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Standards penetrate telecom industry

By Michael P. Morris, TopCoder Software
January 26, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Transferring phone numbers between telecommunications service providers seems like a logical feature that should have always existed. However, it took an act of Congress to enable the Federal Communications Commission to announce that cell phone numbers could be transferred between carriers beginning last fall. (As if it were so simple that an act of Congress could make it work.)
Unfortunately, most cell phone users won't benefit from this until the operations support systems (OSS) that operate telecommunications networks catch up to FCC regulations. (Note: OSS covers the aspects of managing, configuring and running telecommunications networks.)
The issue at hand: Bad software
Most telecommunications operations are built on top of monolithic, proprietary systems that have been pieced together over time to handle the high growth created by customer demand and a plethora of new service types and billing options. This approach has made supporting OSSs within the telecommunications industry difficult, time-intensive and expensive to enhance and manage.
We've seen that the software problems of the telecommunications industry are no different from any other high-growth emerging field bound by sound engineering principles. For example, during the technology bubble in the late '90s, Internet companies trying to stay ahead of their competition had little regard for software costs and their effects on the bottom line.
These companies continued to churn out software with the intention of replacing it down the line. Add to the scenario high growth in consumer demand, and the result was bad software being built upon bad software until there was no money left to rebuild it correctly. This begs the question, "Why did (do) people build/buy software that's so fragile?"
The answer: a lack of the structure and discipline that are commonplace in other engineering fields, such as manufacturing. For example, camera companies know exactly how products will perform in different environments because they have designed, prototyped, developed and tested their cameras for each scenario. Otherwise, no one would pay for their cameras and they would be forced out of business. Many software companies aren't applying these same simple principles of engineering and, therefore, will suffer a similar fate as the industry continues to mature.
Case study: The telecom industry and software advances
Many large players in the telecommunications industry have identified their problems and are looking to participate in and implement OSSs through the OSS Through Java Initiative (OSS/J), sponsored by Sun Microsystems Inc., to help upgrade their infrastructures to flexible, extensible and nonproprietary software platforms. This working group of telecommunications industry leaders includes Motorola Inc., NEC Corp. and Nortel Networks Ltd. and has joined resources



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