Many questions surrounding OSS are left unanswered, and more problems still need to be solved. National CLECs, especially those that are also major IXCs, are still struggling with the overwhelming number of interfaces they must work with for OSS interconnection. The major IXCs and other CLECs have banded together to form the Local Competition Users Group (LCUG) to receive more cooperation from ILECs and possibly to convince the FCC that national interface standards must be passed. Similarly, the complex task of integrating legacy OSSs into more capable, accessible environments continues to plague incumbent carriers.
Along with these problems, however, come a host of opportunities for companies interested in the OSS market. With a growing number of CLECs comes a growing demand for billing, customer care, ordering and other such systems. These platforms, however, are generally dependent upon ILEC OSSs for the data needed to function, thus the market for interface-related systems-even if only interim-is wide open.
One of the major issues being wrestled with concerns OSS interfaces. To enable competition, CLECs must have dependable, fully automated access to ILEC back-office systems. One of the biggest problems with these interfaces is that they are not standardized. Just setting up one group of interfaces is difficult enough, but the difficulty is exponentially greater for the CLEC that wants to deal with multiple providers.
Mike Parker, executive director of business development for OmniPort Interconnection Services, deals with this problem daily, and says that CLECs want to have the opportunity to shop around for the services they resell. To do this, they must have multiple interfaces to multiple providers. Their own back-office systems also must be able to track which provider each service comes from, be flexible enough to change between providers to find the best rates and discounts on various services and present those services as a single, bundled package.
One of the greatest niches in this market is for software providers that can supply the pre-ordering, ordering, billing and other related systems that can handle the flexibility needs of new CLECs. Parker says, "The real opportunity for CLECs is to offer the widest variety of services across a wide base of providers. Any solution must provide for automated work-flow processes, order management, changes in trading partners, etc." CLEC systems, according to Parker, must also be able to meet ordering needs outside typical resale or unbundled network elements. For example, some CLECs may be interested in supplying services such as inside wiring, thus going beyond just the unbundled loop.
Another major issue being debated concerns standards. X-interface (such as the interface between an ILEC and a CLEC) standards are nonexistent, and current regulations do not require them. Standards for designing an OSS infrastructure do exist, however, in the form of the ITU-T's Telecommunications Management Network (TMN). It is often argued that national standards would make the whole OSS interconnection process much easier to manage. X-interface standards would alleviate many problems CLECs face in trying to interconnect with multiple carriers. This process could be made even easier if a standard method of process automation were adopted.
"Interfaces that have been standardized or where industry agreement has been reached, would significantly improve the enterprise ability to provide and utilize new service offerings," says Kim Lewis, director of service management with the NMF.
Whether through FCC regulation or industry consensus, some standardization agreement would seem necessary to truly enable competition. Mandated standards could be extremely costly to ILECs, however, because they have already invested an enormous amount of time and money to design their current interfaces. It seems unlikely that they would choose to become involved in a national standardization effort. The LCUG, which has recognized this possibility, has gone to the FCC to lobby for new regulations.
Though it has been nearly nine months since the FCC passed its interconnection order requiring ILECs to allow CLEC access to their back-office systems, not nearly as much progress has been made as regulators hoped. Competition has not yet been enabled, and it seems that more squabbling has been done than interconnection agreements made. Regardless, the OSS market continues to boom and has the potential to be one of the most lucrative frontiers for software developers.
Billing World OSS News OSS UPDATE Problems remain, but so do the opportunities
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