IMS, which has been around for years as a 3GPP standard in the cellular world, enables telcos to monetize their IP networks by giving them much-needed control over their bit pipes. It reinstates a model in which telcos can add legitimate value and charge for it.
While IMS promises telcos the capability to more quickly implement a wealth of new convergent services for individual customers, carriers will need to have best-of-breed BSS and OSS systems in place to gain all the benefits IMS promises.
'BSS and OSS are telcos' spinal cords that support whatever fancy plans they have or IMS services, so they need to be sure that their BSS and OSS systems can support IMS,' says Arindam Banerjee, senior analyst for telecom software strategies at Yankee Group. 'IMS has a lot of impact in how you rate or bill sessions, because it's pretty different than the way it was done previously.'
Specifically, real-time charging capability is becoming extreme important in the IMS environment, especially with the advent of 3G, mobile data and video contents.
This is particularly important for operators to increase revenues when dealing with third-party or unsolicited services. In many cases, third parties will be involved in providing both digital content and multimedia. Many commercial offers and promotions (such as a discount the subscriber can accept or reject) will be made in real-time, so the calculations must also be done in real-time, says Graham Cobb, director of IMS product marketing at Telcordia Technologies.
In other words, the IMS system must handle complex promotions, discounts and settlements with multiple parties across a wide variety of services and media.
The rating/billing systems must also enable the operator to offer creative pricing plans as a point of differentiation, as well as rapidly integrate new service delivery platforms so that operators can introduce new services, rate plans and promotions in days, minutes or even seconds, not months.
'IMS is all about services. The whole purpose of IMS is to enable innovative services and to allow operators to move away from competing on just voice-call pricing,' Cobb says. 'So, it is critical that the new services can be charged for in a flexible and cost-effective way.'
In addition to the billing side, IMS will also bring a set of new requirements to the OSS systems. Burt Sky, director of research, carrier operations and strategies at Gartner, says telcos need to consider how they converge IMS services at the back-office to the OSS side. Telcos, for instance, need to plan in advance the network and session management with a full set of rich features that allows the end-user to access, activate and experience the services in a timely and responsive manner with the level of quality expected.
This can be referred to as the service fulfillment portion where OSS vendors enable a complete suite of integrated functionality leveraging a single database with managed rules and processes, he says. 'This is very different than in today's point applications that address discrete areas such as inventory management and trouble ticketing.'
Recently announced partner relationships with Amdocs and Cramer, he adds, demonstrate the evolution of not just billing but the convergence of BSS and OSS as the critical next phase of the business and operational requirements.