Operation support systems (OSS) are increasingly gaining attention from an every-growing number of broadband service providers. As upgraded systems begin offering new and more operationally complex services, the pressure is mounting for ops to be able to market, provision, activate/deactivate and monitor the new services, as well as the network itself, automatically and seamlessly. Meanwhile, the biggest challenge to OSS–open access–is bearing down on providers... and fast.

In a perfect world, all providers would have to do is go to the local OSS-R-Us store, pick a system off the shelf, install it and charge ahead with a raft of new services. But fairy tales like that can only be seen on the Disney Channel.

In real life, providers have millions of dollars locked up in legacy systems that all too often don't talk to each other. For many operators, too many of the jobs that make up operational support are at varying degrees of automation.

A CSR can pull up new programming packages on his or her computer when a subscriber calls in, but they then have to fill out a form and send it to the appropriate department to get the service activated. The installer may get his install schedule printed out by a computer, but his written log as to what he's done during the day doesn't get updated until he drops it off at the end of the day.

An alarm goes off in the network operations center, alerting engineers to an amplifier failure. But it's a closed system, and they can't relay that information to the customer management system or personnel so they can field the inevitable complaints. Even then, they have fill out a report and/or work request form and call dispatch to find a technician who's free to go out and track down the faulty equipment. And, underlying all of those scenarios is the billing system and its connections (or lack thereof) to virtually every facet of the operational system.

As a result, says Ryan Jones, an analyst for The Yankee Group, operators have to stitch together patchwork OSS solutions for their systems. "At this stage of the game, it's really a Tinkertoys-type of approach," says Jones. "They're taking one solution from one place, another solution from some other place and connecting them together as their service needs demand that instant."

Jones says recent research appears to show that operators are currently maintaining expenditures in this area because it's a necessary implementation that's taken center stage at this point. The question is whether these capex levels in OSS will continue beyond 2002.

The thing to watch this year is how operators handle the OSS implications of open access. With the Excite@Home debacle and the push for operators to take all that functionality in house, the pressure is on operators to get some sort of OSS framework in place, before it's too late. And, once that's done, the question will be whether they'll be content with a patchwork system or opt to spend even more money on getting a unified platform in place for future service expansion.