SOS: New software category or marketing-speak?

October 12, 2010 - Openet

Subscriber Optimization Software has been proposed as a software-based strategy that can help operators that struggle to balance bandwidth and network management with the need to personalize and improve customer services. But does it make sense as a converged category?

Openet recently launched the Openet Blog, hoping to drive industry conversation on key back-office topics.

Right off that bat, it proposed an entirely new software category, which it dubs SOS, or “Subscriber Optimization Software,” encompassing mediation, subscriber data management, policy management, and real-time charging. Is this really viable as a new category or just some fancy marketing to repackage what most service providers already have in house?

“I think categorizing this way makes sense,” said Ari Banerjee, a senior analyst with Heavy Reading. “Service providers don’t want to revamp what they changed just a few years ago, but they want to somehow layer real-time control and real insight into subscriber behavior on top of what they have.”

In other words, operators increasingly need mechanisms like real-time mediation, policy management and online charging to handle the need for visibility and real time transactions. The types of data usage today on smart phones means records have to be gathered in real time, and rating and analytics also have to be real-time enough to see trends and to be fed into things like revenue assurance to prevent leakage and fraud.

With mobile broadband and bandwidth-intensive services involving content from multiple partners over many devices, it’s becoming more difficult to manage the personalization of services. “Operators want policy control and mediation as building blocks for 'real time' visibility, but they want it layered on existing platforms,” said Banerjee.

As such, software rather than hardware solutions are going to be the name of the game as evidence mounts against business models revolving around flat-rate pricing for services. “There are now more moving parts to manage--real time control, real-time processing of transactions, and insight into customers and for customers to prevent things like bill shock,” said Banerjee.

Though Net neutrality continues to burn as an issue, Banerjee believes it is no longer viewed as a “hindrance” for real-time controls and policy, which are now understood to be necessary to give operators sustainable business models. With that obstacle perhaps growing smaller, there is now the problem of how to get batch-oriented post paid billing systems converged with prepaid systems so silos can begin to disintegrate. As operators look to truly enable services around parent/child controls or employer/employee controls, they need to converge functional areas, and the people managing those areas so that there can be a unified picture of what personal or professional preferences customers want and over what devices, during what time of day and in what location. “There is more need for integrated solutions so that parents, for example, on a postpaid model can have some elements of prepaid integrated into their services, such as when they want to manage SMS messaging or block certain content at certain times of the day, with the flexibility however to allow children to top up for voice services so there is no loss of contact with their parents,” said Banerjee.

The same example can apply to corporate use, where use can switch from pre- to postpaid once employees reach a threshold and want certain calls charged to postpaid bills where perhaps a plan is shared with family members.

“As these needs for flexibility and personalization grow to differentiate, there will be value in integrating mediation, subscriber data management, policy management and real-time charging,” believes Banerjee.

But, he concedes, saying it and doing it are two different things. “Operators have to make sure that it’s really brought together in a scalable and flexible manner."

Already, companies like Openet or Bridgewater or Tekelec have achieved levels of integration with their customers—either on a standalone basis or through partnerships and alliances in areas where there were missing pieces.

And, BSS players CSG/Intec, Comverse or Amdocs are adding policy platforms (e.g., PCRFs added) or partnering with companies that do “pure play” policy.

But will this truly emerge as a category known as “Subscriber Optimization Software,” or will it be more a catchphrase that each company will rename and repurpose according to its area of expertise? Probably the latter, but at least Openet has opened up the floor for conversation in a public way.


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