New broadband services, such as voice over Internet protocol (VOIP), gaming, peer-to-peer (P2P) applications, high-bandwidth broadband on-demand and others, are already implemented in many areas of Asia/Pacific and Europe. And it’s only a matter of time before such services become pervasive in North America. These new services are promising boosted revenue, which has encouraged operators to re-evaluate the status quo and explore new opportunities. Among the innovative options are prepaid and on-demand broadband services that utilize usage- and time-based billing methods. As a result, in the near term, both the broadband business models and infrastructures are likely to evolve. For example, until now, P2P applications such as Kazaa have mostly been viewed as annoying clogs in the broadband data pipe, hindering broadband operators’ ability to provide high-bandwidth quality service to all subscribers. But by using more sophisticated internal systems and traffic engineering techniques, operators could restrict P2P services in basic offerings and sell them as value-add applications, thus providing both an additional revenue source and high-quality guarantees of service for subscribers. Alternatively, consider the revenue opportunities in online gaming, which is extraordinarily popular among teenagers. By adopting a within-the-pipe application perspective, broadband operators could generate revenue, improve quality of service (QoS) and prevent churn. In both of these examples, however, operators can’t rely on the traditional business model of flat-rate, all-you-can-eat pricing. Thus, we will more likely see time-based or even usage-based (amount of data or application being consumed) plans emerge for these new services. And these plans may be charged pre- or post-event. So, for example, to meet the demand of teenagers who decide "on the spot" to play a game, operators may want to offer on-demand signup and usage-based billing. On the other hand, operators also may want to offer prepaid services so that parents could enable their children to play for a set amount of time or number of games before the system shuts down service softly or requests that the balance be topped-up. Benefits here include the fact that prepaid applications and services at home or public access points are credit risk-free and may require no operator involvement. Other examples In order to meet more sophisticated subscriber needs, relatively simple one- or two-service broadband offerings will soon evolve into sophisticated, multiservice offerings that provide several billing methods for a variety of devices at many points in time. Additionally, as the market evolves to providing an array of on-demand services, there will be an increased need for self-service and new contact channels beyond the traditional call center. By outsourcing work to subscribers who desire greater access to services, operators will benefit from reduced call center burdens. Not remote scenarios If these scenarios sound remote, consider the broadband services that subscribers already receive from Singapore’s StarHub: high-speed data, voice, video and others. StarHub employs a platform that enables it to rapidly launch any type of broadband service to any device across any network. Last year, StarHub launched an initiative called "hubbing," which enables StarHub subscribers to access information across cellular, cable TV and Internet platforms—an implementation demonstrating real convergence. Its newest "FlexiSurf" service represents the first prepaid broadband offering in Singapore. StarHub enables Internet users to enjoy always-on, unlimited broadband access with the convenience of paying only for the service desired. In a similar vein, cable operator Electrabel in Belgium offers high-speed data service tiers that are tied to data volume allowances. On a monthly basis, this operator automatically "right-sizes" the service tier and price plan for subscribers, based upon their historical usage. Need for OSS integration Given these advancements, there is an immediate need to examine the state of operators’ operations support systems (OSS) billing and service activation systems. For example, rather than turning on broadband services only once (when a subscriber is initially acquired), various components of the broadband solution may be activated and deactivated multiple times over months or even weeks on an ongoing basis. Operators will need to monitor multiple services and know how to bill for each. This will require, among other things, better OSS integration capabilities and sophisticated service activation functions. Each of these individual services will need integration with multiple external systems to ensure that broadband pipes or application gateways are opened and closed at various times, billing is performed by time of day, etc. OSS platforms will need to police everything purchased and deactivate services that have either time-expired or run out of a prepaid balance. As operators move from single service to multiservice, multiapplication offerings, the complexity and number of system touchpoints increases exponentially. This, in turn, increases the OSS integration needs. While high-speed data systems may require fewer than 10 system touchpoints, VoIP services may require double that number or more, and encompass external partner organizations. Because of these changes, more than one billing system and service activation system are often being employed. Such systems may have operated smoothly when supporting only one or two broadband services, but once multiple, advanced services and innovative billing models are implemented, operators have found that the systems are over-challenged. Often, these have been replaced with either best-of-breed components or new systems layered on top of the older ones. This is of concern because as services expand, touch points increase, and the need for seamlessly integrated support systems remains unfulfilled. As a result, there may be a negative impact on a provider’s operations. While billing systems, which offer some subscriber management, have traditionally been at the center of the broadband operator’s system, this is beginning to change as increasingly sophisticated requirements call for advanced functionality and systems integration. Playing a more central and active role will be service activation systems, which manage the automation and execution of the process beginning with the ordering of the service to its delivery, management and billing for revenue. Service activation is fast evolving from an infrequent, passive, call center driven activity to a frequent, dynamic, multichannel subscriber or rule-driven activity. Automatic deactivation is as important as activation in prepaid, usage-based and scheduled service scenarios. Furthermore, as on-demand and self-care capabilities arrive, OSS must integrate and manage a more diverse set of contact channels than traditionally served by the call center and billing or subscriber management system. Take note Here are some things we might expect as increasingly sophisticated broadband services call for more OSS integration: Although these scenarios may seem distant, many are already being played out in sites around the world. Savvy broadband operators will take note and explore options that will make them successful in an ever more complex broadband world. Alan Sheehan is CTO of Interactive Enterprise. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Did this article help you? Email comments to email@example.com. Bottom Line Next-Gen OSS As operators move from single service to multiservice, multiapplication offerings, they will need to make service activation (and deactivation) systems an increasingly central and active part of their overall operations support systems (OSS).