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OSS and BSS systems are increasingly being called upon to support multi-play and multi-screen services. Anna Tobin surveys recent developments.

Now we can watch TV on our telephones and shop for telephones on our TVs. We can download VOD on to our PCs and surf the net on our tablets. We can play with our media in so many different ways and watch it in so many different formats, resulting in a myriad of different revenue streams.
The challenge is to find a business support system (BSS) and operational support system (OSS) that can support and build on the existing and emerging payments for services available to the viewer. This is further complicated by the growing push towards bundled triple and quad-play offerings.

OSS and BSS play a critical role in the provisioning, activation and monitoring of multi-play and multi-screen services, says Tom Lybarger, assistant vice president, OSS practice at communications product provider Aricent. “OSS plays a critical role in establishing service setup. It must ensure that available bandwidth exists, proper equipment is in place, and that the ongoing services meet agreed Service Quality objectives and customer expectations [QoE] metrics,” he says. “The role of the BSS and OSS systems is to coordinate the activities and register the event – and be able to charge by the MB, GB, event, time, or any other parameter that’s chosen by the operator or subscriber.”
The ideal BSS and OSS system in this context not only helps the service provider to reduce churn and guarantees service delivery, it is also pivotal in pushing additional services to the end-users. Spurred on by cross-product discounts, viewers can be turned from single-service consumers to double, triple and quad-play service consumers. The more tentacles of the same octopus the operator has reaching out to the viewer, the harder they will find it to ever disentangle themselves from its services, and switch companies.

“This is why most of the currently deployed OSS and BSS systems provide some element of convergence, which may incorporate several aspects,” says Tangi Lemoine, solution expert at business software provider SAP. “At a BSS level it can start by providing a single invoice to customers for all services and go up to real time cross-product discounts between services. At the OSS level it can be providing an architecture aligning several services regardless of the end device, up to providing technical interaction between these devices.”

Marketing dream

Those service provider players that are increasingly operating on a dual model, mixing advertising revenue with the pay-TV model, can further leverage the picture that they can build up of their unified consumer from their OSS and BSS systems.
A flexible and convergent BSS and OSS system is a sales and marketing department’s dream tool. It is able to use the information it holds on customers to successfully sell them related products. And, as Michael Huffman, marketing manager, billing and active customer management at value-added services software and systems provider Comverse, points out, it’s easier to sell additional services to an existing customer than it is to hook an entirely new one. “Operators know a great deal more about an existing customer than just some name on a list,” he explains. “With this customer intelligence, an operator should be able to target offers more precisely, or better yet deliver the solicitation when triggered by user behaviour. For example, while the user is watching a movie starring a particular actor it can promote VOD for other movies starring that actor. All these advantages require that the BSS ecosystem see the whole individual and recognise what services they have and don’t have, as well as be able to recognise ‘trigger’ behaviour. The best way to ensure this single view is complete and current is with a single, unified BSS solution.”

“The growing experience of customers in the areas of convergence, IPTV and interactive services will force changes in the OSS/BSS domains.”
Piotr Machnik, Comarch

Operators do now seem to be taking the idea of convergence more seriously, says Piotr Machnik, business development centre director, telecommunications business unit, for IT business solutions provider Comarch. “The silo-based approach was a reasonably efficient method for communication service providers during the first phase of IPTV technology and consumer market testing,” he says. “Now, I think that the growing experience of customers in the areas of convergence, IPTV and interactive services, and intelligent equipment in cars and homes, will force changes in the OSS/BSS domains. Existing silo-based architectures will need to be transformed towards convergent and SOA-based architectures, because the development of mass OTT services, network sharing models, service and revenue sharing, managed services and cloud services based on silo architecture will be too costly and inefficient.”
Towards Convergence

We are definitely seeing a move towards convergence. Although many multi-screen operators are tending to offer pay-TV bundled with PC-VOD first, with the facility to add mobile to the package in the future as demand grows. “Here’s the predominant scenario,” says Rick Mallon, vice-president of product management, Sigma Systems. “A customer buys a subscription to pay-TV and gains access to certain content via a mix of channel packages and a la carte selections, for example, movie channels. When a TV over PC offer is added, the customer gets a user ID and password access to a web portal that provides a guide to a subset of the content purchased through the pay-TV subscription. OSS/BSS systems manage the authentication and content access across all of the screens.”
They may not state so publicly but most operators, whatever they’re bundling from IPTV to cable, broadband to hybrid DTH, will see a converged OSS and billing system as the ideal set up. But in the current global financial market, where operators are finding it difficult to borrow money for investment, many companies have no option but to postpone their ultimate goal and rely on a series of legacy systems. With new hardware and software bolted on, however, it is not impossible to get these systems talking to each other, even if it’s just a short-term solution to both keeping afloat and accommodating growth.
“With a really elegant joined-up OSS and BSS ecosystem, you can start delivering customised offerings and promotions to that consumer across multiple devices. We have systems that allow that single unified view across multiple devices, and across legacy systems, to be able to address that end-user wherever they may be, with engaging and relevant offers,” says Stephen Petheram, marketing director of payment and billing solutions provider MGt. “The single view approach is the way to go because it allows the broadcaster, to own the individual relationships with viewers without having to rely on others to serve their customers. It is not a ’dig up and replace’ scenario for OSS/BSS. This functionality can be enabled via a layer of intelligent APIs that can be laid on top, interfacing with those legacy systems and aggregating the data into a single view.”

A clean slate

The general consensus seems to be that it doesn’t have to be a case of out with the old and in with the new for everyone, but to remain competitive, operators need to either dump any silo-based architecture or adapt it so that it can interact with other revenue streams and mine them to further grow income.
The economies of scale that can be achieved, however, by opting for an entirely new system based on one common architecture supporting various platforms could pay back the initial investment quicker than might otherwise have been expected. Used effectively, the flexibility that a converged system can offer and its enhanced ability to react to transient market needs can give an instant boost to existing customer revenue streams.
“Not too long ago cable and satellite operators spoke of core and ancillary services. Their core billing system had a small number of hard-coded subscription plans, was premises-centric and ‘sacred’. When they began to offer broadband access, VoIP or even VOD, an adjunct biller was added,” says Huffman at Comverse. “But these ancillary services are now a significant part of operators’ revenues, and accordingly CSPs are asking for convergent solutions that allow them to efficiently and effectively monetise their more diverse and expanding services portfolio. Comverse has been delivering customer-centric BSS solutions to some of the leading cable and satellite providers in Europe, including to multiple Sky and UPC properties. We are currently helping Telenet in Belgium evolve from triple to quad-play, by implementing a prepaid charging solution for mobile, VoD and IP-services. Telenet’s challenge is that they had a postpaid-only BSS for video, VoIP and broadband access given their traditional cable roots. They have now decided to offer mobile and data services on a prepaid basis. To enable this business model extension, Telenet has chosen to implement our converged pre-paid/post-paid solution first for prepaid customers, then to later migrate their existing post paid customer base to the new converged solution.”

“With a really elegant joined-up OSS and BSS ecosystem, you can start delivering customised offerings and promotions to that consumer across multiple devices.”
Stephen Petheram, MGt

The long-term benefits gained by destroying some of the technical and political silos that exist in companies outweigh the short-term burden this creates, says Lemoine at SAP. “At BSS level, this convergence can be tackled gradually from the financial end of the spectrum,” says Lemoine. “It is possible to use a convergent invoicing system to first create one single bill for all products sold and, as such, one stream of money to collect; from then on, it is possible to gradually introduce a convergent rating engine to take more and more responsibilities. This would allow real time cross-product controls and discounts. As an example, the switch from multiple billing systems to a single system allowed one Canadian cable operator to reduce the number of invoice-related calls that were made by customers to customer care agents by 25%, reduce the postage and print costs by 15% and overall reduce significantly the net bad debt thanks to a common financial view and common collecting strategy.”
The idea of a ‘single-view’ of the customer coupled with a single bill for services is an end goal for most, and as the market is still in its infancy, video bills aren’t actually changing too much as most operators are offering TV-over-PC services at no additional cost. Mallon at Sigma Systems foresees this getting slightly more complicated as operators start to add a surcharge for these extra services.
“After the converged service becomes popular and adoption of the TV-over-PC service grows, operators will then insert a price increase to the basic pay-TV subscription to gain ARPU growth,” he says.
Michelle Nowak, global director, cable, broadband and satellite at relationship management solutions provider Convergys doesn’t like this popular industry phrase ‘single view’. She says: “The customer is looking not only for that single statement, but that consistent and persistent experience at all channels, be they at a kiosk, on the internet, etc. Wherever you start an order you do not expect to have to repeat what you’ve already done on the web, to the call centre. You want to offer a consistent and persistent customer experience across all touch points.”

New Entrants

It is the traditional media players, such as conventional terrestrial broadcasters and other new incumbents, such as magazine publishers, who will increasingly look to push their content across pay platforms and over-the-top players such as Apple and Google, who are set to benefit most from the converged systems.

“It is the new entrants who are most often looking to next generation solutions as they have the inherent flexibility to benefit from them,” says Nowak at Convergys.

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With no history in the pay market, they are perfectly placed to become the early adopters of the latest technology in the field, particularly micro-payment services, such as that offered by MGt’s new product, PayWizard. They could, however, take the easy option and entrust their distribution and customer management to a third party, such as a platform operator acting as a content aggregator, but they may come to realise that they’ve handed over the family jewels, says Petheram at MGt.

“They might get to the market faster by simply becoming part of someone else’s platform, and no doubt the platform operator really knows its business,” says Petheram. “But at the same time, the content creator or content owner is forgoing the opportunity to have a direct relationship with and a thorough understanding of the viewer, and all of the business benefits that can result from that. Also, they are giving a significant part of their revenues to the platform operator for managing the viewers’ payments. Eventually these broadcasters may want to manage the customer relationship themselves.”
Time will tell how this fledgling industry will develop. Ultimately, if the architecture, be it an entirely new OSS/BSS set up or an effective marriage of legacy and new equipment, can support the existing and emerging end-to-end services on offer, everything should literally pay off.

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