BSS and OSS lie at the heart of how telecoms networks function in terms of customer and network management respectively, and new technologies such as AI and virtualisation are changing the landscape.
BSS (Business Support Systems) and OSS (Operations Support Systems) are perhaps not the most headline grabbing area of the telecoms industry, but it’s a fundamental part of how it operates behind the scenes. As the technology serving these functions has evolved over the years – alongside the wider telecoms ecosystem – upgrades to newer systems promises benefits in cost and performance, but the integrated nature a of the systems means the process of doing so is not simple.
Using a very broad brush, BSS is concerned with things like customer and revenue management and OSS is about managing or monitoring the networks themselves – but there is a lot more to it than that as we explore with our panel of experts.
The differences between BSS and OSS
If you are not familiar with the terms, it may all sound a bit arcane and bewildering – so we asked our panel to succinctly sum up what BSS and OSS are and how they are different from one another.
“Business support systems and operational support systems are applications that allow telecom operators to take customer orders, provision services and collect revenue. Business support systems like customer management are similar to those used in other industries and hence the suppliers are often horizontal application providers like Salesforce rather than industry specialists,” explains James Crawshaw, Practice Leader, Service Provider Transformation, Omdia. “BSS like revenue management tend to be more telco-industry specific and so are often supplied by telco-industry specialists like Amdocs and Netcracker.”
Ragu Masilamany, Global Head of Solution Engineering and Labs, Amdocs adds: “Business Support Systems (BSS) help telcos achieve their strategic growth goals of modernising digital engagement and monetisation. Firstly, BSS is responsible for enabling and managing the overall B2B and B2C customer experience throughout the customer lifecycle. This includes when customers are browsing products or services, buying, and receiving support. Second, BSS is responsible for the monetisation of products and services – from customer orders to service consumption, subscription fees, and any additional services that are added throughout the customer lifecycle.
So that’s BSS – what about OSS?
Ari Banerjee, Senior Vice President at Netcracker Technology describes it as: “OSS, or Operations Support Systems, are the functions that help service providers monitor, analyse and manage their networks. This includes areas such as service fulfilment, service assurance, service inventory, network planning and design, product lifecycle management and service management and orchestration.”
Crawshaw adds: “OSS tend to be telco-industry specific although we do see horizontal app providers like ServiceNow in the upper layers of OSS, closer to the BSS layer (e.g., order management) but not interfacing directly with the network layer beneath. Because of the proximity of OSS to the network the suppliers are often network equipment vendors like Ericsson and Nokia. But given that networks are typically comprised of equipment from multiple vendors, CSPs often prefer to buy OSS from independent software vendors (ISVs) whose solutions more readily support multi-vendor networks. Examples of OSS ISVs include InfoVista and TEOCO as well as Amdocs and Netcracker whose portfolios span both BSS and OSS.”
New BSS and OSS technologies
We’ve established a picture of what the applications are there to do – but of course the technology behind them and requirements of modern networks have changed since mobile networks were first set up – and particularly with the advent of 5G.
King says that one element that has changed with regard to the nature of BSS and OSS is how they originated as bespoke platforms, but that the demands upon them are changing:
“BSS and OSS platforms have historically been custom built due to the enormity of the telecom industry, which was the original definition of scale. Services led engagements that began with bespoke designs, customized code, and a heavy reliance on data centre infrastructure as well as software development services was the norm. But the public cloud providers, known as hyperscalers in the telecom industry, became the ultimate disruptors.
“Instead of complex, inflexible, and customized software, they productized and automated, ensuring that slow decision-making, complex procurement processes, custom development of siloed billing, and other operational components of the stack don’t deliver frustrating customer experiences. While this initially seemed completely independent from the telecom industry, that is not the case today. In addition to the hyperscalers, new MVNO entrants in the market are redefining the customer experience, and contemporary BSS platforms are playing a very critical role.”
Making BSS/OSS more agile
Banerjee adds that part of the evolution has taken the form of moving BSS and OSS out of silos and making them more agile and integrated: “As service provider networks and services have evolved and changed over the past several decades, BSS and OSS platforms have also evolved from extremely siloed systems that had strict boundaries and only supported certain services or lines of business to become much more integrated, agile and sophisticated. Real-time requirements of 5G networks have led to higher expectations from BSS and OSS, including managing complex and dynamic services, offering hyper-personalised and engaging customer experiences and supporting a cloud-native architecture.”
BSS/OSS Cloud adoption and Automation
Moving operations over to the cloud, and the introduction of AI into certain processes of a network also has implications for BSS and OSS. Masilamany explains: “Move to the cloud is a major technology driver for the evolution of BSS and OSS, and other technologies such as AI/ML and generative AI come along with it. Moving to the cloud is also happening within telco networks where the networks are becoming increasingly software-driven, programmable, and hosted in the hybrid private-public-edge cloud. The benefits of AI-driven OSS to automate and orchestrate are immense.
Technology evolution in BSS and OSS systems uses low code for automation and development, which lowers the barrier to entry by relying on graphics to code, and benefits from open-source software and open APIs, which enhances and streamlines their use through collaboration.”
However, Crawshaw points out that while there have been changes in technology within and around telecoms, the role of BSS and OSS remains the same – though wider in scale:
“I don’t think the role has changed hugely but perhaps the scope of what they deliver has grown. BSS’ role is still to act as the interface with the customer and OSS then translates the customer requirements into instructions for the network infrastructure. The technology has evolved like all enterprise software from clunky systems that were inflexible and highly customised for each operator to flexible systems written in modern languages, running in virtual machines and containers in public and private cloud with open APIs enabling simpler integration. The TM Forum has played a key role in encouraging OSS/BSS vendors to embrace the concept of openness and agreeing common definitions for processes and applications so that all vendors and CSP IT architects use the same terminology.”
Upgrading BSS and OSS
For such crucial elements of a network, if not as often discussed as something like RAN or the Core, how easy is it then to upgrade BSS and OSS for telcos, and what are the consequences of not doing so quickly?
Crawshaw explains: “Traditionally it has been a complex process to upgrade OSS and BSS because of all the interdependencies between systems. Upgrades would require a lot of expensive integration services and change requests. Swapping out one BSS/OSS application for a solution from another vendor was even harder. Overtime this leads to an ossification of the IT stack. CSPs would like to use newer solutions from innovative vendors but are fearful of the risks of change.
“So, they only tend to use new solutions for a new line of business like an MVNO or IoT where they have an opportunity to design a new BSS/OSS stack from scratch. Then overtime, as the new systems show that they are reliable they try to move parts of their core business (e.g., consumer mobile) onto the new stack. The advantage in upgrading to newer systems is generally lower operating costs and improved customer and employee experience.
Benefits of BSS & OSS
In terms of what the benefits offered by newer systems are, Masilamany explains: “Modernising BSS and OSS systems solves a plethora of problems. In a competitive marketplace where networks are being continually upgraded, modern BSS and OSS software can give telcos invaluable agility when it comes to service innovation and creation. It can also lower operational costs, and provide a more ‘open’ system, enabling them to bring in OTT, software and cloud partners to help grow their businesses.
“On the flip side, if BSS and OSS systems aren’t updated, the dangers operators face include greater operating costs caused by legacy software, as well as the risk of technical debt whereby the internal support for these systems diminishes as the workforce ages and retires. External support is also a factor, as legacy software can open telcos up to security vulnerabilities if the developer no longer supports or updates the tools they have in place.”
Banerjee adds: “BSS/OSS systems need to be upgraded to keep up with modern service delivery requirements, network evolution and shorter time-to-market requirements. For example, systems that were relevant during the 3G era need to be upgraded as operators adopt 5G and transition to a dynamic, on-demand, cloud-centric world. Modernisation of IT solutions is critical for operators to remain competitive and lower their operational costs. Operators who delay their upgrade risk losing their competitive edge and missing out on revenue opportunities.”
BSS, OSS, AI and virtualisation
AI is being plugged into, and is subsequently having a disruptive impact upon, all sorts of sectors and business functions at the present moment, eliciting reactions across the board from optimistic visions of a more productive and hassle free world to frantic worries of a dystopian future with no jobs left for us mere humans. The application of artificial intelligence in some way shape or form is also relevant to BSS OSS, as well as other more recent technology areas such as virtualisation.
AI use cases for BSS/OSS
“On the business side, AI helps to improve the customer experience by providing personalised, contextualised, and self-service experiences and is also used to fully realise revenue potential by identifying up-sell and cross-sell opportunities,” says Masilamany. “The use of AI can also improve lead qualification and management, order fulfilment rates, and enhance data accuracy.
“On the operational side, AI is used to identify and fix, or predict and prevent, possible faults in service delivery. It also serves the critical automation and orchestration of complex services running over multiple networks and the edge.”
Crawshaw explains: “Most vendors sprinkle a bit of AI magic into their BSS/OSS solutions. For BSS this might be recommendations to a customer care agent using a CRM. For OSS it could be anomaly detection in a service assurance application. With the new craze around generative AI there are new use cases being developed, particularly in areas such as marketing.”
With regards to the impact the trend towards virtualisation has had on BSS and OSS within telecoms networks, he adds:
“The virtualization of network functions doesn’t impact BSS. It wasn’t meant to impact OSS either but new OSS (MANO) had to be developed to manage the virtualized infrastructure and existing OSS (such as service assurance) had to be adapted so be able to monitor network functions in their virtualized (rather than physical) form.”
King says plugging in AI systems to BSS and OSS can also help trawl customer data and allow a telco to make decisions, or ascertain why customers are leaving, for example:
“Artificial intelligence is powered by Machine Learning, and the fuel of Machine Learning is data. Within the communications infrastructure, BSS platforms are an unmatched gold mine of data. OSS systems also provide an enormous pool of network and operational data to allow proactive AI driven actions that address network issues before they impact customers. BSS Customer information such as real-time behavioral data that can identify high-value customers, predict subscriber churn, and pave the way for proactive retention tactics becomes the AI brain power needed to personalize the customer experience and continuously optimize services and pricing.”
Generative AI and BSS/OSS
So that’s where we are now – but what’s the next big technological change that’s likely to have an impact on BSS and OSS? Banerjee thinks its generative AI:
“ChatGPT and other large language models (LLM) are likely to be the next major breakthrough in AI-based customer experience (CX). While chatbots have become the norm in customer care, they are also a source of frustration for many customers. LLMs, trained on telco data and with access to customer history and context, will revolutionise the chatbot experience by taking on more complex problems and streamlining engagement with customers. While LLM integration will evidently reduce the need for customer care agents, it will also provide additional support for agents to solve problems that need real human interaction or help speed up back-end processes.”
In conclusion, BSS and OSS is very much a behind the scenes element of a telecoms network, but it’s a vital one, and wider technological disruptions and evolving demands from next generation comms tech mean there’s plenty of changes happening in the sector. For a more general explanation of networks check out our deep-dive on What is 5G? And predictions on the what the industry thinks is on the horizon in What is 6G?