OSS Startups Target Cable MSOs
Life will go on. The sun will rise and set. Few on Wall Street will notice.
But the humble news from the tiny Lemur points to a key trend in telecom software: namely, the attraction between upstart cable MSOs and small companies offering operations support systems (OSSs), the software that makes telecom and cable networks tick.
Like several other relatively small software providers, Lemur has targeted MSOs as its main market and is pursuing them instead of more established incumbent carriers.
The reason is that many MSOs, like the CLECs of yore, are starting out with new networks, ones without a lot of legacy equipment. For these service providers, big-ticket services from the likes of Telcordia Technologies Inc. are overkill, since the MSOs don't have the diversity of network management and provisioning tools associated with the mix of old and new gear in incumbent networks. It's a key opportunity for smaller companies to make their mark.
Lemur, for instance, has focused its efforts on creating its own inventory, provisioning, monitoring, and IP address DHCP applications. Cable operators looking for a turnkey solution can take them all -- or just a couple. The point is that down the line, when Lemur is ready to approach a wider range of service providers, it will have expanded the functionality of its application suite instead of spending its time writing code for legacy software.
"Cable operators don't have huge legacy back-office systems with multiple billers like ILECs do," says Apollo Guy, VP of marketing at Lemur. "They don't need the big systems integrators. In contrast, you could spend a year just analyzing the workflow at an ILEC."
Aiming at MSOs doesn't mean OSS vendors won't eventually try to reach new markets. There isn't much difference, vendors say, between writing interfaces for ILEC network elements or for cable operators. The work comes from the sheer volume of interfaces and other coding required to supply OSSs to incumbent carriers. So it makes sense for new players to stay with a limited set of interfaces at first. This tack means they can focus on broadening their product capabilities overall instead of whiling away precious resources trying to accommodate ancient Bellcore databases.
So far, Lemur, which was founded in April 2001 and has $7 million in funding, has just one customer, Adams Cable of Pennsylvania. But Guy seems confident that his company will draw more cable customers before it starts work for ILECs.
Lemur's not alone in targeting cable MSOs as its primary market. A clutch of other new players, including Ceon Corp., Core Networks Inc., and Liberate Technologies, see similar opportunities. [Ed. note: Unlike lemur, however, they lack opposable thumbs.]
Ceon's planning an announcement soon, too -- that it's won a new customer, RCN Corp.. The company already has a cable MSO customer in Charter Communications (Nasdaq: CHTR). While Ceon isn't a startup, it is looking to increase the cable MSO segment of its OSS business, according to Rajoo Nagar, VP of corporate marketing.
On the downside, the proliferation of small-company suppliers in the cable MSO OSS market could make it tough to standardize any application programming interfaces (APIs) for this market. Such APIs would be an attractive possibility, given the relative lack of legacy software in the MSO space.
Interestingly, Guy of Lemur disagrees with this view. "Vendors in this market will do what operators tell them to," he says. This is a different situation than that of the ILECs, where vendors like Telcordia hold sway by sheer volume of installed software. If the MSOs call for standardized interfaces, they're likely to get them, he says.
So far, though, it seems the leading cable MSO standards-setting body, Cable Television Laboratories Inc. (CableLabs), hasn't set any specific goals. A spokesman says nothing's indicated on the consortium's project list, which is governed by its membership, including software vendors. "Cablelabs hasn't done any work with OSSs really," says Ceon's Nagar.
Back to the Lemur announcement: There's nothing particularly noteworthy about Lemur offering support for IP telephony. Competitors such as Ceon, Core Networks, and Liberate already offer OSSs that provision IP telephony services by interfacing with softswitches, media gateways, and the like.
Still, Lemur's going with the flow. According to Guy, the past year has seen MSOs increasingly add media gateways alongside Class 5 switches in an effort to introduce all-IP transport between customer homes and head-ends. Prior to that, they had to assign a specific channel on a coax network for voice services and rely on separate hardware for voice and data services. Over the next year, Guy says, MSOs will be looking to make the final commitment to softswitching in order to streamline their "triple play" (voice/data/video) service offerings.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading