Network Analysts and Consultants
"We Have the Experience"
ViewsLetter on Provisioning 20 January 2004 #34
A fortnightly look at provisioning automation.
VERIZON MAKES SPLASH WITH LARGE COMMITTMENT TO VOICE OVER IP
Technology supports plans to cut labor costs
through Web-based order entry and provisioning
--William A. Flanagan, Editor and Publisher
Must have been a lot of people who liked Verizon's announcement earlier
this month that it would convert central office switching from
traditional circuit switches to packet switches and Voice over IP
(VoIP). Not only did Nortel's stock jump up, expected because
that company will supply the equipment, but so did
Alcatel's--presumably in the belief that other carriers would place
similar orders with that vendor.
What didn't get much coverage is what this change in infrastructure
will do for and to Verizon, besides reduce cost and save floor
space. That's why we're here.
First, Verizon has been letting customers order through the Web for
years. For the most part, the web interface provides account
management (look at the bill, pay it) and the ability to order some
services, such as the CLASS features: call waiting, caller ID,
etc. These features have always been available in the CO
switch--it's just a matter of turning them on by configuring an
individual customer's database record in the switch. Such small
adjustments to existing service are done easily, through a well-defined
command language (for example, TL-1) that lends itself to automation
from a web server.
Get beyond a simple order, however, and you still need to phone a
service representative. The slow web site may drive you to that
anyway, but it is necessary because the man-machine interface to a
circuit switch still benefits from man's ability to understand the
configuration inside the machine.
Now, add the software-based switch to the central office. Most of
them have anticipated the need for automated provisioning. They
have Application Program Interfaces (APIs) that use more modern
communications formats (XML and derivatives) that mesh more easily with
similar languages and formats built into almost every web server.
The linkage is easier to set up, easier to manipulate, less reliant on
human understanding of switch configuration.
In short, designers of the software switches (softswitches) expected
them to be configured by other computers. Some softswitches
already have internal web servers for technicians: a graphical
interface rather than the old command line. Graphics and menus
make configuration easier, reducing errors, but it also makes the job
easier to learn, cutting down on training costs and reducing the impact
of staff turnover.
Extend that argument to its logical conclusion: Configuration for
provisioning is so easy to learn that any customer can master the
process in a few minutes. So let them.
No, make that "encourage them!" If you want DSL, "First month
FREE--if you order online!" (quoted from the Verizon web site).
With the cost per transaction for service reps, a carrier can afford to
give up some recurring monthly fee and come out way ahead. With
large enough incentives, Telcos may never have to try something like
the fee some banks charged each time a customer used a live teller
rather than an ATM machine.
There may be no need to offer much encouragement for consumers to take
on the order entry job. They do it now almost every time they buy
something over the Internet. Younger people seem to prefer the
convenience of web ordering, and the fact that they don't have to leave
their Instant Messaging.
Converting orders automatically into services will take more
development of "middleware" and probably new billing systems to capture
the revenue. But with the central office converted to a server
and a media converter, there almost nothing that can't be
automated. The the "lights out" central office has been around
for decades. Soon we'll see the "lights out" business
office: web servers taking orders 24x7.
Don't forget the parallel project to replace copper in the outside
plant with fiber--almost 100% accomplished in the long-haul portions of
networks. Fiber continues to take over the stretch from the CO to
the remote terminal (RT, the SLIC96 inside the green box on the corner).
From the RT to the customer premises, copper local loops still
dominate. When several major carriers selected a common
technology for Fiber to the home (FTTH), they ensured volume
production would drive down the price and make fiber an economical
alternative to copper. While FTTH didn't make as much of a splash
as the softswitch, it certainly caught the attention of the splicers
and installers trained only on copper--they have rushed to learn fiber
splicing to avoid becoming later-day buggy whip makers.
There's still some work for local software people (with the aid of
coders in India, Eastern Europe, and China), and even servers and
gateways need some installation and maintenance by live persons.
Some day, though, after the public telephone network will be converted
to high-reliability servers, self-healing redundant gateways, and
corrosion resistant glass. At that time a telco will enjoy an
--It won't be supplying power any more--hard to do over glass cable.
--It will have sharply lower labor costs compared to
the past, the result of a drop in head count comparable to the
elimination of live operators when switching was automated.
--It will face almost no immediate pressure to
replace strikers, putting it in a strong bargaining position.
Set up that way, the PSTN could operate practically unmanned, compared
to today, for years. A national or global catastrophe that
removed most of the population (a popular topic in science fiction
novels) might not cut off dial tone as long as the power lasted.
In one of those stories, a dozen hydroelectric generators continued for
years, until the one person who put oil on the bearings had to quit and
couldn't find a replacement.
Cutting back on the crafts, telcos risk losing the pool of skills
needed to rebuild a damaged network, or deploy the next wave of updated
technology (which we should understand is inevitable). The
Military-Industrial Complex understands the problem. The
"defense" budget in large part maintains the structure, facilities, and
core staff needed to invent, design, and produce weapons that we don't
need right now. Is it waste or is it maintenance?
With weapons, the answer depends on whether there is a need for them in
the future. We know there will be a need for communications.
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-- Call Flanagan Consulting when you need independent review and
verification of network architecture, product positioning, or your
marketing message for telecom products and services.
-- Need an Expert? Associates at Flanagan Consulting have aided
in many legal proceedings involving telecom intellectual property and
technology. "We Have the Experience."
-- Special thanks for supporting ViewsLetter to www.webtorials.com,
your best source for communications tutorials and white papers.
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"Flanagan Consulting" and "ViewsLetter" are
Service Marks of W. A. Flanagan, Inc.
Updated: 17 July 2004 2003