When wired and wireless networks converge (or, should we say, collide?) with their different equipment, databases, business processes, vendors and service silos, it can get pretty complicated for the back office. The TM Forum works to define frameworks to assist the Operational Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS), and top-level management at provider networks. But it isn’t easy work. Marie Murphy, product manager at the TM Forum, regularly uses the word "complex" when describing the TM Forum’s efforts to assist with fixed-mobile convergence.

In November 2010, the TM Forum and CableLabs announced they were collaborating to accelerate the uptake of TM Forum’s Frameworx standard across the cable industry. And the TM Forum is doing some revolutionary work in Europe to help fixed and mobile operators standardize their back offices so they can speak the same language.

In Europe, the TM Forum is working with a number of telcos and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) for a federated information model, which would define a technology-neutral information model with common model components that can be used by two or more industry groups.

Mobile networks have a lot of landline elements, such as backhaul, says Murphy. In Europe, in particular, big mobile companies are merging with landline providers and becoming converged wireless and wireline providers. "It’s a big industry trend happening," she says. "We’ve been looking at the challenges for managing converged networks."

Last year, the TM Forum began working on what it has temporarily dubbed the "federated information model" with Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange France, KPN International, TeliaSonera, Telefonica, China Mobile and Telecom Italia, to look at the challenges for fixed mobile convergence. The federated information model would allow end-to-end modeling of a wireless and wireline converged service. "We’re working on that under the scope of a couple of use cases," says Murphy. "As we go into 2011, we have a very early draft proposal for a federated industry model."

There are several associations within both the wired and wireless industries that publish their own models, and there are a lot of common elements within these models. "We’re proposing this federated industry model that would define the common elements of all these disparate models and give operators a common definition," Murphy adds.

The Background

The TM Forum’s Frameworx comprises the main elements the TM Forum produces. There are four Frameworx definitions that, when pulled together, form a business architecture:

Information Framework (formerly known as SID) provides a common reference model for enterprise information that service providers, software providers and integrators use to describe management information. The Information Framework describes data structure, like the data structure for a customer, the data structure for an address or the data structure for a piece of equipment. But it is more than just data descriptions or a database, explains Murphy. It defines how data is organized and how it’s modeled, and it includes definitions of what the data means.

Business Process Framework (formerly known as eTOM) is the industry’s common process architecture for both business and functional processes. The Business Process Framework defines functions within a business, at four and sometimes five levels of detail.

Application Framework (formerly known as TAM) provides a common language between service providers and their suppliers to describe systems and their functions as well as a common way of grouping them. For example, it describes the functions of the billing system and its boundaries.

Integration Framework provides a service-oriented integration approach with standardized interfaces and support tools integration. Based on a service-oriented architecture, the TM Forum publishes a number of interfaces and rules for those interfaces.

More On The FIM

The federated information model (FIM) will be published as part of the information framework, says Murphy: "This federated model is kind of a higher-level structure as part of the information framework. It’s quite a complex concept." Initially, the collaborators are just looking at the modeling of resources. "It’s the end-to-end view of the equipment in the network that will give a huge benefit for the operator," she adds. "Network equipment is where we’re starting."

When wired and wireless networks converge, there’s a lot of equipment that comes from different manufacturers and is described with different data structures. It’s as if the equipment is speaking different languages ( i.e., English, French or Chinese) and trying to work together, and the back office is trying to manage it all. The goal of the FIM is to provide a small layer of a single common language on top of that.

It’s possible there will be other elements added to the FIM, but the TM Forum plans to start just with resource modeling and build on that over time.

The collaborators don’t have to entirely re-invent the wheel. "We have a resource model we publish that is very landline-focused," says Murphy. "We also model some fiber and some Ethernet equipment as well. We don’t have any wireless capability."

3GPP And CableLabs

That’s where the 3GPP comes in. The 3GPP is a partnership between groups of telecommunications associations to make a globally applicable third-generation (3G) system specification.

The TM Forum is looking at how it would incorporate models from other industry associations like the Broadband Forum and the Metro Ethernet Forum. "For the moment, we’re advanced in discussing the proposal with 3GPP," says Murphy. "We don’t model wireless. We don’t intend to model wireless. There’s a 3GPP model. What makes sense is to take what exists and make it work more cohesively."

She continues, "We don’t have any cable operators in this activity yet, but one of our key goals is to get some North American operators involved.” She mentioned Rogers Communications, AT&T and Verizon.

CableLabs is collaborating with the TM Forum to leverage TM Forum best practices, tools and standards for the cable industry. CableLabs has expanded its own focus on BSS/OSS through its Cable Information Services (CIS) Program. Through TM Forum’s Frameworx integrated business architecture standard, TM Forum and CableLabs will develop and promote standards or specifications for the cable customer experience.

Linda Hardesty is associate editor at Communications Technology. Contact her at lhardesty@accessintel.com.

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