Nortel’s Personal Internet



The dotcom burst has happened and everywhere there is a
search to rediscover new business routes and avenues. Nonetheless, several
analysts suggest that the content boom is a major new market phenomenon. They go
on to add that bandwidth alone is insufficient to address the growing demand,
and new network and content intelligence is needed. Reports from various
research organizations suggest this. According to Ovum Ltd., the next generation
of Internet services is set to explode to over $40 billion by 2006.
Additionally, Morgan Stanley estimates the market opportunity for content
networking products and services will grow to over $22 billion by 2004. A study
by IDC indicates that delivery of new content is expected to increase in line
with the Asia Pacific region’s high Internet growth rates. IDC expects ISP
revenue in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) to increase from approximately $6.1
billion in 1999 to $22 billion by 2004. Gartner predicts the number of Internet
users in the Asia Pacific region will increase from 72 million in 2001 to 188
million by 2004, encouraged in part by the wider availability of local content.
And, this is the reason why Cisco and Nortel have taken the lead to address the
emerging markets.

What is Personalized Internet? It’s a new layer of network
intelligence that is aware of the preferences of the Internet users and the
attributes of content being requested. It’s believed that incorporating this
intelligence into the content delivery process maximizes revenue opportunities
for the service providers, who will be able to deliver a user-customized,
content-rich, secure and high-performance web experience virtually
“anytime, anywhere” and on any browser capable device. According to
Dominic Orr, president, content networking, Nortel Networks, “Nortel’s
Personal Internet initiative leverages the mobility of the wireless Internet,
the reach of the local Internet and the capacity of the optical Internet to
unlock the true value of the Internet for both consumers and service providers
in Asia”.

Nortel Networks Personal Internet Initiative

Nortel’s new portfolio of Personal Internet products, which
are claimed to help application, hosting and service providers, content
publishers and enterprises, consists of a new suite of hardware and software
offerings. This includes Nortel Networks Shasta Personal Content Portal, a
platform-independent software engine that will enable delivery of customized
content services for subscribers and content providers. Nortel Networks Alteon
Personal Content Director, the first content-aware request router that will
deliver true user-proximity routing to optimum content sites in real time, based
on network load, request attributes and proximity intelligence.

Nortel Networks Alteon Personal Content Cache is a
high-performance caching system for web and streaming media content. Nortel
Networks Alteon Content Distribution Manager, a highly scalable content
management appliance that will provide simplified management, accounting and
control of distributed content. Nortel Networks Alteon 780 web switch, a family
of high-capacity, high-density carrier class content switching systems for
high-volume Internet data center environments.

Personal Internet is willing to create new Internet control
points at the subscriber and content edges, which are best suited for seeing
users session information, making content routing decisions, enforcing and
applying user and content routing policy, and deciding the best content and from
where to serve it. Nortel Networks, at the moment, is very uniquely positioned
to deliver the Personal Internet primarily because of Alteon and Shasta. On one
hand, Nortel Networks’ Shasta 5000 Broadband Service Node, Shasta Personal
Content Portal, is a platform-independent content delivery software engine that
lets service providers control content access, steer subscribers and deliver
self provisioned services on a per subscriber basis. On the other hand, as a key
requirement in the delivery of personalized Internet services is real time
knowledge of the distance between a user and the requested content, its Alteon
Personal Content Director will go beyond current DNS-based request routing
implementations to deliver true, user-proximity routing based on real time
network path reliability and load. Further, a patent pending adaptive content
routing technology will enable real time performance mapping of all content
delivery paths relative to the user. To ease management and distribution of
static and streaming media content, its Alteon Personal Content Cache and Alteon
Content Distribution Manager are handy. Alteon Personal Content Cache is a
high-performance cache system with advanced capabilities, such as prioritized
content pinning and concurrent live stream splitting and caching. Its Content
Distribution Manager is an advanced content distribution and management platform
that enables sophisticated content distribution, global distribution, global
accounting and billing features.

Nortel Networks has also introduced the Nortel Networks
Alteon 780 line of large-scale, carrier-class web switching systems as an
extension to the current Nortel Networks Alteon 700 series of Internet data
center web switches. The 780 line claims to deliver a high-density,
high-capacity (256 Gbps) and highly resilient web switching capability for data
centers because it combines the integrated layers 2 and 3 switching, and routing
with comprehensive layers 4 to 7 content intelligent switching applications.
Alteon 780 is based on purpose built Nortel Networks Alteon WebIC network
processing ASICs, and supports the full suite of award winning Nortel Networks
Alteon Web OS traffic management software.

The introduction of this new suite of content networking
products and patent pending technology at the subscriber and content edges by
Nortel, is to extend its leadership position in another market–personalized
Internet services–in addition to that of optical, wireless, local Internet and
e-business. This route, through a new layer of content intelligence, delivers
value-added services in addition to the existing infrastructure.

Ch. Srinivas Rao

What is the Problem?

Let us start with stating the obvious. Most of the billing systems were
designed and built two or three decades ago. Much water has flowed under the
telecom bridge since then. Rigid regulations have given way to intense
competition. Telecom networks are jumping onto the IP bandwagon. And then there
is the ubiquitous Internet. With carriers moving into new vistas, offering whole
new breeds of services, these legacy billing systems (centralized and
batch-oriented) are not very easily changed, and as a result have become
expensive to maintain and modify, to adapt to the demands imposed by new
services. In other words, billing is no longer about sending an invoice and
collecting payment.

As the world of IP services continues to expand at a break-neck speed and
service providers look at offering new services for broadband, intelligent
networks, wireless, cable and Internet, it necessitates the need for new
billing systems to collect payment for these new revenue opportunities. This is
exactly where billing systems, hitherto considered unglamorous and simple, don a
new robe: a critical tool for marketing, customer care and revenue assurance.
What’s more, it is the billing and customer care infrastructure, which is
going to be the key differentiator in any service
delivery.

Billing, for long, has been defined as gathering data for customer use,
provisioning features, calculating costs and invoicing for payment. Though these
still remain the essential characteristic traits of a billing system, any
service provider worth its salt would vouch for the fact that billing has
emerged as a core function. Thanks to deregulation and technology, companies now
provide services beyond their core competency. With the demarcation line
blurring between wireless and wireline, service providers in the country are
foraying into multiple market segments, with multiple services. Billing comes to
the fore here as these new business opportunities are more challenging to
support and operate.

Emerging Killer App.

“The bill is today used as a medium to communicate with the customer
from a marketing and customer care point of view. The bill reflects and confirms
tariffing and service related assurances made to the customer at the time of
sale and his lifecycle with us,” says Sheila Paul, DGM, IT of BPL Mobile
Communications. Brinda Sekhar, VP, IT and Enhanced Services, with Spice Telecom,
supports this: “Billing is a very powerful means of staying in touch with
the customer. With the current thrust on CRM, billing is a vital relationship
builder.” But with many companies going in for CRM suites, the customer
care functionality in a billing system is redundant to some extent, adds Anil
Gajwani, VP, Technology and Information Systems, with Orange.

Here is another testimonial from Shiv Raichand, CTO of Esctotel, ”
Though the billing system costs just 3-4 percent of the total capital cost, it
is criticality too high.” Still skeptical? Take this from one of the
pioneers in telecom software in India, says, Prakash Deval, billing centers
manager with MBT says, “Billing data holds a wealth of information, which
can be effectively used to position the telcos products and services, and for
optimum utilization of the telcos infrastructure.”

Perhaps the most discernible change is that customers are educated now and
are demanding new and innovative services and customized methods of information
processing/communications/trading. “With the advent of Internet-based
technology services offerings, billing systems are now at the forefront of the
strategic service revolution,” says Kishore Kali, VP, e-business
infrastructure of Global Tele Systems Ltd.

The same sentiment is echoed by a study carried out by TeleStrategies Inc.,
which says that sophisticated subscribers, complex connectivity and competition
among carriers for fast-moving customers are what make billing a vital marketing
tool. The study points out that within billing systems, rating and discounting
functionality must accommodate the constant demand for new rating plans, product
bundles and promotions. In other words, your billing system offers you brand
loyalty among subscribers. But the caveat here is which billing system is
optimized for your services?

It all boils down to one thing: One single bill for the different services
offered. Points out Sheila Paul, ” Most of the billing issues arise due to
billing systems not supporting market requirements and data capturing errors.
The most important consideration for telecom service providers today is the
billing system’s ability to charge for new and varied services through a
single bill.”

Other issues that must be addressed when managing the billing system are
scalability, reliability and accuracy, to name a few. And you also need to
understand the gaps in the present billing system to bridge them. These can be
listed as the lack of flexibility and open interface with systems, frequency of
upgrades to support market demands and technological advancements. Sheila Paul
cuts it short thus: current billing systems are not geared towards allowing
flexible charging for data oriented services and for rating of third party
services.

Needless to say, the real ordeal for any billing system lies in the ability
to bill different services (local and long distance phone, Internet, wireless,
cable TV, etc) on a single bill. This clears the ground for convergent billing
or next-generation billing.

What is Convergent Billing?

How do you bill when your calls are free? This is a question which haunts
many of the service providers as voice revenues are southward bound while data
is spiraling heavenwards. The case in question is wireless carriers. With mobile
Internet and commerce emerging as the buzzwords, made possible by technologies
like GPRS, a mobile operator can no longer depend on his legacy billing system
to charge for these new revenue streams. Wireless Internet carriers need to
collect billing data from multiple network elements and third-party platforms.
Assume that a mobile operator takes GPRS service for 15 thousand subscribers.
This would mean that the operator has to spend Rs 78 lakhs on a billing gateway
alone, while the cost of other GPRS equipment works out to Rs 7.32 core. Though
GPRS is yet to take off in India and with operators planning to go in for a flat
fee in the initial period, this may not pose major problems for the existing
billing system. But GPRS demands are to be based on usage basis and not
duration, as is the case now. “Most of the billing vendors do offer
flexibility in terms of rating. But none of these systems have the proven
ability to meet the needs of the new breed of convergent and IP-enabled
services,” says Anil Gajwani. The point is buttressed by Brinda Sekhar, who
says that the scalability of the system to handle growing volumes of data and
presentation in various formats are the other major billing issues for a
cellular service provider today. But a word of caution here from Shiv Raichand:
Whether the billing system should be totally changed depends on the operator —
whether the present system is capable of being upgraded to take care of the new
requirements.

Here is another example: Hughes tele.com, the basic service provider for
Maharashtra, is contemplating to roll out a host of new services like broadband,
limited mobility and Internet. “We can’t provide different bills for
different services to our customers. Obviously the challenge here is the
flexibility of the exiting billing systems to factor in these new services. As
of now, we don’t have a system to integrate all service charges into one
single customer invoice and this multi-dimension of new services is what makes
the existing billing system vulnerable,” says Navin Bhasin, head of
customer care and revenue assurance with Hughes. There can be no greater
annoyance to the subscriber than getting over billed or billed twice a month and
then have to take out his precious time to visit the service providers office to
sort things out, quips Anandya Chakraborthy, senior consultant with Birla
Technologies. The hard fact is that if a billing system cannot support
next-generation services, then the carriers and content providers either cannot
properly synchronize the retail/wholesale equation or, even worse, simply cannot
offer the product.

“Most of the available billing systems now are typically home grown
legacy systems and lack flexibility, market responsiveness and are not customer
oriented, says Kishore Kali. Another key factor that needs to fall into place
for billing systems to support these new generation services: gathering data. If
it can’t be quantified, it can’t be billed is the rule of the game. This
holds truer with the introduction of IP technology and services, which are now
sending shock waves through the telecom industry. The difficulties IP billing
create center on the inability of telecommunications networks to distinguish
between the type of content being accessed or the application being used. For
example, the billing system may not be able to determine if the content is voice
or data, or is using application service provider supported applications or
e-mail. This is exactly where most of the incumbent billing vendors were caught
off guard.

Where to Look for Billing Solutions?

First, any service provider would need to understand his requirements before
looking out for a vendor. And would do themselves a favor by asking these
questions: which one is optimized for my services? Which one can handle my
business support requirements such as data collection, provisioning, credit
management, taxing, rating and others? Which one is flexible enough to
accommodate my future pricing strategies, service bundles and business models?
Which one integrates with the remainder of my OSS?

Many companies begin with the assumption that a premade system works. This
solution is appropriate for certain environments, but service providers must
find out who the best vendors are for their billing needs. It is vital to
understand how the software works and what it will bring to the business. Always
bear in mind the fact that the bill is the only interaction the subscriber has
with the service provider each month and is a main driver of customer loyalty.

Take a quick look at the expectations from the so-called next generation
billing before crossing the bridge. "The customer should be able to access
bills in any desirable format, with convenient payment options. Also, send
statements for post-paid customers (like we do for a segment of prepaid
customers)," says Brinda Sekhar. It should be an advanced solution to
deliver high levels of flexibility and automation for multi technology and multi
service environment. Also, it should support ad hoc invoicing, multiple billing
cycles, and store and process voice/data traffic. The billing must also be an
on-line, real-time system, sums up Kishore Kali. Another key factor is
mediation, with an interface to multiple network elements; online
filtering/convergence and aggregation of records; and GUI-based mediation
parameters.

Outsourced Vs. In-house Billing Solutions

When any service provider develops a new or updated billing strategy, one of
the most important questions to ask first is whether an outsourced or an
in-house solution is a better fit for the needs of the service provider. There
is not always a straightforward answer to this question, and there are many
things to consider when making this decision. There are differing views on this
crucial question: Is billing a core function? Can a service provider outsource
billing? Many service providers stand unanimous in their view that billing is
best outsourced rather than developed in-house as it is not their
core-competency. "Billing is no doubt a core function, but can be
outsourced only to vendors who have expertise in specific billing systems
deployed by the service provider. Outsourcing in India depends on the level of
guarantee the vendor can give a service provider on maintaining confidentiality,
accuracy, timely billing, the service providers’ definition of his core
capabilities and how he intends to service the customer," remarks Sheila
Paul. According to Brinda Sekhar, outsourcing billing can be a viable option,
although the final presentation and process may still be controlled by the
service provider. This would also encourage billing houses with expertise in
this area to introduce newer technologies and efficiencies gained from multiple
operators. The service provider, says Kali, that requires new or upgraded
billing systems must choose an appropriate role associated with their technical
competence and commission the correct relationship and technology suppliers. In
short, the option can be defined as either buy direct from technology suppliers
and integrators or employ system integrators to build a system and run it for
yourself.

It’s all Possible!

Preparedness. That is the key to survival for any service provider. They must
keep an eye on the future, when billing systems will be required to process much
more than just telecom products and services. Internet, broadband and wireless
markets are still developing. What’s more, newer technologies have not
introduced any complexity, as most additions such as cable or ISP services, have
involved flat or one-time fees. But that doesn’t leave any scope for
complacency. IP technology is wreaking havoc on the telecommunications industry
and complications are bound to arise with IP billing.

Changes in technology undoubtedly have introduced some complexity. But, on
the same breath, have solved other problems. Legacy systems are not necessarily
bad boys, as new protocols bridge the gap between operating systems, databases
and hardware. Thus, billing vendors can ease out of the debate about technology
and return to designing systems to alleviate billing problems.

Vendors

MT Jeevan

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