance via agreed KPI metrics. This type of OSS monitoring remains an essential part of network management but effective service assurance is now also required. Here, the focus is on measuring how well services are performing and how performance actually affects the subscribers’ service experience. Once Service Assurance is added to traditional, network-centric OSS, service performance data can be contextualized to deliver impact analysis from an individual customer perspective.
This is mission-critical, not only tied to traditional network views but also tied to subscribers, subscriber groups, handsets and geographical areas. Instead of just monitoring and maximizing OSS by using network performance data, OSS Mediation lets operators support advanced decision-making within BSS and BI systems too.
The challenges of optimizing this new set of OSS requirements are considerable. For instance:
- Multiple Network Data Records need to be merged from a customer perspective to create a unified Customer Service Performance Record.
- The control plane must be linked to User plane records.
- Data must be correlated in real time.
- Data must be enriched with location information.
- State needs to be kept to understand who is where when a negative impact occurs.
It’s in part because OSS Mediation is both adaptable and easy to deploy that using mediation to handle the above is an attractive option. Java-based and adjustable by configuration rather than coding, with pre-verified integration to various equipment, systems and databases from leading vendors as standard, and with many protocols and interfaces available off-the-shelf, telcos can quickly use it to gain control over their businesses.
Integration with external systems for data exchange is achieved through plug-ins, which implement the protocols to be used when communicating with other systems. To give an example, take a Use Case where call trace data must be collected from multiple sources in the radio, core and IMS planes and then merged and enriched. While these are complex challenges, OSS Mediation technology is inherently designed to acquire and process extreme volumes of data records from a large variety sources. It has the ability to correlate data from different network segments in real-time.
OSS Mediation can also optimize performance by supporting new KPIs. This enhances competitiveness. Data records collected from network elements contain information that is related to quality of experience, actions and behaviors, and performance taking place in the network. Telcos can use OSS Mediation to create and categorize the specific metrics they wish to track in collected network data and then calculate KPIs for each one in different dimensions.
For instance, valuable information such as the actual Quality of Service that a specific customer segment is experiencing can be quickly and easily seen, or how network elements in a crowded geographical area are performing. Such dynamic KPIs are a cornerstone of both effective customer experience and network management.
Again, agility and speed are attractive. Calculations are based on easily configurable service models that specify the relations between the various entities, for example metrics, dimensions and KPIs themselves. Configuration of the service model is done via an open API, so no business logic need be involved.
Another OSS Mediation Use Case, Experience-based Charging, provides a clear example of the benefits of enriching OSS data with BSS data so that network activity can be tied back to the experience of an individual subscriber. This ‘horizontal approach’ with both BSS, OSS and policy data consolidated leads to innovative, ‘blended’ actions being taken that improve profitability and reduce churn. It also paves the way towards a future where the BSS and OSS silos will be broken.
Another salient feature of OSS Mediation is its ability to handle real-time data sources. It is designed to cope with both batch data (CDRs, XDRs, logs, etc) and real-time data flows (Active-Passive network probes, AAA systems; basically, socket-based performance data from any network node). Data-in-motion can easily be converted into valuable real-time actions.
In light of all this, it’s perhaps no surprise that mediation is rapidly becoming a central component in the management of OSS. Two tier-1 carrier groups (on two different continents) have already deployed mediation technology purposed to address OSS Use Cases in the early months of this year alone. A growing number of vendors are using a term unknown twenty-four months ago.
Keith Brody is Head of Communications at DigitalRoute where Ola Billinger is responsible for leading the company’s OSS Mediation initiative. Together, they are the authors of a book, “Inside the Bits Guide to OSS Mediation”. You can order a free copy at www.digitalroute.com