By Suhail Thusu, senior solution consulting manager, Tecnotree
Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are reliant on their Business Support Systems (BSS) to manage their customers, revenues, payments and organizational functions.
Over the years, CSPs have put a lot of thought and work into the efficient management of BSS components. CSPs have transitioned from their monolithic age to modular components, maturing into having specialized product offerings such as customer relationship manager, product catalog, revenue, billing and order manager. Further improvements were also achieved with effective use of underlying infrastructure for application deployment with the introduction of Virtualization technology.
Traditionally, system deployments were done in secure on-premises data centers, which became the collateral responsibility of CSPs. This allowed CSPs to be in control of the data and meet various regulatory and obligatory demands of data security and privacy as defined by governing authorities. However, this also meant that CSPs had to divert their energies into building competencies around building and managing data centers, which came at an exponential cost, especially when there was a need to manage more than one data center or disaster recovery site. This responsibility came with its own unique challenges, including ensuring the availability of infrastructure resources to handle uncertain traffic, building redundancies to maintain high levels of failure tolerance and consistent refreshing of infrastructure after life-cycle completion. This required:
- Procurement and alliance management teams to work with multiple third-party vendors
- Addressing system utilization challenges with timely capacity management
- Continuous operational activities/process of patches and upgrades
- Huge capital and operational expenses
The new-era offerings with amalgamation and partnership across the boundaries of verticals allow subscribers to achieve what they need with just a few service providers, instead of running around to various vendors for each kind of offering that suits their digital needs. It is worth noting that the way CSPs deliver their services creates a huge impact on the way enterprises such as Edu-Tech and Fintech can run their businesses. In other words, it is critical that CSPs can onboard partners, create and launch bundles and offerings from various segments/geographies and be able to manage the customers as well as track the overall partnership. Enterprises and CSPs want to future-proof their business, and for that, the complete process should work like a well-oiled machine. This has become ever more important in the present day, where things like the COVID-19 pandemic or shortage of semiconductors can cost them heavily and hinder their growth.
Moreover, the telecom industry is also witnessing a landmark technological advancement with the advent of 5G, where the market size is estimated to reach 249.2 billion UST by 2026. 5G connectivity is going to be a paradigm shift for CSPs with newer B2B, B2C and B2B2X business avenues. It is also going to accentuate growth across other industry verticals like medical, automotive, transport and logistics, to name a few, and is going to revolutionize IoT use cases like smart homes and smart cities.
As CSPs are preparing for the rollout of 5G connectivity standards, it is becoming clear that they will have to modernize their legacy systems to rake in the benefits of 5G because those systems were not built to cater to such use cases.
It has become critical for CSPs to be able to transform their business to launch new customer-centric telco and B2X/B2B2X services at a rapid pace. CSPs need to look at solutions which are efficient, scalable and interoperable to unlock the full potential of 5G. To do that, a radical cultural mindset and skillset changes are required together with an adoption of an open, modern, software technology that is modular, resilient, highly available and scalable.
Cloud-native solutions play a critical role in this. Cloud-native is an application architecture principle where the objective is to have loosely coupled services that can be deployed, managed and scaled individually, empowering CSPs on their continuous journey of digital transformation. It provides benefits like agility, reusability, scalability and high availability.
Cloud-native solutions are built considering four primary guiding principles – microservice, containerization, DevOps as well as continuous integration/delivery. Microservices architecture is an application development principle where each service caters to a specific business requirement. Microservices are packaged as containers and can be deployed and managed at the most granular level. DevOps practices of continuous integration and continuous delivery allow offshore/onsite development while ensuring all deployments go through a single test and deployment chain, resulting in the development and deployment of newer services with zero or no downtime.
Cloud-native applications can be scaled up or down to cater to traffic spikes while ensuring there is no service disruption or service lag. Deployment failures, rollbacks and last-minute decision changes also do not impact the end subscribers, thereby increasing their stickiness towards the CSP. Cloud-native applications can be deployed in an on-premises environment. However, their true potential is within a cloud platform where the cloud environment provides inherent features like scalability, elasticity, resiliency and flexibility. This means CSPs no longer have to focus on building data centers or do large upfront financial commitments, but their spend is only limited to the consumption of APIs and related cloud infrastructure resources. This has a direct impact on the huge CAPEX/OPEX spending of CSPs.
Most CSPs are currently running either huge monolithic or functionally modular on-premises solutions, and a step-by-step approach to migration is recommended. Transformation of front-end applications followed by back-end applications might be ideal in most scenarios. While cloud-native applications open improved ways of managing the business for CSPs and enterprises, it is also important to understand that the transformation of long-running legacy systems is not easy, and a thorough analysis is required to devise a strategy for this transition to happen successfully. There are primarily two ways to do this: rehosting (or “lift-and-shift”) existing applications or moving to cloud-native applications. There is already some consensus emerging around the fact that the lift-and-shift of existing applications is more difficult than going for applications that are inherently cloud-native in nature.
Profitability comes with a prime mover’s advantage, and 5G offers a wide spectrum of monetization opportunities to both CSPs and enterprises. This requires them to provide a stellar customer experience while ensuring that they can provide top-quality products and services in a secure manner. This calls for a change at the fundamental levels of designing and deploying applications within their ecosystem, and cloud-native applications will play a vital role in this transition.