The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of communication service providers (CSPs) in many ways. In this article, we look at the current state of CSP cloud migration and provide insights into what steps CTOs should consider when migrating their BSS functions to the cloud with telco-grade reliability.
BSS functions include customer care, self-care, billing and product cataloguing. And it is precisely these functions that are essential to turning CSP’s assets into revenues. BSS technology is decades old and runs on complex applications with proprietary integrations that leave little room for innovation; however, things are evolving.
Defining Cloud-Native BSS
Cloud migration is the process of moving data, applications or other workloads to a cloud-computing environment. One common model is to transfer data and applications from a local on-premises data center to a public, hybrid or private cloud. Cloud-native BSS is the migration of BSS applications to the cloud that meet a certain number of criteria:
- Adapts to the cloud’s underlying infrastructure to maximise the flexibility of future cloud developments
- Containerisation of software components which enables faster testing and integrations
- Applications remain isolated from other components without service interruption
- Application logic and database remain separated to ensure service continuity in case of failures
- Orchestration and automation are optimised as much as possible
Current State of Telco Cloud Migration
In its annual digital transformation tracker, TM Forum reveals that operators’ commitment to a
cloud-native approach for IT workloads has strengthened over the past year; nearly a third
of CSP respondents confirmed their companies’ commitment — up from 22% in 2021. CSPs are no longer as willing to remain locked into relationships with network equipment and OSS/BSS providers as they have been in the past.
As shown below, adoption of cloud-native technology tops the list of priorities among CSPs.
CSPs recognise the benefits that cloud-native technology offers. These benefits include agility, scalability, faster and easier introduction of new services, increased customer personalisation and lower operating costs. TM Forum indicates that most operators have started with cloud-native BSS, such as systems of engagement and charging systems. However, CSPs are still worried that a cloud-native platform is not suitable for all functions because concerns continue about security and privacy. Data sovereignty is also an impediment to moving all workloads to the cloud.
Key Stages for Cloud-Native BSS Migration
As shown in the graph above, many CSPs are already deploying microservices. However, they need to manage practical issues when scaling and adding more complex functions. The following stages should be considered by CSPs wanting to leverage the in-place cloud infrastructure to start their cloud-native migration.
Adopt “shift-left” for new microservices
As CSPs adopt and scale microservices across multiple cloud environments in various parts of their businesses, managing these environments becomes more complex and difficult. One widely accepted approach to operating applications built on microservices is “shift left”. The principle of shift left is to take a task that is traditionally done at a later stage of the process and perform that task at earlier stages, thus “spreading” the task to all stages of the process flow. This reduces risks and costs by enabling early problem resolution and greater automation. In addition, by adopting a shift left approach to rolling out new microservices with a minimum viable product (MVP) and test philosophy, CSPs can reduce their time to market and repair, resulting in a greater net promoter score (NPS).
Telco-grade cloud-native architecture
When a new customer purchases a SIM card and subscribes to a mobile plan, a complex workflow is initiated. The process starts with:
- checking payment authorisation
- provisioning the CRM
- creating a billing account
- provisioning all telecommunications systems (authorisation, authentication, HSS/HLR, cost control system, policy control)
- checking the smartphone stock
- ordering the logistics
- ordering the delivery
In proprietary old BSS platforms, that flow can run into various problems because the steps are not integrated with APIs, and workloads are isolated from each other. If a program fails, then it will affect all the flow because it is not container componentised and is not based on a standard.
Moving that flow to the cloud can enable all tasks to be managed centrally as microservices. Microservices applied on containers are easier to test, launch and update without causing issues with other applications. From an operational perspective, CSPs will be able to automate more and deliver faster, more personalised BSS services. However, providing telco-grade services with “five nines” reliability and availability requires special telco skills not available “out of the box” from public cloud providers. CSPs will need guidance from their software vendor to ensure a successful cloud migration.
Move to DevOps approach
DevOps is a set of practices that combines software development and IT operations. It aims to shorten the systems development life cycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality. The major features which CSPs should be looking for in cloud-native BSS include: a decomposed architecture based on site reliability engineering (SRE) methodology, CI/CD, open source, access to data for enhanced analytics and AI and high levels of automation. CI/CD introduces ongoing automation and continuous monitoring throughout the lifecycle of apps — from integration and testing phases to delivery and deployment. CSPs should adopt an approach of leveraging the add-ons available instead of customising every piece of software.
Leverage cloud skills
CSPs face fierce competition for software and digital skills, some of which are in short supply. People with these skills often find internet and cloud businesses more attractive and lucrative than telcos, which can be perceived as old-fashioned. For most CSPs, however, this shortage means they have a big challenge ahead with onboarding enough cloud engineering staff and getting them into senior positions to deliver change. As a result, CSPs should leverage the cloud skills of their hyperscaler partners while developing their own minimum set of cloud skills.
As the relationships between CSPs and cloud providers are deepening, CSPs need to develop a clear strategy on how they add value to customer relationships.