ViewsLetter(SM) on Provisioning

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ViewsLetter  on Provisioning                 8 Oct. 2002             #7

>>  Analysis:  Could the Lawyers Stop Automation?
>>  Events:      Service Providers Spoke 
>>  Cute Quotes
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>>  Lead Analysis

Automation will be great for customers and carriers, but the novelty of
letting outsiders manipulate their networks apparently gives carriers'
lawyers bad dreams.  What if somebody activated a service but later didn't
want to pay for it?  What if a careless customer allowed his ID and
password to get into the hands of an unauthorized person who ran up a
bill--shouldn't the customer pay?  What if criminals share information on
how to get free service?  These questions have a simple answer:  write
draconian rules that make the customer responsible for all possible
charges, and impose those rules on anyone who wants to use a web interface
or signaling to self-provision a service.

Such rules over self provisioning have started to appear.  One cellular
company's web site allows a customer to activate service and change
billing plans, but using the site requires acceptance of some drastic
rules, complete responsibility for anything that happens, and all costs
that might result.  Apparently the responsibility extends to fraudulent
usage and mistakes made by the carrier or the network equipment.  That's
not what most jurisdictions define as "encouragement to use."

By contrast, this same cellular carrier last month credited this writer's
bill for almost $1000 of fraudulent credit card calls.  Thank you for
practicing safe customer relations.

Why such a huge difference between the policy for automation and the
practice applied to the same threats in established accounts?  Is this
just a lawyerly way of saying let's go slow in a new area?  Or is the
carrier trying to limit the number of users on the new system by
discouraging anyone who actually reads the terms?  We haven't found
answers to those questions yet.

Let's hope the strong legal language is there "just in case" it's needed
to prosecute a serious criminal, and not a customer who messes up.  After
all, the incremental out-of-pocket cost to carry a few more calls on a
phone network is essentially zero.  The carrier can credit a customer for
mistakes, fraud, and even laziness without a serious financial cost.
Admittedly, there could be some opportunity cost associated with
fraudulent calls if they filled up a part of the network and prevented
paying customers from making calls.  That scenario is highly unlikely
except perhaps on Mother's Day or another "busy hour."   Giving credit to
customers may even be more profitable in the long run by reducing churn.

Summing up, carriers shouldn't let their lawyers be overly
protective--that's the job of the software engineers who write the web
interfaces, billing systems, authentication functions, and so on.  Yes,
protect your network from every imaginable threat that could appear at the
self-provisioning interface.  But think of network protection as a
technical matter, not a legal function.

Customers can influence the terms of use applied to self-provisioning
features and services by making informed decisions to use or not use them.
 If  you are not comfortable the terms, don't sign up.  Continue to use
the old-fashioned method of adjusting your service--call up and talk to a
human.  Just be sure to tell that person why you chose not to "do it
yourself."   The carrier offered a self-service web site in hopes of
saving a big chunk of cost.  Your refusal to go along means it spent money
to develop the self provisioning service but isn't saving cost.
Eventually the desire--nay, the need--to save that cost will motivate the
carrier to accommodate your desire for a friendlier contract.

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>>  Events
William Flanagan attended "Reality Check:  Service Providers Speak" 30
Sept--1 Oct 2002, an event sponsored by Telecommunications Magazine
(  He reports on how they spoke:

    Capital expense (capX) has been hammered for the last few years:
purchases by carriers dropped from $140B in 2000 to a forecast of $40B in
2002, about -50% per year.  The next stage of cost reduction will be in
operating expense (opX).  Fred Harris, VP of research, architecture, and
design at Sprint Technology, reported that opX for data networks can be
ten times that of the more mature voice network--lot's of room for

Fellow panelist Vab Goel, Northwest Venture Partners, told the audience
auto provisioning will be able to reduce opX, but will require a rebuild
of back-end systems such as billing and order entry.  Because IP networks
are so new (the first commercial network was out in 1995), the evolution
to lower cost systems will take years.

One new metro carrier isn't waiting.  Memphis Networx (Memphis, Tenn.)
claims to be fully automated now, with flow-through provisioning from
order entry to configuration of network elements.  Watch for more on this
municipal utility in a future issue.

While Sprint reports continuing growth in all services, voice and data, IP
is growing fastest.  C&W measures their inter-city links and finds IP
traffic doubles each year.  With the higher opX on data nets, the pressure
to automate can only grow with the traffic volume.

    When Multiprotocol Label Switching came up, the panel divided into three
--Essential:  used for traffic engineering in the core and to create
virtual private networks based on label switched paths (Cable & Wireless).
--Another tool:  MPLS control plane sets up protection switching at layer
1 (Broadwing).  Label distribution protocol finds alternate paths for
optical connections.
--No way:  adds complexity with no benefit (Sprint).  Convergence time for
IS-IS routing protocol now under 2 sec., aiming for
<0.3 sec in work with Cisco, so "normal" routing can recover fast enough.

Here's a view that might not get raves at the MPLS Conference, in session
as this is written:  MPLS transport (label swapping) is frame relay,
reinvented;  MPLS control (label distribution) is a way to set up switched
virtual circuits (SVCs).  Carrier operation people never trusted the
equipment to set up SVCs in frame relay and ATM, so users didn't get
connections on demand.  Operations wanted control of path routing so they
used more labor-intensive methods to set up permanent virtual circuits.
Provisioning based on MPLS will be adopted because automation is necessary
and this method is acceptable to the IP community--the names have been
changed to protect the....

But MPLS won't offer much over other methods of ensuring quality of
service (QoS), particularly in very large networks.  Recall the argument
that IP and Internet traffic is "self similar," or just as bursty in large
volume as in small.  Sprint claimed at this conference that traffic in
very large volume averages out more easily and become less bursty
(statistical multiplexing still works).  That makes the traffic
engineering (TE) job much easier, and not likely to benefit as much from
the TE capabilities of MPLS.

    Look for increased competition in network access from customer premises
to carrier:
--Passive Optical Networks (PONs) are coming to market with both circuit
and packet features, perhaps on different wavelengths.  Fiber to the home
is in trials, and is likely the solution in the long term.  For now it is
less expensive to use copper for the final few feet (3F), with some
electronics in a cabinet that serves a few dozen to a few hundred homes.
For deployment to business, the systems will support traditional TDM
services and analog video.
--Electrical power companies serve every one, have right of way for access
lines, and want to get into the communications business.  The Power Line
Communications Association ( has improved on results from
earlier tests and report that the new devices, plugged into any electrical
outlet, can provide LAN-like connectivity over existing power wiring.
Some work is needed to prepare the power grid (equipment to move data
around transformers), but that can be done one neighborhood at a time.
They plan to avoid voice, for now, to stay unregulated.
--Going the other way, DSL providers intend to add voice services, at
least access to a voice network.  Again, to avoid the cost and
responsibility for E911, life line service, and other regulations, they
are likely to "front end" an existing switched voice network, offering
additional lines over the DSL packet stream.

    "Traffic engineering is putting traffic where you have bandwidth.
Network engineering is putting bandwidth where you have traffic."
    --Ed DeLong, VP Network Engineering & Planning, Broadwing

    "An ILEC thinks pipes and channels;  when a user reaches capacity, the
ILEC shuts him off.  A cable company thinks services, offering to sell
more capacity when the user reaches his limit."
    --Steve Craddock, Sr. VP, New Media Development, Comcast

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 Updated:  11 June  2003

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