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Mobile backhaul grows as business opportunity

Wed, 04/30/2008 - 8:30pm
Beau Atwater, Vice President of Strategy & Marketing, Global Solutions, Telcordia

An overarching OSS will be key to success

Editor’s note: Last month in CED, cable operators were given an overview of how mobile backhaul works, in “Understanding mobile backhaul,” from Randy Eisenach of Fujitsu Network Communications. In this issue, we explore some of the OSS components necessary for moving forward.

With the emergence of next-generation mobile services such as Web applications, streaming video, and multimedia communications, mobile operators are attracting increasing volumes of traffic; however, this traffic is not yet well understood. This unpredictability creates considerable operational challenges, in particular when managing the backhaul, the portion of the network that connects cell sites to corresponding mobile switching centers (MSCs). These operational challenges can result in over-engineered networks, translating into backhaul transport costs that account for as much as 30 to 40 percent of overall network operating expenses, and 50 percent of capex.

Figure 1: Next-generation network
Figure 1: Next-generation network
support/infrastructure – U.S. cell tower backhaul requirements forecasts (2002-2012).

Cable companies with high-capacity fiber transport rings that sit close to cell sites are in an ideal position to offer backhaul transport facilities to mobile operators. Analysts predict an opportunity to make $15 billion in wholesale transport revenue by 2011. With more than 200,000 wireless network cell sites in need of backhaul connections, this represents a huge opportunity.

However, given the rapidly growing nature of this type of business and the operational challenges in making it sustainable, an overarching operations support systems (OSS) environment is mandatory. It provides visibility to both wholesalers and the lessees while simultaneously managing multiple systems, vendors and technologies.

Traditionally, the mobile backhaul portion of the network has been complex. Its management has been addressed by manual processes and operators have limited visibility of the whole picture. Unless resolved through automation and transparency among operational functions, mobile operators will not realize the potential value. Value is achieved with an operational environment using standards-based components that enable the flow-through fulfillment and fault management of backhaul circuits.

PIONEERING AUTOMATED MOBILE RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Time Warner Cable has implemented a dual-tier strategy to research the mobile backhaul business opportunity. One group of activities is comprised of trials conducted in-house by product management, engineering and vendor partners.

The other area of focus is collaboration within the TM Forum (TMF) which helps the industry address the operational challenges in offering services such as mobile backhaul.

Time Warner Cable feels that the TMF’s leadership and guidance, technical and business innovation, and education and training will improve the way cable companies can create, deliver, assure and charge for services. TMF’s membership is comprised of 655 service provider; BSS/OSS; service integration (SI); and content, media and entertainment companies. Time Warner Cable will establish an architectural blueprint for integrating the various OSS components through work with the TMF members.

“Our success with digital phone and residential voice offerings has attracted a number of people from the telecom world who are already familiar with the TMF’s ability to accelerate time-to-market with emerging technologies and concepts,” says Jonathan Anderson, VP with Time Warner Cable’s Advanced Technology Group. “Already active in VoIP and residential voice services, commercial product management and engineering thought it was a natural next step to evaluate related products like wireless or commercial and cellular backhaul as a commercial service.”

Figure 2: U.S. wireless capex allocations
Figure 2: U.S. wireless capex allocations
for 2007 equal $21.2 billion.

Anderson notes that the common thread among all those services would be the complexity of provisioning and support. “We decided to leverage the TMF’s domain and technology standards for integrating OSSs to complement the ongoing internal trials that were taking place,” adds Anderson.

It would prove a symbiotic proposition, as the TMF was simultaneously considering the importance of creating entry points for cable operators wanting to offer mobile backhaul services. The cross-industry communication that would ensue from a relationship with Time Warner Cable was enough to galvanize a cable operator-led initiative to automate service inventory along with fault management in the context of a Mobile Backhaul Management Catalyst project.

THE ‘WISH LIST’
The goal of the Mobile Backhaul Management Catalyst project was to implement an automated mobile resource management platform based upon a SOA (service oriented architecture) framework. Time Warner Cable needed a carrier grade solution to ensure that provisioning and activation would meet the needs of its carrier customers.

To showcase the possibilities for mobile operators, Time Warner Cable wanted to demonstrate a consolidated facility management approach that included both a logical and physical asset view by the time 2007 TeleManagement World in Dallas rolled around. Less than 12 months away, the aggressive timeframe would push the TMF and Time Warner Cable to quickly develop “management and monitoring” capabilities. “We knew the level of network and system integration necessary would be led by TMF’s arsenal of standards,” says Anderson, referring to NGOSS (next-gen OSS), Multi-Technology Operations System Interface (MTOSI), Shared Information/Data (SID) model, eTOM and OSS/J interfaces.

Those standards would be paramount to eliminating any need for extensive Java scripting, hard coding or intense pre-integration work. All components would have to integrate out-of-the-box through open APIs and table-driven, meta-data approaches that complied with OSS/J and MTOSI standards.

ASSEMBLING THE RIGHT TEAM
To achieve an open, integrated framework of OSS and network components, Time Warner Cable sought partners from TMF member companies that possessed not only proven performance capabilities, but also proven flexibility through open interfaces. The TMF assigned a dedicated team to work with Time Warner Cable on addressing technical questions and recommending TMF members that met those criteria.

The integrity of precious backhaul circuit and customer data would lie at the heart of the Mobile Backhaul Catalyst platform, which meant that a high-performance and flexible service inventory system would be necessary. Given its experience with its own deployment of Telcordia Granite Inventory, Time Warner Cable chose to work with TMF member Telcordia. “It was logical to build on that to take advantage of its full capabilities for network inventory management and circuit management,” notes Anderson.

Time Warner Cable was aware of Telcordia’s experience with global carrier customers of all sizes and selected Telcordia Granite Inventory to play a key role in the project. Telcordia’s J2EE-based three-tier architecture was considered to be flexible enough to separate business logic from validation rules – something Time Warner Cable felt would be extremely important. After all, mobile operators would need to make changes to services without destroying the data on which validation processes and systems depend. In other words, data could not be added to the database of record without proper validations.

In addition to the Telcordia Granite inventory system, Time Warner Cable chose Nakina Systems as the vendor that would connect to multifarious EMSs for alarm detection and reporting. In the project, Nakina would connect to Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent – two other partners chosen for the Catalyst – via TMF’s MTOSI interfaces.

Time Warner Cable also selected IBM’s NetCool solution to receive reports on impacted backhaul circuits and customers. NetCool would query Granite Inventory about the circuits and customers impacted by the fault, translate the information and push it to the BMC Remedy system for trouble ticketing. Critical to that task would be Telcordia’s Partner Link Tool Kit, which was used to develop the SOA-based Web Service interface among NetC ool, Granite and BMC Remedy.

To tie all the different pieces together, Cognizant played the systems integration role, and by September 2007, Cognizant helped Time Warner Cable establish a lab environment. Sun Microsystems provided the servers to run the various OSS elements of the project.

By October, Cognizant assembled all of the preconfigured pieces that were shipped by the respective Catalyst members.

Once the equipment was acquired and software licenses were secured, it was only a matter of weeks for installation and configuration of the entire OSS environment to be complete. Time Warner attributes the speed of integration to OSS/J and MTOSI API sets, which provided a publish-and-subscribe methodology of encapsulating information for the various SOA services used.

In less than 12 months from inception, the Catalyst yielded the solid result of a first step toward the overall architecture that supported the point-to-point Ethernet Virtual Connections (EVCs) used to implement the backhaul circuits.

By November, the Catalyst members were prepared to show off their accomplishments at TeleManagement World Americas in Dallas. The demonstration simulated a card failure and the ease of subsequent troubleshooting activities. The card failure affected one of the underlying Metro Ethernet connections, Metro Ethernet being chosen as a prototypical transport technology available to cable operators.

Figure 3: OSS architecture.
Figure 3: OSS architecture.

SHOWCASING THE RESULTS
During the demo at the TM Forum event, point-to-point Ethernet connections were established in advance to represent the backhaul transport circuits and a card was removed to simulate a network failure. This represented just one of myriad potential failure scenarios (e.g., cell sites, switching centers, routers). The demonstration proved a success. The OSS environment immediately recognized the missing card, and onlookers watched as Nakina translated failure alert information from the Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco EMSs. A comprehensive set of data about the fault was then successfully transmitted to the NetCool system through the MTOSI interfaces, and the alarm was clearly displayed in the NetCool GUI.

Then NetCool communicated with Granite Inventory over a SOA-based Web service interface to query Granite Inventory about the circuit and customer data that were impacted by the equipment fault. NetCool then displayed the information on the affected paths and customers. That information was then pushed to the BMC Remedy system for consequent trouble ticketing.

“The response was positive from both OSS vendors and service providers who were watching the demo. It proved to be a good match of a real-world problem with the resources made available by the TMF,” says Anderson.

The overall success of the demonstration showed the feasibility of combining service fulfillment and fault management elements to fully automate the service management of mobile backhaul transport facilities. The service failure tracing capabilities of the Telcordia Granite Inventory system proved that precise trouble tickets with root cause and affected circuits and services could be generated automatically, providing the transparency required to realize the value in the mobile backhaul market.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
With the initial success of the first demonstration of the project in Dallas, the Catalyst participants are looking forward to the next phase – incorporating the latest evolution of the MTOSI standard into a subsequent demonstration that showcases the provisioning aspects of mobile backhaul services. It is expected that MTOSI v. 2.9 will enable sophisticated fault and trouble management processes in multi-vendor environments.
The timing will depend on the release of the MTOSI v. 2.9 specification.

As the first iteration of this project has proven, the technologies, open interfaces and frameworks exist today that mitigate some of the operational complexity inherent in managing mobile backhaul services. Process automation, flow-through and system visibility are key ingredients that are not only achievable, but also affordable.

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