Nokia released a new survey showing communication service providers see a need for upgrades to business support systems (BSS) in order to effectively monetize 5G networks.  

Fierce spoke with Jonah Pransky, who heads up Nokia’s digital portfolio within its cloud and networking services unit, about the survey and needs for BSS changes. 

According to the survey of 100 communications service providers, only 11% of CSPs feel they have sufficient BSS in place to monetize 5G, while a whopping 98% said they plan to alter or extend their BSS to support 5G business models over the next five years.

BSS include monetization tools and other business applications that help service providers manage operations through functions such as billing and charging, and deliver on customer experience.

So why are BSS key to 5G revenue opportunities and need to adapt in the 5G era?

The first, which Pransky categorized as most critical in terms of priority, is technical in nature and relates to the shift to standalone (SA) 5G networks, which no longer rely on LTE and is based on different interfaces as well as IT functions.

“In order to make sure you can actually benefit from all of the new-fangled network functionality within 5G, you need to make sure your BSS systems, specifically the converged charging system, is integrating appropriately with the other network functions within the 5G standalone core,” Pransky noted.

The second driver is about business flexibility. He noted that in 5G SA, networks are fully virtualized and new services can be defined, created and launched much more quickly. BSS, which plays the role of actually monetizing those services, needs to be just as agile and flexible, according to Pranksy.

“And if they’re not, they become the bottleneck,” he said. “Which is really, something service providers cannot abide, considering just how much investment they’ve made in these 5G networks, they need to get that return on investment as soon as they possibly can.”

When it comes to the 5-year timeline the report cites for CSPs altering BSS, two-thirds of respondents cited converged charging as the highest priority for transforming 5G monetization.

Pransky is responsible for overall product development and most aspects related to Nokia’s converged charging product. To him the high priority makes sense given the closeness of charging mechanisms to the network itself, as the charging function is actually part of the 5G SA core.  

He said starting with charging gives service providers a clear view of how to start to monetize 5G and isn’t a necessarily complex undertaking.

“The BSS…is no longer a big monolithic system,” he said. And since separate applications are possible, with the ability to update some while waiting on others, carriers have more flexibility to start with one aspect and move onto other elements of the BSS as the need for them arises.

One feature of SA 5G that often comes up in relation to making money off 5G investment is network slicing. Among CSP survey respondents, enterprise was viewed as a main way to drive 5G revenue growth.  Among the top services cited for driving 5G revenue growth, network slicing-based services for enterprises ranked third, behind enterprise IoT and first ranked traditional connectivity and data services. And 65% said they plan to have a multi-slice 5G solution available within two years.

Network slicing can introduce a slew of new models as carriers start to offer differentiated services based on the needs of specific users or applications. And within a slice there may be different aspects of service that operators want to generate revenue from.

For example, Pransky pointed to a slice dedicated to massive machine type communications or IoT. In that scenario, operators may want to make money off the large number of devices and frequency of which they access the network – rather than based on typical data consumption, since those devices aren’t very data hungry.

“If I can effectively monetize the key value that the network brings, I’m going to do better at monetizing the network and creating that ROI that I want,” he explained, noting that these models don’t mean more complexity but rather more chances to change the dimension of what that key value derived from the network is.

Operators will take different paths, with some taking a very gradual approach to BSS changes, he noted. Such as first implementing new charging that only handles 5G subscribers, which will initially only account for a small percentage of total customers. As that number of 5G users grows, organically BSS will shift from old charging systems to new, which isn’t a particularly heavy lift, according to Pranksy.

Network slicing itself definitely creates BSS opportunities for Nokia, he said, in terms of needing specific charging mechanisms within a particular slice. For example, he described in a mobile gaming slice, where an operator may want to deploy a specific charging function into that slice that knows how to do a certain type of quality of service charging to make sure the “value” of the slice – which is all about the quality the gamer is paying for – is properly captured in terms of revenue.

“Once we get into more differentiated slicing within the 5G networks, there’s going to be greater demand for advanced 5G charging systems moving forward, which is obviously an opportunity for Nokia,” he commented.

Pransky said a lot of Nokia’s customers from its historical charging business are moving with the vendor to 5G charging, but it’s also seen success in greenfield networks, opening up opportunities to deploy with new customers as well.

“And we’ve even had some success in winning contracts with customers who are not necessarily Nokia network customers and they aren’t our legacy customer,” he said. “So we’re very happy that other customers are open to working with Nokia as they move toward their 5G monetization goals.”

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