What’s hot and what’s hype in carrier infrastructure

IPTV, prepaid/postpaid convergence, universal charging platform and mobile virtual network enablers are technologies sliding down.

Customer-centric service monitoring, convergent carrier advertising platforms, integrated network and enterprise resource management are on the way up.

That’s now Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle chart for carrier network infrastructure applications reads for these and a number of other technologies vendors are pushing at carriers today.

The cycle, prepared annually, is the research company’s way of rating technologies to help service providers figure out when, or if, products are worth buying. It looks like a bell curve with the bottom right-hand side stretched out.

That’s because as Norbert Scholz, the report’s lead author, points out, applications and platforms don’t always succeed or die.

“Every product gets hyped up in its initial stages,” he explained in an interview (see 1, below). But users often find it doesn’t meet expectations or work as the maker promised. Interest drops – hence the slide on the cycle (see 2, below). But often vendors then pour in more money to improve the product, users come back and – if the maker is fortunate or good – the product proves itself (see 3, below). That’s the graceful curve on the right slowly sloping back up.

So the Hype Cycle is a way of telling providers where technologies are in this roller coaster, as well as a guess at how fast it will be before mainstream adoption.

Among the big changes to this year’s evaluation is the resurrection of applications that merge back-office billing and front-office CRM systems, from vendors such as Amdocs, Comverse, SAP and Convergys. The idea is to create a unified customer management system.

A year ago, Gartner judged the concept dead, in part because many providers may have up to 150 billing systems. But Scholz noted that Oracle has recently made acquisitions in this space and others are moving into it. “There probably is a chance it might happen in the long term,” he said cautiously.

Another change is the inclusion in the list of IMS, an open architecture based on SIP and diameter authentication, authorization and accounting protocols. It defines how applications and services are delivered to customers regardless of which network they run on.

Gartner calls it a promising long-term architecture offered by companies such as Nortel, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens. But, it warns, IMS needs considerable system integration to deliver on promised results.

“Consider waiting until a more real-world offering is available,” the report advises.

The biggest shift from last year’s ranking was deciding revenue assurance applications or processes are moving into the mainstream, said Scholz. These solutions, from vendors such as cVidya Networks, Connectiva, eCtel, Proftivit and others enable service providers to examine points of revenue leakage and correct data before they reach the billing system.

If these applications cause the heads of service providers to spin, Scholz warns they need to develop fresh skills to handle new media-oriented technologies such as digital rights management.

That means departments are going to have to work closer, he said. “Many (carriers) are aware of it, but many are moving relatively slowly.”

Here’s where Gartner places technologies on its curve:

1. On The Rise:

– Customer-centric service monitoring. These are solutions that monitor and analyze multiple aspects of a customer’s interaction with carriers, aggregating transactional data to generate reports. Vendors include Agilent Technologies, Aran Technologies, IBM.

– Convergent carrier advertising platforms. A set of technologies that exploit advertising opportunities to online, wireless or IPTV customers by exploiting Web 2.0. Vendors include Microsoft, Yahoo, Alcatel-Lucent, JumpTap.

-Integrated network and enterprise resource management. A unified resource management platform to provide carriers with greater transparency of the costs of network elements. Vendors include Amdocs, Oracle, SAP.

At The Peak

-Billing and CRM convergence.

-Next-generation service delivery platform. A set of integrated software components that support delivery of IP and non-IP carrier services that can automate service delivery. Vendors include Accenture, BEA, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, HP, IBM, Nokia-Siemens, Oracle.

-Content management platforms. Used by wireline operators to manage and deliver content from games to triple-play services to gain competitive advantage over wireless providers. Vendors: Vignette, Amdocs, IBM, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent.


-Multivendor professional services. For integrating hardware and software. Vendors include Telcordia Technologies, Accenture, Ericsson, HP, IBM.

-Product catalogue management software. Because carriers have multiple instances of product and service catalogues across billing, CRM and provisioning systems, suppliers are offering applications that synchronize the data. However, Scholz cautions that it’s not plug-and-play software, but an application that will require a lot of manual configuring. Still, he said, “carriers are asking for it.” Vendors include boxfusion, Celona, Ceon, ConceptWave, Tribold.

2. Sliding Into The Trough

IPTV. Being blunted by pay-TV, competitive bundles from cable companies and technological problems of pushing TV over copper lines. None of the major IPTV providers reported an overall revenue lift in the first quarter, Gartner notes.

-Prepaid/postpaid convergence. Initially used to describe the integration of intelligent network based and IT-based billing for mobile providers, it more recently has been used to reflect prepaid services outside Internet services. Many carriers are reluctant to launch these solutions because the benefits aren’t always clear. Vendors include Amdocs, Comverse, Convergys.

-Universal charging platforms. Many carriers have custom billing and charging platforms. Universal platforms, from vendors such as Amdocs, Comptel, Comverse and others would solve this, allowing carriers to charge on value or usage, as well as settle with content developers. But “many carriers are still dragging their feet,” says Scholz, waiting to see first how new services will pan out before investing in new payment platforms.

-Mobile virtual network enablers. A fancy name for providers of infrastructure services to mobile network operators such as Atos Origin, Comarch, Martin Dawes Systems and others.

3. Climbing The Slope

OSS through Java An effort that seeks to create Java, XML and Web services based application programming interfaces to help carriers offer new services without significant changes to the OSS framework. Garner notes there’s only a small vendor ecosystem and implementations are few, but carriers that fail to move to it will experience a lack of agility. Vendors range from HP to consulting companies.

-Convergent mediation. Describes the gathering of data from network elements for billing, customer care and decision support systems. The benefits are high, says Gartner, which urges carriers to update legacy mediation systems as soon as possible. Vendors include Ace*Com, Comptel, Intel Telecom, Openet.

-IP Service Assurance Processes that provide opera