Features

Negotiating telecoms contracts can be a daunting prospect but, as David Warren explains, there's no gain without pain

Having squeezed out 'low hanging' inefficiencies, organisations are now turning to review their telecommunications cost structure on a European scale. The money enterprises spend on telecommunications services has long been considered a cost of doing business.
Yet, in today's business environment, no area of spend is sacred -- especially with expenditure on telecommunications amounting to one to two per cent of sales. A good telecommunications review could reduce the investment by 20-25 per cent. Repeated every one to two years, those savings could continue at 10-15 per cent.
In recent years, national players in telecommunications are being challenged by global carriers who, in turn, are being challenged by pan-European suppliers. Business models for pricing are being rewritten. We are juggling with 'postalisation' of rates, voice over IP, escalation of mobile usage, a switch to the receiver paying (through freephone numbers), and volume -- not distance -- pricing as data becomes the prominent form of traffic.

Corporate lethargy

But there remains a corporate lethargy for action.  National contracts, in many cases, remain untouched.  Business users, although dictating and escalating the expenditure, are not taking responsibility for it.  Telecoms suppliers are making the most of the profitability window.
  Daunted by complexity, inaction is understandable.  But it is better to instigate a review than to have a review instigated on you.
Having decided the time is right -- how do you get started? Renegotiation of a telecommunications contract or contracts is similar to any other legal agreement and just as serious. To embark on a review the telecoms manager(s) responsible must begin with a phase of Discovery. The Discovery Phase may need to take place within each of your operating territories. Each territory will need to work together to ensure that all parties involved are fully aware of the parameters and ambitions of the review. This first step is critical to a successful contract, as it informs you of the complete telecoms expenditure of your organisation. The fact is that most users don't know what they have, what they use and what they are paying for.
It is worth noting that decisions defining mobile needs are different to traditional voice services and very nationally focused. International mobile communications are on the increase and charges for these services are very expensive, and international roaming makes this very difficult to control. The actual charges are very dependant upon the various supplier partnerships in place in each country and the network provider used for the home network. Mobile on a European basis therefore warrants a different, but linked, evaluation and negotiation. 
The Discovery Phase is followed with a renegotiation. Renegotiation should begin with a sharing of the discovery findings with the incumbent supplier(s), along with your strategic plans and projections for the future. The incumbent should be given the opportunity to respond.   One time out of five the vendor team responds successfully. Often the vendor escalates the review within their organisation: if this happens 50 per cent of the escalations provide a favourable response.
Risk is a prerequisite to an effective telecom services agreement. To obtain favourable rates and concessions from vendors, telecom customers must convince vendors that they are willing to change service providers. Put simply: clients considered to be 'at risk' get the best prices.
If successful the review process can end there. But, if not, it will move on to the time consuming process of Request for Proposal (RFP), a second renegotiation, then if necessary wider circulation of the RFP, final selection, negotiation, award and conversion. One way to ease the pain of this process is to use proxy bids based on market data to test the proposal of your incumbent organisation. The results of similar discoveries conducted at other customer organisations provide a comparative context, allowing negotiations to be based on actual market rates.

Priorities in the RFP

f you get to RFP, three priorities for inclusion are: pricing linked to market rates, annual reviews and demanding quality of service parameters.
1) Firstly, with regard to pricing, the RFP should insist that vendors commit to coming within 15 per cent of the current market prices and be explicit and not tied to controlled price lists or confidential contracts.     
2) The second 'must' is to include a contractual provision for annual renegotiations against market rates, to allow for adjustments in response to new market conditions and changing business requirements. Flexibility can also be enhanced through a low minimum annual commitment, which should be less than 66 per cent of expected annual spend.
3) And finally, to ensure quality of service, the terms must include non-linear credits for service outages. What I mean by this is that telecom agreements are typically structured so that, in the event of a service outage, the vendor provides 'credits' for additional service, rather than a monetary payment. If the penalty isn't sufficiently painful, the vendor may prefer to dole out credits rather than to fix an underlying problem causing outages. An effective contract must therefore escalate penalties after each outage. An escalated penalty structure provides the telecom vendor with a clearincentive  to ensure that the cause of the initial outage is investigated and addressed, in order to prevent future problems. For the customer, meanwhile, quality of service is ensured.
After the RFP is prepared, give your supplier the opportunity for a second renegotiation. If this fails to achieve the concessions you require publish the RFP to the wider competition.This does not necessarily mean a change in vendor; indeed most often the incumbent retains the business.   
RFP response assessment will most likely uncover two best responses with which the final negotiations take place. Both organisations should discuss the strategic view of their businesses and ensure a mutual fit in ambition over the coming years. If a new carrier is chosen,  conversion must be managed as smoothly and amicably as possible. The vendor's ability to execute this conversion transparently from the end-user point of view will set the tone for the life of the contract.
This process needs to be repeated for each carrier in each territory. Phasing is important, as there may be opportunities for one supplier to offer a service across several other territories, or for one supplier to operate across all territories, in the style of an international managed service. More and more businesses, in our experience, are taking this approach.
So you have concluded negotiations and agreed on your carrier(s) of choice. But it's not over.

Carrier pre-select

Carrier pre-select is another feature that is driving down telecommunication rates, as companies can use different carriers for different purpose: taking advantage of time of day discounts for one carrier, and favourable international rates for another, while using mainstream carriers for the majority of their telecommunications requirements. 
A bit like deciding whether to take the train, bus or car for a particular journey, these decisions can be made on the 'fly'. There is, however, a limit to the complexity that is appropriate to build in. For the most part, large companies are continuing with single contracts with mainstream carriers, but increasingly medium sized companies are using carrier pre-select. To compete, traditional carriers must respond with favourable pricing that competes with the incentive to use pre-select.

Get out and be proactive

As customers demand more, in the coming months and years, telecoms suppliers must get out and be proactive: once a customer has started the review process the supplier is on the back foot. Carriers should take new pricing models to their customers proactively and demonstrate how they can save them money and the carrier can keep a profitable loyal customer. 
Similarly telecoms manager must remember that suppliers are running profitable businesses: squeezing prices into oblivion will not do you or them any favours.  Understand the true market pricing and be realistic.  Forcing short-term cost cutting as far as possible    doesn't work either.
Both parties want a strong ongoing relationship: for the supplier it means more business; for the customer it means simplicity. It can still be a 'customer for life' approach, this time based on open relationship building on both sides.
In summary, telecoms costs are typically one to two per cent of a company's sales. Yet most users don't know what they have, what they're using, or what they're paying for. It's not uncommon for enterprises to have multiple telecoms contracts covering the same services, and to pay several times for the same service. Effective negotiations and management of telecom contracts can have a measurable impact on a business' financial performance. Telecoms managers can drive this change and ensure a profitable relationship, on both sides.

David Warren is managing consultant specialising in telecommunications, at Compass Management Consulting, and can be contacted via tel: +44 1483 514500 e-mail: info@compassmc.co.uk

As potential breaches of IT security become reality, the cost of doing nothing could be severe. And, as Craig Pollard explains, it's not just data that needs tightened security...

In today's business environment, IT network security is vitally important, with security breaches across voice and data networks growing by the day. Emotive terms such as 'cyber attack' and 'cyber-terrorism' are always certain to generate plenty of media excitement, with science-fiction visions of malevolent hackers creating vicious computer viruses to rampage through cyberspace, doing unseen and untold damage to the infrastructures that support our way of life. However, while the reality of IT security is far more mundane than such science-fiction ideas, the threat to a network from malicious attack remains real and the consequences just as frightening. Every business is dependent upon information technology, which brings with it inevitable vulnerability.
Dark rumours of underground hacker networks and conferences give rise to the belief in a vast and growing number of aggressive, deliberately destructive hackers. Significantly, the methods these hackers adopt to gain unauthorised access to corporate resources are now also extending to embrace telecommunications systems.

The terrorist threat

he hacker phenomenon has a serious and far-reaching influence. Were communications on two continents ever disrupted by moving telecommunications satellites? Have computing resources belonging to government agencies ever been hacked? Have environmental controls in a shopping centre ever been altered via a modem? The answer to all of these questions is yes. But, unlike other crime groups who receive high profile coverage in the media, the individuals responsible for these incidents are rarely caught.
As if that is not enough, unauthorised use of telecommunications facilities is the preferred methodology for people who sympathise or support terrorist organisations, and want their activities to remain invisible.
The French authorities studying the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, for example, are investigating whether the bombers hacked into the telephone exchange of a bank near Paris as they were planning their attack. The telephone calls involved were made by phreaking -- a practice similar to hacking that bypasses the charging system.

Combating telephony fraud
The PBX is among the most susceptible areas to telecommunications fraud. Typical methods of fraudulent abuse involve the misuse of common PBX functions such as DISA (Direct Inward System Access), looping, call forwarding, voicemail and auto attendant features.
Another area popular for frequent fraudulent exploitation is the maintenance port of PBXs. Hackers often use the dial-up modem attached to such ports to assist in remote maintenance activities. When a PBX is linked to an organisation's IT network -- as is increasingly the case with call centres, for instance -- a poorly protected maintenance port can offer hackers an open and undefended 'back door' into such critical assets as customer databases and business applications.

When things go wrong

It is clearly important to balance the cost of securing your voice infrastructure from attack against the cost of doing nothing. The consequences from inaction can include:
*  Direct financial loss through fraudulent call misuse (internal or external)
*  Missed cost saving opportunities through identification on surplus circuits
*  Adverse publicity, damage to reputation and loss of customer confidence
*  Litigation and consequential financial loss
*  Loss of service and inability to dispense contractual obligations
*  Regulatory fines or increased regulatory supervision
As is the trend with hacking data networks, the threat to PBXs comes primarily from within. For example, an employee, a contractor, or even a cleaner could forward an extension in a seldom-used meeting room to an overseas number and make international calls by calling a local rate number in the office.
The perpetrator could likewise be the beneficiary of a premium rate telephone number in this country or abroad and continue to leave phones off the hook or on a re-direct to that number netting thousands of pounds in illicit gains in a weekend.
And, of course, let's not forget about the new telecommunications technologies which are based around open communications via the Internet. These include IP-driven PBXs supported by all the adjunct devices, the deployment of CTS (Computerised Telephone Systems), CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) and Voice over IP.  The introduction of these technologies means IT and telecoms managers need now to become even more alert to prevent new and existing threats that are typically associated with data networks, now impacting upon voice networks. Without diligent attention, telecoms systems are in grave danger of becoming the weak link in the network and utterly defenceless against targeted attacks by hackers.

Practical measures

So, what practical measures can telecom or IT managers take to help prevent becoming a victim of telecom fraud?
One of the most effective approaches to improving the security of telephony systems includes conducting regular audits of:
*  Station privileges and restrictions
*  Voice and data calling patterns
*  Public and private network routing access
*  Automatic route selection
*  Software defined networks
*  Private switched and tandem networks
*  System management and maintenance capabilities
*  Auto attendant and voicemail
*  Direct inward system access (DISA)
*  Call centre services (ACD)
*  Station message detail reporting
*  Adjunct system privileges
*  Remote maintenance protection
*  Primary cable terminations and physical security of the site and equipment rooms
Other measures include reviewing the configuration of your PBX against known hacking techniques, comparing configuration details against best practice and any regulatory requirements that may pertain to your industry sector.
Ensure default voicemail and maintenance passwords are changed and introduce a policy to prevent easily guessable passwords being used. Make sure that the policy demands regular password changes and take steps to ensure the policy is enforced.
Installing a call logging solution, to provide notification of suspicious activity on your PBX, is a useful measure and one that can often give valuable early warning of an attack. In addition, review existing PBX control functions that might be at risk or which could allow errors to occur.
Be aware that many voice systems now have an IP address and are therefore connected to your data network. Therefore, you must assess what provisions you have to segment both networks. Security exposures can also result from the way multiple PBX platforms are connected across a corporate network or from interconnectivity with existing applications.
Research and investigate operating system weaknesses, including analytical findings, manufacturer recommendations, prioritisation and mitigation or closure needs -- and implement a regular schedule of reviewing server service packs, patches, hot-fixes and anti-virus software.
Finally, formalise and instigate a regular testing plan that includes prioritisation of the elements and components to be assessed, and supplement this by conducting a series of probing exercises to confirm the effectiveness of the security controls used.
To achieve this level of security on a voice network requires an advanced level of expertise. Insight and Siemens are drawing on their combined skills and experience in information security and telephony solutions to introduce a new portfolio of voice security services that provide a comprehensive approach to mitigating the threats that voice networks face.
These services include security audits, vulnerability assessments, incident response, forensic investigation as well as telecom policy review and development. All services will be compatible with voice equipment from Avaya, Cisco, Ericsson, Nortel, Mitel, Siemens and others.                                                   

Insight Consulting, a division of Siemems plc, are exhibiting at Infosecurity Europe on the 26th - 28th April 2005 in the Grand Hall, Olympia.
www.infosec.co.uk

Craig Pollard, Head of Security Solutions, Siemens Communications

This year's TeleManagement World looks set to provide a platform for the most pressing telecoms issues of the day

This year's TeleManagement World event (Nice, France, May 16 - 19) is expected to be the TM Forum's biggest and most successful event ever, as the telecom industry finally returns to something approaching normality. After three years of hunkering down and trimming costs, telecom operators are now gearing up to invest in next generation services. And the evidence will be at TeleManagement World's Catalyst Showcase.
TM Forum Catalysts Projects are where OSS/BSS suppliers combine to produce integrated solutions by following the TM Forum's specifications and guidelines. The objective is to produce a prototype solution, which can then be demonstrated to potential customers. TM Forum calls its Catalyst Program a 'Living Lab' because of its pragmatic, customer-driven approach -- and it claims that the level of participation in the Catalyst Showcase can be taken as a bellwether for the health of the sector.
This year TeleManagement World is set to host the greatest number of Catalyst Projects in its Catalyst Showcase feature since 2001, at the very  peak of the boom. The Catalyst Showcase is an area at TeleManagement World devoted to demonstrating multi-vendor demonstrator projects that have been developed to TM Forum specifications, such as eTOM (enhanced Telecommunications Operations Map) and SID, the data and integration model. 
"This time around we've had a complete resurgence," says Debbie Burkett, TM Forum's director of market collaboration. "We have 10 Catalysts and, better yet, the scope is wider than ever before."
According to Burkett the fact that all the Catalyst Projects are sponsored by at least one service provider (sometimes several) proves that there is real procurement intent behind the activity. "In a healthy industry the Catalysts are viewed as a way of developing quick prototypes," she says.
And the range of Catalysts is broader this year. As well as Catalyst Projects exploring aspects of the TM Forum's core NGOSS (new generation operations systems and software) Burkett points out that there are Catalysts targeting topics such as process management, content billing, and revenue assurance. "And most of them are new subjects, rather than being second or third phases of earlier projects," she points out.
While the increase in Catalyst Projects and sponsors is a sign that service providers are preparing to spend on OSS/BSS, the specific topics chosen provide insight into the new directions that the spending might take.
A key unifying concept within the TM Forum is the idea of 'lean operations': a catalogue of best practice for service providers facing a highly competitive 21st century market.

Pre-requisite for survival

According to the TM Forum, lean operations aren't a feel-good aspiration -- they're a pre-requisite for survival as prices spiral downwards and liberalisation and consolidation intensify competition. Lean service providers find ways to reduce costs and, at the same time, generate more revenue by getting to market with value-laden services to beat the competition. So lean doesn't mean chopping operations to the bone. It means making them both more efficient and more responsive and agile.
The work of the TM Forum is about promoting this 'lean' idea: to assist service providers complete the required metamorphosis from slightly paunchy, sometimes overly bureaucratic organisations that often arrange their procedures to suit themselves rather than their customers, to customer-facing organisations that prize continuous change and improvement.
One place to start with a makeover on this scale is with the very DNA of any service provider: its business processes. All organisations have processes -- Business Process Management (BPA) is a way of codifying and then managing them in a structured way, and the technique is an up-and-coming one within telecoms.              A Catalyst demonstration at TeleManagement World will show how the technology can be used to drive speedier change in service provider businessprocesses  such as Service Fulfilment and Supplier Partner Management. 
Another Catalyst will demonstrate how processes can be measured and monitored. The Business Activity Monitoring Catalyst will show a system tapping into the information that flows between applications, in real-time, to show business performance. This treats a telecom business as if it were a network requiring management -- not only can instant action be taken if the equivalent of an 'alert' appears, (say, customer fulfilment not being processed efficiently for the last two days) but, as with network management, trends can be monitored and improvements to the way the business is actually organised can be made.

A live issue

Revenue Assurance (techniques to actually bank the money you've earned) is always a live issue in telecoms. The TM Forum's Revenue Assurance team will present a Catalyst to demonstrate how revenue assurance systems can plug revenue leakages by checking customer bills against provisioned services, making sure that the right customer is using the right service (and paying for it).
Data and Content Charging will become a big issue, especially in the mobile sector as it moves rapidly towards third generation services, which will rely more heavily on data and content to turn a profit. The business relationships required to deliver profitable content are complex and will also change as the services evolve.
The TM Forum's Data and Content Charging team will use the Catalyst Showcase to demonstrate a flexible architecture designed to spread across today's borders of fixed and mobile environments. The architecture will involve third party arrangements as well as customer self-generated content and a wide variety of business relationships will be catered for.
Pragmatism may be the watchword for many of the demonstrations, but more strategic issues will also be aired in the Catalyst showcase. An MDA  (model driven architecture) Catalyst will demonstrate how the TM Forum's NGOSS framework could be implemented using MDA-based tools to integrate OSS components.
  Another strategic issue will be aired by the Open OSS Catalyst, the first ever Open OSS demonstration.  Open OSS may prove to be a very important strand in the TM Forum's technical work. The idea is to provide open source, free components which can be extended to provide TM Forum members with a permanent and evolvable OSS test bed and base of reference software.
The intention is not to create carrier class open source software, says the team developing the Catalyst, but to exploit the open source development approach to stimulate collaboration between different organisations.
These Catalyst demonstrations will have an appreciative audience at Nice and the OSS/BSS industry is expecting a steady up-tick in interest and orders from the service providers who visit TeleManagement World. However, unlike in the boom days of the late 1990s, there will be no spending gold rush. Instead, service providers will be looking to carefully choose systems which will help them bring services to market more quickly and, most important, help them to reduce operations costs.
This is where the TM Forum's Catalyst Program shows its worth, says Burkett, since it showcases suppliers in combination, focusing on their ability to produce integrated OSS/BSS solutions that solve real problems, rather than just push individual components. The increased popularity of the Catalysts is also an indication that suppliers understand the value of working together.
 "I would say about 50 per cent of the benefit for the vendors participating in the catalysts is technical -- it's an ideal way to develop prototype systems.
"The other 50 per cent is about building relationships with other suppliers," she claims. "What starts as a tactical, short term relationship to accomplish a particular prototype solution, can end up as a strategic long-term relationship."                                             

www.tmforum.org

Some major challenges face network operators seeking to provide customers with technologies which are both resilient and offer high performance. Chris Hamilton explains

In the emerging multi-service access network environment, there are two major challenges to network providers. First, there is an ever-growing list of advanced IP-based services that operators will have to support on multi-service access node equipment at the network edge. The second challenge is that many of the most profitable service flows will require resiliency.
Network providers must now maintain a variety of boxes to support multiple services. Some, like e-mail, file transfer protocol (FTP) and traditional web access have low QoS (see Figure 1, right) and resiliency requirements, while others -- such as carrier grade VoIP and multi-media services -- require both high quality of service and high levels of delivery reliability.
The problem is that many of these new services -- which require real-time latencies in the milli- to micro-second range -- must be delivered over the non-real time 'best effort'-based Internet, with its variable queuing delays on network routers, dropped packets, and lengthy re-routing restoration mechanisms that are on the order of seconds to tens of seconds. The delay/jitter problem in IP/MPLS transport networks that are 'private', i.e. non-Internet based, is still a substantial issue to be addressed but is not quite as severe as in Internet-based systems.
As they currently stand, most pre-existing efforts to come up with the necessary QoS and service resiliency have particular problems that do not offer their application to the broader problem: they are too focused on a particular network topology, are specific to particular services, or are too slow.
But one serious drawback they all share is that rather than protect service data flow, they instead focus on protecting the network links or equipment nodes. As a result, they are all-or-nothing solutions with regard to their ability to protect a given path or node, much less the content that is being sent.
Because these alternative approaches to service resiliency can only guarantee either total protection or none at all, they lack the flexibility and the service identification specificity to address the resiliency needs of any particular service request and are wasteful of bandwidth, equipment, and financial resources.

Flow optimised application service resiliency

Now working its way through the Next Generation Network and International Telecommunications Union standards process is a proposal for a universal flow-optimised application service resiliency (ASR) specification as a fundamental requirement of the next generation telecom network infrastructure that turns traditional approaches to service resiliency on their head.
The primary purpose of the new ASR proposals is to enhance and/or complement current approaches to application service resiliency and to do so by addressing several characteristics of this new network environment that traditional methods have problems satisfying.
Proposed and/or supported by Agere, AT&T, British Telecom, Cisco, Lucent, Nortel, and Sprint, the essential idea behind ASR is redundancy, not of hardware, but of multiple paths and data, and management of both mission-critical and less critical data such that traffic arrives successfully when needed and in the form necessary.
A networking environment that implements ASR will benefit immediately, even with legacy equipment. For example, suppose that 10 per cent of the total bandwidth of a particular path is protected and the primary and secondary paths are of equal bandwidth.
The primary and secondary paths each can carry 10 per cent of duplicate protected traffic and 90 per cent of unprotected, best effort traffic. This translates into a total bandwidth use of 95 per cent. Compare this to the 50 per cent for present either/or techniques that cannot discriminate at the traffic service level and require 100 per cent of the traffic to be protected.
Of course, best results would be achieved with hardware and traffic management network processors optimised for the task. However, if properly implemented, even existing systems with minimal or no fast restoration capability could be retrofitted to perform ASR on an incremental, pay-as-you-go basis.
Such a flow-optimised ASR network architecture would work independently of the packet-transport protocol (IP, Ethernet, ATM, Multi-protocol Layer Switching [MPLS], etc.), or physical transport topology (ring, mesh, star, etc.). More importantly, it would work independently or in conjunction with existing network resiliency mechanisms such as MPLS reroute.

How flow-optimised ASR works

he simplest implementation of the ASR concept is between the two end points of a protected flow. In this scenario, it is assumed the data moving in both directions behaves in the same way. In this case, all subscriber services such as voice, video, and Internet access are concentrated through a home or business gateway device. Consolidated data is sent or received by the gateway over a single broadband link connected to a multi-service access node (MSAN).
If the network has underlying mechanisms in place for fully or partially separate primary and secondary paths, and allow network policy managers to notify the MSAN's control plane processor which flows are to be protected, provisioning can be statically or dynamically configured using SIP session establishment requests.
When the total aggregate flow on the primary path of all service flows arrives from the subscriber to the MSAN, protected flows are identified and replicated. They are then sent to both the primary and secondary paths, which are physically and spatially independent of the primary path.
Under normal circumstances, at the termination end of the protected flow, the router would accept traffic from the primary channel and discard traffic from the secondary one. But in the event of a network failure, the router can make a decision on how to handle it depending on the degree of control needed. The router can detect the disruption on the primary and rapidly switch to the secondary, or data from both paths can be retained, with the NPU making decisions on a packet-by-packet basis as to which flow to discard.

The role of the NPU

At the MSAN, data would flow into a line card where an NPU then handles data path operations such as protocol encapsulation, forwarding, etc., while a general purpose CPU in the control plane performs  corresponding functions on the control path.
For ASR to work effectively, the NP must take on several critical tasks in the MSAN. Most importantly, it must classify the incoming subscriber data to determine if the flow is protected, by inspection of the bits in the packet header that uniquely identify a packet flow.
Once a protected packet or flow is identified, the NPU must assign it a proper priority and buffer it to be scheduled for transmission to both primary and secondary paths. This prioritisation is essential because it gives protected packets precedence over unprotected ones.
Because in most cases NPU classification engines are programmable, the specific classification criteria can be extremely flexible. The packet classification subroutine that is invoked on NPU (see Figure 2, right) initially obtains packet classification information such as physical port number and Ethernet MAC address.
The packet classifier then classifies the incoming packet based on one or more techniques such as exact matching, longest prefix matching, or range checking. The result determines whether the packet should be protected and the corresponding results are returned to the calling process.
At the termination end of the two paths of protected flow, another NPU must classify and identify the protected flows, keeping only the primary flows if the network is operating normally. But if the NPU detects a network outage on the primary flow, it switches over to the secondary one, keeping all data that arrives there and discarding data on the primary flow.

No trade off for designer

The multicast nature of the protected packets requires an NPU architecture designed with efficient multicasting in mind, so the designer does not have to trade off network resiliency for performance.
In addition, the NPU allows buffer management discard/tag decisions to be executed independently on each multicast branch, so congestion of the secondary path will not impact the QoS of the primary path. It is also important that the NPU be able to have sufficient bandwidth and memory resources to handle situations when both the primary and secondary paths must be retained.
In such situations, the NPU will have to make timely milli- and micro-second decisions as to which flow to discard based on criteria such as sequence numbers, timestamps and checksum integrity data. In such cases, it should be possible to perform the equivalent of a fault tolerant 'hitless switchover' since switchover is being decided on a packet-by-packet basis.
The programmable nature of most NPUs means it will ultimately be possible to employ more than one fault detection approach in the same NPU, if such capability has practical application to network operators.

Chris Hamilton, Senior Manager, Agere Systems, can be contacted via tel: +1 610 712 7827; e-mail: cwh1@agere.com

Lynd Morley looks back at this year's 3GSM World Congress

It was cold in Cannes this year. Even the determined visiting joggers, who pound along the Croisette in the early hours, were swathed in woolly hats and gloves.  There was something of a chill in the air from the locals as well, which might, of course, have been in some way connected to the fact that after ten years, the 3GSM World Congress was paying it's last visit to Cannes before decamping to Barcelona next year. Given the significant boost the show delivers to the local economy, it is probably not surprising that, viewing all connected with the Congress as in some way treasonous, the waiters, bartenders and some shopkeepers surpassed even their usually accepted levels of arrogance, indifference and downright rudeness. 
But inside the Palais des Festivals all was warm and glowing -- that is, once you'd recovered from the frostbite contracted while queuing to register. The atmosphere in all five of the exhibition halls was bullish, determined and positively radiant. Indeed the much discussed (and prayed for) recovery in the telecommunications industry could not have been better illustrated than by the sheer numbers at 3GSM this year.  A record 34,000 participants meant that attendance was up by some 20 per cent on last year. Indeed, the number of delegates, exhibitors and visitors swelled the population of Cannes to such an extent that it was near on impossible to find table space to grab a café au lait in any of the cafes around the Palais.
All grist to the mill, of course, as far as the GSM Association and the Informa Group were concerned, underlining -- as such figures do -- the importance of the event in the mobile calendar.
Both organisers and participants were, understandably, keen to stress the growing momentum of 3G, emphasising its continuing development through IMS and HSPDA -- whose imminent arrival has precipitated a rash of roll out plans from the likes of Motorola, Siemens, Nortel, and, of course, Ericsson -- which claims to have set a new HSDPA data transfer world record of 11 Mbits/s. Questions about the availability of appropriate handsets remain, however, in the face of a rather unnerving reticence from handset vendors on the subject (and resurrecting the spectre of handset shortages for 3G roll-out last year), but pundits believe the industry has learned its lesson -- a sentiment echoed by Sony Ericsson vice president, Jan Wareby's statement to the effect that his company will be making products available for trial this year, with commercial volumes during the first half of 2006.
While product launches, partnership plans, and development announcements -- covering every conceivable aspect of the 3G world -- abounded during the show, the buzz was particularly audible around such topics as TV to mobile devices (buzz volume increases with the assertion from Orange that some 60 per cent of its users in France watched live TV on their mobiles); and music (several more decibels on the buzzometer with the announcement of a link-up between Microsoft and Nokia on delivering music to mobile phones).
Reflecting the incredibly wide range of nationalities present at the show -- which drew visitors from the full spectrum of market maturity across different countries around the world -- the 3G community is looking to its future in such countries as China, India, Brazil and Russia, who will, according to Bharti Chairman, Sunil Mittal, provide the next billion GSM customers within three years. The GSM Association and Motorola will help this process along, of course, with their promise to deliver a sub-$40 handset this year, with the aim of reducing to sub-$30 in the future. It could be stressed that such prices are essential to the further spread of GSM, given the GSM Association's own figures   Â© which show that although some 80 per cent of the world's population has access to wireless coverage, only around 25 per cent can actually afford to do so.
3GSM 2005 was, by any measure, a considerable success. Significant announcement were made, networking flourished, and deals were done; exhibitors seemed more than satisfied with attendance levels; the corporate parties were lavish and exuberant; and even those professional whingers, the assembled press, complained considerably less about the media centre facilities.
A fitting farewell, perhaps, to the Cote D'Azur. Next year Barcelona -- and hopefully a better chance of getting that cup of coffee.                                             n         

Just across the road from the Palais des Festivals, the Telecom Valley Gallery set up shop again this year in the famous La Potinieres du Palais.  Boasting much-welcomed heaters in the restaurant's canopy area, the Telecom Gallery offered comparative calm, mixed with that essentially French sense of stylish purposefulness.

Organised by the Telecom Valley Association, in partnership with Cote d'Azur Development (CAD) and Initiative Riviera Technologies (IRT), the Gallery is a showcase of the latest 'made in the Cote d'Azur' wireless technologies. The companies discussing their products and services over an excellent glass of wine (not to mention a superb menu), included Aequalis, Altix-EDS, Atos Origin, Devnet, ETSI, Istar/EADS, NCR Teradata, OrangeFrance, Philips Semiconductors, Smartcom, Temex, Texas Instruments, Trendium, and W3C.
Jean-Marc Dijan, President of the Telecom Valley Association, notes that these companies demonstrate that a real telecom value-chain has taken root and grown to maturity in the region, covering standardisation institutes, electronic design centres, consulting firms, software creation and integration firms, support services, research laboratories, engineering schools and so forth.
With the clear intention of attracting more companies into the area, Jean-Pierre Mascarelli, President of Cote d'Azur Delopment, adds that the local high tech community has been able to take advantage of the fact that the CAD provides international businesses with personal and confidential contacts to the area's business, economic and administrative networks, at no charge.
The Telecom Valley companies, like their colleagues in the main exhibition halls, came well equipped with company information and announcements, timed perfectly to coincide with the 3GSM World Congress.  Teradata, for instance (who also had a booth in one of the main halls), unveiled its data warehousing solution, Warehouse 8.0, aiming to provide businesses with breakthrough business intelligence to solve the problems of how to increase revenue, reduce expenses and identify new growth opportunities. Chris Parsons, Teradata's EMEA Industry Marketing Director, noted that for operators to achieve their declared aim of 'getting closer to the customer' (a recurring theme at 3GSM 2005) effective business intelligence is crucial. He explained that the stronger, more robust Teradata data warehouse enables customers to gain a competitive edge with a new level of business intelligence, and stressed that the company continues to enhance the warehouse suite to make it easier for businesses to integrate Teradata into their overall enterprise.
The IT services company, Atos Origin, which provides business consulting, systems integration and managed operations, was also able to highlight its capabilities at 3GSM hot on the heels of an announcement -- the company having recently implemented the LHS rating package 1.2 at T-Mobile Austria, within just seven months. The solution enables the billing of both post- and pre-paid customers via one system. A core element of the solution is that it will also be used for future 3G services, such as mobile voice and data communications via UMTS, GPRS or WLAN.
The companies gathered in the Telecoms Valley Gallery all had their own particular success stories to relate, of course. But while there's no doubt that this particular venue will be missed in Barcelona, it is to be hoped that they will continue to contribute to the 3GSM gathering -- on foreign soil.                        n

Lynd Morley is editor of European Communications

Louis Meyer argues that the drive for a more advanced
OSS should begin at a board level

As 2005 kicks off, it would appear, finally, that telecoms carriers are beginning to recognise the strategic importance of driving OSS investment from the boardroom. UMTS shows a great deal of promise for the future, and many carriers are realising the necessity for a highly proactive approach in developing and delivering innovative new services that are tempting subscribers to spend more. Certainly MMS is starting to take off, 'push-to-talk' is proving increasingly popular, and SMS-based voting services are an intriguing possibility.
The mainstream use of 3G services is firmly on the horizon. But as the industry readies itself to gauge the market's reaction to these ambitious new services, the benefits of installing new infrastructures to manage their efficient delivery is being overlooked by many carriers. Lack of business value-supporting OSS/BSS are emerging as a potential source of seriously numbing headaches in the coming years. Carriers will need to fully equip themselves for the strenuous demands that the introduction of new services will place on their delivery infrastructure in the near future, or risk being left behind by their competitors as the pace of change quickens.
The automation of network management is an ongoing process with significant advances already having been made, and with many improvements and refinements in the pipeline. The widespread adoption of these automated infrastructures must appear increasingly necessary and desirable at a board level to executives who are looking to improve efficiency, in practical and economic terms, maximising operating profits and ensuring that their networks will continue to deliver value and cope under the strain.
OSS has taken a prominent role in recent industry conventions and, as expected, billing and billing mediation solutions have received plenty of attention due to the convergence of pre-pay, pay now, and post-pay services, with an array of new applications under evaluation by operators. The prevalence of GIS systems vendors has demonstrated a high level of interest in services with a location-based flavour. Certainly analysts have been generally surprised at the strong presence of pure OSS vendors at the latest showcase events.
At TeleManagement World 2004, communication service providers readily admitted that their business processes could be made more efficient, but tight budgets -- in combination with the perennial misalignment between the requirements of IT and the board -- were often blamed as the reason for the lack of a systematic approach to the enhancement of network management.
It seems the problems most commonly encountered in the telecoms industry are receiving repeat calls from customers, the inconsistent distribution of work, and an over-dependence on an experienced workforce -- instead of highly automated processes or systems -- to complete the myriad of tasks in hand. However, it is encouraging that telecom professionals are at least aware of these inefficiencies and of their causes, even if they feel they have their hands tied when it comes to implementing solutions. This highlights the importance of aligning IT and business goals if operational efficiency improvements are to be realised, and that the drive for a more advanced OSS should begin at a board level.
There can be no doubt that OSS, and the attitudes surrounding its use, currently stand at a critical crossroads. The market led approach to mobile communications -- selling a product, before considering the suitability of the infrastructure to support the roll out of new services -- is sure to lead to some major problems in delivering a satisfactory level of customer quality and satisfaction.
There are two possible outcomes of this approach. Firstly, there is the possibility that the industry will intelligently fine tune investments in both network infrastructure and OSS/BSS to match market growth and tackle the changing demands as they arise. The second outcome is that there is a significant mismatch in growth and delivery capability, creating very public service quality problems, which could negatively impact on and perhaps irreversibly damage a firm's brand image.
The outstanding challenge for most carriers will be managing the huge volume of change ahead, both in terms of network growth and growth of the customer base. In some cases, the number of additions to the network could reach many hundreds each day. Without the human programming of diagnostic rules it is simply not possible to adapt to this rate of change. As far as the improvement of the level of service in network operations centres (NOCs) is concerned, the telecoms industry is now undergoing a sea-change where it is possible to largely automate network management and fault resolution, cutting human resource costs and the time taken to analyse and fix faults.
Next generation OSS infrastructure utilises artificial intelligence (AI), originally developed for use in the nuclear industry, where diagnostic decisions have a critical impact, to analyse and discover the root causes of network problems and reduce the number of events that need human intervention. This delivers greater OSS productivity without increased hardware investment; improved SLA compliance and service levels, reducing the likelihood of incurring SLA penalty costs; and improved network reliability leading to significantly reduced churn. Which in board-speak means reduced opex and lowered TCO with a very attractive ROI.
Carriers and by extension, their end users, can benefit greatly from task-based management and reason-led systems that allow for more rapid deployment of closed-loop control. Some carriers have reported a 98 per cent success rate when applying these AI solutions to identify and resolve errors that arise in the day-to-day running of their networks, which can mean up to two million individual problems fixed automatically every day.
Executives must recognise that their firms' reputation is at stake here and put in the extra effort to secure the necessary investment in high efficiency hands-off automated OSS, an investment which will make a tangible difference to the bottom line and may ultimately prove to be crucial to carriers' survival in the coming years.                                                     

Louis Meyer is CEO of Pivetal, and can be contacted via e-mail: louism@pivetal.com   www.pivetal.com

Could the ancient art of speech recognition have finally found resonance in the interactive voice response marketplace? Paul Welham explains

Speech recognition technology has been around for many years. The first speech synthesiser was produced in 1936, so there is a valid question to ask  namely: "Why has it taken so long to make reliable and commercially available systems available for deployment?"
The answer is really twofold. Firstly, there were constraining limitations in the availability and power of early computing technology. Secondly, and perhaps crucially, linguists found key difficulties differentiating between textbook grammar and the vocabulary structure of typical conversation.
Over the last few years, however, speech technology has come of age. The first public-facing system in Europe was deployed by Odeon cinemas in 1998 and was deemed a great success by both Odeon and their customers. Odeon were able to reduce call centre costs and improve their marketing. In 2004 Odeon made their Film line system totally speech driven, taking over 300,000 calls per weekend.
Speech recognition systems  now more usable, realistic and practical than in the past  are taking over the interactive voice response (IVR) marketplace. 
Over 70 per cent of the current voice business is linked with telephony communications and, according to leading analyst, Datamonitor, global voice business will be worth $2 billion by 2007.
Unlike IVR, natural language speech recognition systems are proving extremely popular with users. Speaking to a real person may be perceived as ideal, but when it involves a lengthy wait, over 80 per cent of callers/users prefer to use speech driven systems. Telephony is the area of speech recognition that is of most interest to organisations. It can offer cost effective ways of deploying speech recognition to solve everyday communication problems, and benefit other areas - such as data capture, intelligent routing and the dissemination of information.
There is a growing consensus that organisations need to be able to interact with their stakeholders 24x7. Speech recognition solutions can help achieve this goal, while providing a rare opportunity to automate mundane processes, improve telephony, reduce staff costs and improve services to customers and staff, all at the same time.
The technology can be used to solve common issues, including operator recruitment, excessive internal calls to the operator, expensive internal directory production and out of hours call handling. An operator's job is an anti-social one and, often, an underpaid role. Yet operators are a valuable resource as they have a detailed knowledge of how their organisation works  so it is crucial that they are customer facing. However, an operator's time is often claimed by internal staff asking for numbers.
Far from removing the human element, speech recognition call routing systems can relieve operators of mundane calls, giving them more time to deal with complex enquiries, where their specialist knowledge is essential.
Aerospace giant, GKN, for instance, wanted to reduce its costs partly as a good business practice in general, but also in the wake of the entire industry being affected by the appalling events of 9/11. The company looked at where it was spending money and how it could spend less, and the switchboard came up as a possible area for cuts. Cost benefits following the implementation of a speech driven virtual operator started to emerge very quickly: ROI can be achieved within months, and a speech solution can cope with the work of four operators for less than the cost of one human operator.
The alternatives to using speech recognition are few. Touch-tone or auto-attendant systems that ask you to either enter an extension number or press 1 etc. for your preferred option, are often used. These systems are seen as extremely frustrating by all types of callers and can never cater for the full range of options a caller may have in complex environments.
Speech recognition enables callers to interact with automated systems in the same way they would with a person, while at the same time removing those negative elements usually associated with automated IVR systems.
Excellent alternative
In the call centre sector, speech recognition provides an excellent alternative to the much-debated outsourcing issue. Providing queue management, skills based routing and automated transactions, all driven by speech, agents can deal with complex enquiries where their skills are needed, yet the cost per call to the organisation is greatly reduced due to the automation of many routine transactions. Peaks and troughs in call traffic can also be catered for without the need to hire extra temporary staff. Organisations such as Odeon cinemas are already employing this technology with great results.
When considering the design and implementation of speech recognition there are several important issues to be considered. These systems often cater for large user groups, including the general public, and as such will encounter a multitude of regional and ethnic accents. Only systems that are able to deal with these variations should be considered, to avoid alienating the people you serve.
There is a tendency to look to suppliers who provide existing legacy touch-tone communications, but speech recognition is an extremely complex area, so specialist knowledge should be sought from companies that understand speech. It is therefore wise to avoid legacy touch tone systems which have had speech applications bolted on as an afterthought, as the vendor may lack the necessary expertise to develop and deploy systems that work with the general public. A touch-tone platform is not the ideal speech platform, no matter how often legacy system vendors try to say it is.
Absolute must
An absolute 'must' is a professional recording service, to ensure speech recognition services sound seamless and professional to callers. Ultimately the caller is looking for an efficient experience when making a phone call, and is not looking to be entertained or distracted. They do not want music, sound effects, long monotonic greetings, persona or unnatural sounding voices. 
Systems should use industry standard software and hardware, ensuring they can be integrated with emerging telephony and IT technologies and other vendors' products, such as call loggers and pagers, to protect existing investment in telephony systems. Always visit reference sites that are similar in size to your own organisation and have the same business needs.
Always trial a solution before committing to buy  speech vendors confident in their systems' ability will, of course, offer this without any commitment from you. The true test of a solution is how it works in the environment you wish to place it and only a trial can provide you with the honest outcome. It also allows for any fine-tuning that needs to be made before general release to the wider population. First impressions are always lasting impressions with most users of this type of system, so it is important to get it right first time.
The implementation of a speech driven system will be very smooth if these simple guidelines are adhered to. The natural interface will remove any existing negative perceptions of automated systems, and users will accept that the system is ultimately ensuring that they achieve their goal  being connected to an empathetic, helpful human.                                         

Paul Welham, Director of Sales and  Marketing, Telephonetics, can be contacted via tel: +44 1442 242242; e-mail: paulw@telephonetics.co.uk[l=www.telephonetics.com/]http://www.telephonetics.com/[/l]

Service providers are transitioning from billing as a tactical back-office application to a strategic solution for maximising customer profitability, says Bhaskar Gorti

Years of upheaval in the global communications markets have led to new challenges and mandated new strategies for today's service providers. Over-capacity in the network and excessive carrier spending have resulted in an industry shake-up characterised by consolidations, downsizings, and bankruptcies. Service providers that survived are facing intensified competition, the commoditisation of products and services, erosion of customer loyalty, decreasing margins, and an intense pressure to differentiate.
In response, service providers are searching for business processes and technologies that will enable them to focus on retaining profitable customers by improving the customers' experience. With innovative new services-such as mobile gaming, customised ring-tones, e-mail and web-surfing capabilities-they hope to reduce churn and improve customer satisfaction. Many are also branching out from their home countries to establish global brands to compete on a worldwide basis, or considering Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) relationships.
Driving value to the bottom line
During the boom years, operators spent billions of dollars focusing on customer acquisition and network build out. Today, an objective of communication companies is to drive value to the bottom line  and time to market is the key to their success. Service providers must evolve their business systems so they can enter new markets quickly and effectively to respond to competitive threats and take advantage of market opportunities. Differentiation  creating true brand value  elevates a service provider out of the morass of cut-throat price competition and costly churn. With rapidly changing technology and shifts in consumer trends, smart service providers are also looking for ways to quickly bring high-margin products and services to market.
Services are now driven by the customer  not the technology. Not only do today's customers have a variety of service options to choose from, they also expect a variety of payment options including prepaid, postpaid, and nowpaid. Many customers, especially those with multiple service plans at the home or the office, are demanding convergent service pricing, discounting, and multiple payment options. This presents a major challenge for service providers who are dependent upon legacy billing and customer management systems that were built specifically to manage revenues for individual services or individual payment options.
The resulting proliferation of multiple, fragmented billing systems, coupled with highly customised applications built for 'point-in-time' purposes limits a service provider's ability to quickly respond to new opportunities and roll out new services. The inability to tie-in multiple billing applications for different services or cost-effectively modify an existing billing application, can lead to excessive expense, wasted time, and customer attrition.
Managing revenue streams
Enterprise applications are converging around three areas of information management: customer, financial, and revenue. With an increased focus on revenue, billing has emerged as a true competitive differentiator and a key asset of the company. Savvy service providers are transitioning from billing as a tactical back-office application to a strategic solution for maximising customer profitability in a complex service and payment environment. In much the same way that CRM evolved from sales force management to the unification of relationships between the customer and the enterprise, billing has evolved to become revenue management  the unified management of all of the service provider's different revenue streams. This approach optimises the value of customers by enabling service providers to develop, introduce, and sell the right products to the customer while minimising revenue leakage and the total cost of billing operations. Finally, a revenue management approach provides the business with the agility essential to rapidly launch profitable products and services and quickly respond to competitive pressures.
Optimally, revenue management solutions are also 'future proof', providing the foundation for supporting new products, services, and technologies. A true revenue management solution isn't just another silo in the enterprise, but an integration and unification of revenue processes across the business. With the broad business processes it encompasses, revenue management impacts the way providers introduce new products and services, manage customer accounts, and track revenues across the business.
Revenue management is a lifecycle of unified processes to generate, capture, and collect revenue for each customer. The lifecycle also includes an ongoing process of analysing, evaluating, and optimising each phase to maximise performance and deliver comprehensive insight and intelligence into the customer revenue relationships.
Revenue generation
Revenue generation enables services to be delivered to customers that are optimally priced for the user, service provider and any partners. With real-time access to customer data, the business processes associated with this phase maximise customer and partner value through a single view of the customer, combined with complex account management and agile service delivery.
Revenue capture
Revenue capture maximises market share using competitive pricing models and flexible balance and credit control to enable any service for any subscriber. As services are authorised and consumed, transactions are captured, rated, discounted, and charged while balances are managed. Real-time interactions help reduce the risk of revenue leakage, improve customer satisfaction, and encourage usage.
Revenue collection
Revenue collection ensures all invoices are generated and appropriate monies are collected from the correct debtors. Postings are made to accounts receivable and general ledger accounts, while handling all payments terms, settlements and disputes to ensure an accurate accounting of all revenue. A real-time, accurate view of revenue provides insight to customer profitability as well as the health of the business, while enabling the provider to respond quickly to changing market dynamics.
Revenue analysis
Revenue analysis spans the entire revenue management lifecycle. Understanding the revenue relationships with customers and partners improves their satisfaction. It provides real-time verification, reporting and analysis of all events and actions, which maximises revenue and minimises losses associated with fraud and revenue leakage.
Value chain
In today's complex environment, service providers cannot address these challenges and deliver exciting new services on their own. They must work with the best partners and content providers for their markets.  Because revenue management provides the ability to view all of the revenue touch points between the customer and the service provider, it facilitates the creation of an efficient value chain. The value chain is the sum of all processes in a product''s creation including design, pricing, procurement, and fulfilment. The value chain enables the service provider to capture points of value and reward innovation throughout the chain.
To make these value chains successful, service providers must develop relationships with their partners that create differentiated value, increase customer profitability and reward partner innovation. At the heart of an efficient value chain is a business system that tracks and charges for events; manages customer profiles, accounts, and subscriptions; collects revenues; and manages settlements with the value chain partners. 
Business partners, content providers and enabling networks, therefore, help service providers build an efficient value chain and pricing models. A value-add pricing model, for example, tracks both a variety of packaging types (such as subscriptions, pay-per-use, volume discounts, device specific and loyalty points) and a host of different payment methods.
Several leading service providers have already embarked along this path. Vodafone live!, Vodafone's easy-to-use consumer service that offers customers a wide variety of colour, sound and pictures, is an excellent example. Vodafone live! sought to increase subscriber revenues by establishing a global brand and consistent user experience while leveraging the various Vodafone operating companies' customer billing relationships. It was important that all of Vodafone's operating companies could quickly launch this service into their markets. The results have been excellent.  Vodafone live! is driving higher than average usage and ARPU and reached its target of eight million subscribers by June of 2004. And, for the period from October 2002 to July 2003, Vodafone live!'s customers downloaded over three million games and ten million ring tones.
To accomplish this, Vodafone live! utilises a model whereby the content that is in highest demand can be quickly and efficiently offered to the Vodafone community. Vodafone established a value chain that is driven by customer demand rather than by technological advancements. Vodafone's recipe for success? Find out what the customer wants, build an interface to the content partner, and offer simplified pricing that encourages near and long-term adoption. Vodafone is able to quickly 'plug in' partners without costly or time-consuming integration, while allowing the pricing to be more intuitive to the end user. End-users are offered multiple pricing options, including a 'pay as you go' model, thus attracting more people to try the services without making major commitments. Once a Vodafone live! end-user understands the value, they can move to different levels of commitment in the form of subscriptions and bundles.
Another exciting success story is Orange, the leading wireless provider in the UK. Orange wanted the ability to launch new data and content services quickly and offer next generation multi-media services. Their legacy system wouldn't support this capability. By utilising a revenue management approach, they were able to launch a new system that enabled them to quickly take new prepaid and postpaid GPRS services to market.  At the same time, they maximised their network investment by integrating their new system with their legacy billing infrastructure while future-proofing their platform so that it could support any future product offering. 
The right steps forward
Moving to a revenue management approach for doing business can be done in phases. As such, a model of 'co-existence' between legacy billing systems and more modern revenue management platforms that can handle the breadth of new service offerings is essential. As appropriate, revenue management platforms can transitionally replace legacy voice systems while continuing to enable new service deployments. The revenue management approach completes the value chain by linking the third party content providers to the end users and supporting real-time authorisation, authentication and accounting, real time advice of charge, and automated remittances and settlements. 
For service providers competing in a saturated market within an increasingly global economy, a revenue management approach offers a compelling strategy for creating new customer opportunities and dramatically reducing legacy billing costs. Industry pioneers, including Vodafone live! and Orange, are implementing revenue management strategies to develop a complete picture of their customer touch points in order to maximise revenue and optimize profitability.
With the global communications and media markets evolving, business solutions are consolidating to manage the entire revenue lifecycle. Billing has evolved from a single service, single payment model to the strategic solution for maximising customer profitability in a complex service and payment environment. Using the revenue management lifecycle approach to business, service providers can optimise customer value by unifying revenue relationships. This allows them to focus on their most profitable customers and maximise profitability through the consolidation and rationalisation of multiple, fragmented legacy billing applications. As a result, service providers can rapidly bring new products and services to market, demonstrating true business agility in a highly competitive industry.                                         

Bhaskar Gorti is Senior Vice President of Marketing, Alliances and Global Accounts, Portal Software
[l=www.portal.com/]http://www.portal.com/[/l]

3GSM World Congress 2005 promises to be the biggest and best event yet, reckons Bill Gajda

2005 will be a truly pivotal year for the global mobile industry. It will define where new revenue streams will come from, and how to drive the service uptake that will generate them. For the first time, many operators will have at their disposal new broadband technologies, exciting content partnerships, maturing business models and every indication that the momentum of GSM is building more rapidly than ever.
In February 2004, the one-billion-user milestone was passed  an incredible figure in its own right  but between then and September 2004, a further quarter billion subscribers have signed up. It took a dozen years to reach the first billion, but only half a dozen months to get quarter of the way to the next.
GSM's continuing growth is underpinned by that fact that it is now deployed, or is in deployment, in every country with a population of more than one million with the exception of Japan and Korea. Deployments in many countries and territories with smaller populations simply underline the technology's flexibility. However, Japanese and Korean operators have joined the growing ranks in the more mature markets of Europe, Asia, the US, the Middle East and Africa in upgrading to 3GSM to prepare the ground for profitable new broadband mobility for their subscribers. Four days at the beginning of 2005 will define the direction that mobile operators, content developers and technology suppliers take and will reveal the decisions they make.
3GSM World Congress 2005 will be the biggest in the event's 18-year history, with visitors and delegates expected to grow in number as the industry itself grows. In 2004, 28,000 visitors, 4,200 delegates and more than 600 exhibitors attended what was the largest event to date. In 2005, not only is attendance expected to exceed this, but more importantly, the quality of the conference programme will be at its highest ever.
The world's most influential mobile industry executives will take to the podium for keynote sessions in a speaking and educational programme that has unrivalled gravitas. It all begins with the GSM Association's Leadership Summit on the eve of the Congress. The inaugural invitation-only event in 2004 attracted more than 150 GSMA operator and associate member CEOs to agree and disseminate strategy for the year ahead. 
Over the following four days, the chief executive officers, presidents or board members of the leading industry players will share their insights with Congress delegates, presenting keynotes on how the industry is changing, where it is going, and how to gain maximum value from these developments.
The highlights will include 'Defining Future Opportunities - No Limits To Growth,' where Rob Conway, Chief Executive of the GSM Association will outline our plans for industry development. Joining Rob Conway during this first keynote session will be Lothar Pauly, President and CEO of Siemens Communications, who will outline what opportunities the convergence of the Internet and wireless worlds presents. Pascal Debon, President of Nortel networks' Carrier networks division will discuss the key mechanisms that will drive business transformation for operators.
Fireside chats
The Fireside Chats that proved so popular at the 3GSM World Congress 2004 in Singapore will encourage delegates to eavesdrop on what the decision makers think. Craig Ehrlich, the Chairman of the GSM Association, will scrutinise the issues of the day with Sanjiv Ahuja, CEO of Orange Group, Masao Nakamura, President and CEO of NTT DoCoMo and Rene Obermann, CEO of T-Mobile International.
The GSM Association understands that dialogue between developing and developed markets is important, and the speaking programme reflects this. Sunil Mittal, CEO of Bharti Telecom, the biggest GSM operator in India, will offer a snapshot of his expectations for the sub continent's mobile prospects as it becomes one of the fastest growing markets on the planet. Lim Chuan Poh, CEO of SingTel Mobile will discuss how to evolve beyond traditional services without the risk of revenue cannibalisation. Naguib Sawiris, Chairman and CEO of Orascom, the leading operator group serving the Middle East and North Africa will give his perspective on how to develop low-cost handsets for emerging markets.
In fact, the GSM Association hopes to see many more delegates, visitors and increased media attention from developing markets as these areas begin to play a vital role in how the industry develops. Often, these markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe and China have demonstrated they are actually leading much of the innovative service creation and deployment we can expect to see more of during 2005. For example, Napolean Nazareno, President and CEO of the Smart, and Gerry Ablaza, CEO of Globe will join a panel alongside Verisign and Simpay, to reveal how innovative text-based services and micropayment systems are now being used to transfer funds across borders.
Political and technical theme
In what will be a strong political and technical theme, Karim Khoja, CEO of Roshan of Afghanistan, will bring to the Congress his experience of building mobile networks that can support growing economies. In many developing continents, mobile communication remains superior to the fixed line infrastructure and could also become the broadband network of choice.
In its commitment to discussing the concerns of developing markets, the GSM Association has invited experts from outside the operator and vendor communities to talk about the prospects for the industry. Jay Naidoo, Chairman, of the Development Bank of South Africa will show how mobile communications are a fundamental driver for economic growth. In the spirit of entrepreneurship, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of the easyGroup will share his thoughts on how revolutionary business models can transform industries, a discussion that will chime with operators who are seeking leaner operations.
The mobile industry has always been an entrepreneurial one, and so a Venture-Funded Technologies session is incorporated in the Congress agenda. This gives 30 privately funded companies a window to 'elevator pitch' an audience consisting of top venture fund firms, and attempt to monetise their ideas.
In acknowledgement that the mobile industry constantly seeks to innovate, 3GSM World Congress 2005 will present leadership on a wide range of issues that are testing the creativity and resolve of all operators. Panel sessions here include pricing and value strategies, customer ownership and brand value, handset customisation and usability, a banking view on co-operation for mobile commerce, the interplay of mobile and TV, restructuring the handset supply chain and how to adapt content. Ralph Simon, Chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum Americas will moderate the Mobile Entertainment Summit, a new addition to the conference programme for 2005.
There is no doubt that entertainment will form important revenue streams for operators, and the Entertainment Forum will bring together the operators and content developers. Issues for discussion will include how to maximise revenue, protect consumers against inappropriate content, delivering TV-to-mobile content, personalising third party content and what it takes to offer end-to-end content delivery.
The 'Cool and Connected' Fashion show returns again in 2005, showcasing wearable mobile technology from the catwalk to the consumer, and reaffirming that consumer branding and design are all-important.
In many ways, the 2005 World Congress will mark a new pinnacle in the event's history.  But it will also mark a fond farewell to Cannes as its signature venue, as the Congress will move from Cannes to Catalonia in 2006.
The need to accommodate rising visitor numbers and continually growing demand for exhibition space from the ever expanding eco-system of suppliers to the GSM community will see the event relocate to Barcelona.  This decision has not been taken lightly, but we believe it is the best way forward as we work to accommodate an event and an industry that is growing at a pace few of us would have predicted even a few years ago.
Bill Gajda is Chief Marketing Officer, GSM Association
www.3gsmworldcongress.com/2005/default.asp

Flushed with success in its traditional Russian marketplace, Bercut is now looking West to further expand its range of services to European operators, as Priscilla Awde explains

From Russia with...well certainly interest. But also, what appears to be a different approach to solving the needs of telcos  especially in getting multimedia products to market fast.
Bucking the trend, Russian software solutions developer, Bercut, is challenging the scepticism and prejudices which traditionally hamper Eastern European companies wanting to do business outside their domestic markets. Started in 1996 at a time when access to Russia was restricted, the company developed a range of solutions mainly for mobile operators and, importantly, largely without the help or influence of Western suppliers or their technologies.
Rather than a burden, building 'everything from nothing' meant that software developers were not hampered by tradition, and could take a new approach to some old problems. "We started from scratch, explains Roland Orlie, Director of Global Business Development at Bercut International. "We didn't follow American or Western ideas, so our products have features and technologies which are highly innovative but unconventional. Although our software runs on open platforms and interconnects to standard systems, our products operate unconventionally and take advantage of optimal solutions. We can configure and create solutions very fast and, because we didn't have to go through all the different stages, we have leapfrogged much of the GSM technology.
"Initially reactions from Western suppliers and telcos were adverse, but when we asked them to look at and test our products they were pleasantly surprised."
Apparently they liked what they saw. The company is expanding from its solid base with Russian operators and winning contracts both regionally and within sophisticated and developing telecoms markets around the world.
Having grown up in a Russian market that has evolved from numerous, highly localised, small mobile operators into a few national carriers, Bercut expects to turnover £30 million this year. Supporting its push to develop end-to-end solutions, the company has developed selective partnerships with companies in Western Europe  a model it aims to expand along with marketing channels.
Orlie attributes Bercut's success to the fact that the software not only works well but saves operators money in the process by cutting roaming charges, increasing flexibility and making it faster and easier to communicate with customers.
"Mobile operators will only survive if useful applications and content are brought to consumers fast and easily," he notes. "There is huge competition for telcos especially as new services like VoIP are being offered by companies which aren't telecoms based. Packet data is easily delivered and will be cheap. Because of competition, mobile telcos are at the mercy of market demand  consumers drive the show in the mobile world which is why it is so important to make it easy and convenient to get information to end users.
"The new growth is in mobile systems which can be upgraded very fast and flexibly. Although enterprises are not getting the answers they are looking for, this is only the start of a vast, explosive proliferation of devices and technologies. There is a constant evolution of services and applications  nothing is fixed.
Bercut's strength, Orlie believes, lies in the fact that it is staffed by young, highly educated and motivated engineers who speak the same technical language as customers and who are more interested in bits and bytes than politics.
"Others stick to a standardised approach, but we are more dynamic and individual and therefore more flexible," he says. "Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen so that customers don't have to be squeezed into a mould. The business case determines buying decisions and our systems give a fast return on investment."
Innovation extends to payment methods developed for the low cost Russian economy. In a scaleable investment approach, telcos pay for what they use which reduces the cost of entry. Further, prices only increase with traffic volumes and subscriber numbers, so fees rise along with the growth in the business. Offering sophisticated, scaleable software systems at low cost is a model Orlie expects will work well in the world's developing countries in which mobile communications are growing fast, but where the economics leave little room for high up-front investment.
Grouped into three lines of business  managed solutions, customer care and CRM, and intelligent multi-services  products are based on a smart platform and offer all the advanced features common to modern telecoms systems. Implemented as stand-alone or in combination with third party systems, all products provide end-to-end management of customer applications and services in a secure and scalable environment. Easily configured, all systems are based on open standards and can therefore be quickly integrated into existing systems. Content providers can quickly write applications to run on a variety of transport systems.
Fundamental to the product range, the IN@family is a scalable, multi-services intelligent network which, as well as ready-to-use applications, includes customisation tools for bespoke development. Based on an open three-layer architecture and supporting OSA/Parlay specifications, the platform can be integrated with switching equipment from all the major vendors. The system supports fully featured VPNs including separate rates for different users on the network. Dynamic filters allow users to bar calls, create individual profiles and route calls as needed via SMS, USSD, the SIM menu or over the Internet.
The roaming platform analyses and processes signalling traffic between host and client operators in real time, providing end users with cost effective international connectivity. Using the USSD GSM transport protocol rather than SMS for mapping, allows operators to roam at the lowest costs possible and pass on savings to customers.
Based on a Java card in the mobile phone, menu based browsing makes it easy for operators to personalise services to individual users, sending them particular information as requested. One national Russian operator has successfully scaled up its browsing system from one to 13 million subscribers.
Pre- and post-paid customers are handled on the same service platform and the system supports real time billing for auxiliary services, including SMS, USSD and GPRS. Making life easy for telcos, Bercut's CRM product includes an out-of-the-box call centre and unified customer self-care system. Operators have all the tools required to offer customers a personal service and to support the rapid development and launch of new products.
Orlie is convinced that because Bercut systems have supported Russian operators as they evolved from small local companies and grown via consolidation into national carriers, they will work anywhere.
Taking a single minded, entrepreneurial approach, Bercut has streamlined its goals and focuses on making it easy for telcos to communicate with customers and introduce value added services fast, efficiently and cost effectively. The aim is to fix problems for customers and especially for the big, global operators which purchase centrally but which need flexible systems that can be easily adapted to meet local conditions.
"Innovation is the company culture,"  Orlie says. "We have short lines of communication with customers and provide individual solutions rather than standard off-the-shelf systems. We don't religiously stick to a standardised approach but are more dynamic, individual and therefore more flexible. Bercut is a very different company. Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen; to offer scalability and functionality at low cost."
Guided by its own 'can do' philosophy, Bercut is going West.                               

roland.orlie@bercut.ru
Priscilla Awde is a freelance communications writer
[l=www.bercut.ru/]http://www.bercut.ru/[/l]

As new data services emerge, mobile operators need a way of updating millions of handsets without users having to replace them. And OTA just could be the answer, says Joos Cadonau

As mobile data services fail to meet expectations, operators are looking for ways to roll out new services and convert subscribers into regular mobile data users. Increasingly this search has focused on solving one conundrum: how to upgrade billions of existing handsets to receive new services without having to corral their owners to invest in new models.Over-the-air (OTA) technology is one possible solution. It allows operators to add new types of services directly to the subscriber's SIM card and configure handsets remotely to support these new services.

OTA in action
Before we look at commercial benefits, it is worth explaining how OTA works.  OTA is based on classic network architecture. At one end is the back-end management programme selected by the operator, typically a billing or customer care system; and at the other is the customer's SIM card.  To deliver a software update from the operator to the customer, the back-end system sends a service request to an OTA Gateway, which transforms the request into a binary SMS to be sent to the SIM card. With an OTA platform, operators can seamlessly manage and update a customer's SIM card and cost-effectively deliver new applications without ever being physically connected to the handset itself. With this kind of power at their fingertips, there are a host of ways that operators can benefit from OTA. 

Driving data services
Mobile devices have evolved from 'dumb' terminals with basic telephony functionality into sophisticated smartphones with multimedia capabilities. However, for subscribers to use more advanced services, operators need to ensure their device settings and software are automatically configured. Through OTA technology, this once laborious process happens seamlessly and inexpensively.The result is that operators can convert more subscribers into regular mobile data users and rollout new services at lightening speed.  And for the consumer, the OTA approach is ideal. Subscribers don't have to worry about figuring out how to configure their mobile handsets to use these services  with OTA this is done automatically. Not only does it save them the cost of upgrading their handset, it eliminates the physical hassle of going in-store to buy Java games or back-up their address books, for example. Extensive tariff functionality gives the operator the flexibility of deciding whether to charge subscribers per service, as a package of services or per SMS sent.  Alternatively some operators may choose not to charge for these OTA services, seeing them purely as a way to increase revenues by increasing customer satisfaction and reducing churn.In addition, OTA is equally effective at revenue generation abroad. Through OTA technology, operators can keep their subscribers attached to a partner's network when roaming, which ensures that revenue streams are maintained.

Eliminating the recall revenue drain
As mobile phones become more complex and feature-rich, software glitches are increasingly commonplace. This is further aggravated by shorter time-to-market which leaves less room for thorough testing and increases the likelihood of widespread recalls  a major setback experienced by 3 and DoCoMo in recent years.While upgrading PC software via the Internet is routine, firmware updates for mobile phones are still very manual and expensive. Customers suffer the inconvenience of visiting service centres to fix their phones.By updating faulty software and fixing bugs remotely, OTA technology could potentially eliminate the cost of recalling and replacing handsets and return this lost revenue to the operators  balance sheets, improving customer service in the process.

Battling the virus threat
Earlier this year, the first wireless worm was detected targeting smartphones. As more and more computer functionality is added to mobile phones, the risk from hackers and viruses will undoubtedly increase.  To help stay ahead, operators are starting to use OTA software management to distribute virus protection and software patches wirelessly to end-users anywhere on a network. Rather than allowing viruses to proliferate, operators can use OTA to provide the necessary security before these attacks ever occur by filtering or blocking access from non-trusted sources to the handset.

Overcoming barriers to OTA
While OTA can deliver major revenue and service benefits to operators, its implementation is not without obstacles. Reassuringly, most of these can be overcome by sensible planning.First, the threat of mobile phone viruses means that security is essential when using OTA to modify the content of SIM cards or transmit additional information. However, operators keep SIM cards secure by encrypting communications and securing the link between back-end systems and subscriber's mobile phones using GSM 03.48 transport security.Secondly, when considering OTA solutions, operators should ensure that the technology complies with industry standards such as OMA (SyncML) DM and can integrate with complementary applications.  Operators should not put themselves in a position where they would need to replace functioning back-end systems to accommodate OTA technology.

Into the future
Today, OTA technology offers a practical solution to the age-old problem of how to service and upgrade handsets without the owner being present. What's more, there are genuine improvements to look forward to. OTA can be used to transmit information to next generation cards like USIM (UTMS SIMs), which support 3G services. Not only do USIM cards contain a link that automatically identifies a subscriber, they can receive OTA applications over GPRS, which is much quicker and more efficient than SMS. In addition, USIM cards provide storage for subscription and subscriber related information, giving users more opportunity to personalise services, which in turn builds customer loyalty. When you consider these technology enhancements, the conclusion has to be that both the present and future look unequivocally bright for OTA.     

Joos Cadonau, product manager, Sicap can be contacted via tel: +41 31 978 9090 www.sicap.com[l=www.sicap.com/]http://www.sicap.com/[/l]

    

 

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