ViewsLetter(SM) on Provisioning

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ViewsLetter  on Provisioning   July 2002   #1

to the first edition of the ViewsLetter on service provisioning automation.  This series of reports examines provisioning at all levels, from the chip and component to the business management software.  Your input is encouraged.

Lead Report

Imagine the public phone network still based on patch-cord switchboards and human operators:  the entire U.S. population working in central offices couldn't begin to handle today's call volume. 

Now look at data, whose traffic volume recently exceeded voice and has a huge growth rate (compared to voice).  The magic of compound interest applies to data volume just as it does to your savings account, which means that demand for data services at some point (relatively soon) will exceed the capacity of current methods to provision those services when customers want them.

A small example:  Looking to add more Internet access bandwidth into our office, we found a DSL company whose price and service seemed fine, but the delay for installation was up to 8 weeks.  Not only was that a problem for us, but it certainly didn't help either the DSL company or the Local Exchange Carrier to get their revenue flowing.  The problem extends to almost everyone, not just DSL firms.

And doesn't the delay say a lot about the cost to provision such a service?  Just count the truck rolls, the order entry minutes, the network engineering man-hours, and equipment configuration steps.  Getting data service requires too much manual effort. 

T-1 installations faced a similar situation in the 1980's.  Originally, a craftsperson dragged ABAM cable over distribution frames.   As T-1 became popular, delays in getting lines grew to exceed half a year.  Digital Access and Cross-connect Systems (DACS hardware) changed the install from a cabling process to typing commands at a terminal--the number of lines going in continued to rise but the installation delay came down to a few weeks.  Mechanizing a manual process (and competition, and fiber capacity) also reduced the cost for a T-1 line by more than 80%.

Going into the future, the communications industry faces larger and more complex issues than installing a physical-layer service like T-1.  Users want routing and switching as a minimum for commodity services like Internet access.  Carriers need to generate greater margins from functions at higher layers of the protocol stack--up to applications (firewalls, virtual private networks, virtual PBX, etc.).

A business served by a local loop of copper or fiber can define a range of data services including the bit rate, transmission formats, and higher layer services--automatically--and immediately gain the use of those services.  The local loops (fibers or copper) are not defined as to capacity or service.  The customer premises equipment is standardized, so the brand used by the subscriber need not be the same as that installed by the carrier.

While not a perfect comparison, consider a renter who moves into an apartment and uses existing wiring for a phone--the customer can bring any brand of phone and may define a wide range of services including caller ID, distinctive ringing, voice mail, call waiting, conference calling, etc.  The setup of these services is not yet fully automated for the residential market, but web-based customer services are moving toward that goal.

We will look at all aspects of the provisioning problem, reviewing and reporting on hardware and software products, standards, and regulations that relate to the Vision.  We welcome contributions and suggestions in the areas of:
-- Chip technology such as network processors and all-feature interfaces.
-- Network elements with flexible functions on the user ports.
-- Management software that facilitates automated provisioning,
    = element managers
    = mediation platforms
    = workflow integration systems
    = carrier operations and support systems.
-- Government regulations and mandates.
-- Customer needs that justify the enhancements to network infrastructure needed to support automatic or subscriber-initiated provisioning.
-- Economics of carrier provisioning.

We recognize the value of your time, and will aim for a length of two to three pages per issue, at a frequency of about twice a month.  Often our web site will offer additional detail or related information, such as illustrations and figures.

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 Updated:  11 June  2003

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