Netcracker claims to have signed up 15 customers for the new 2020 product platform it announced earlier today, including big name players such as Vodafone, Charter and Rakuten.
A subsidiary of Japan's NEC, the US developer of business support systems (BSS) was due to launch the new system at this year's Mobile World Congress. After that was aborted due to coronavirus, it decided to hold back as the outbreak turned into a pandemic. But telco interest, which it says has brought some first-time customers, eventually persuaded it otherwise.
"In the worst circumstances, we had a few significant wins," says Ari Banerjee, Netcracker's vice president of strategy. "We thought we should launch it because customers are already committed."
Branded Netcracker 2020 (for obvious reasons), it's a significant update to the last one, in 2017, driven by telco interest in 5G, edge computing and a much-discussed shift to the cloud. Among other things, the new platform is intended to make that easier, and Netcracker is highlighting its cloud partnerships with AWS, Google and Microsoft, the hyperscale giants of the Internet world, as it promotes the new suite of services. US-based Verizon already runs charging for some of its 120 million customers on Netcracker technology hosted by AWS, says Banerjee.
On top of that, the entire system is now based on a microservices approach, promising more flexibility than the old monolithic one. Indeed, Banerjee says Netcracker has now stopped working on monolithic releases entirely. "We are doing one major release and three minor ones through the year," he says. "This is a microservices-driven architecture. We continue on that path to sharpen our sword."
The latest tools, then, promise additional savings on IT for Netcracker's customers. From a usability perspective, a business analyst within a telco would be able to make changes to service offerings without recourse to the IT department. "A business analyst can take base microservices and add parameters by drag and drop," says Banerjee. "The business analysts are typically not IT people. It doesn't eliminate the need for IT folk, but it reduces dependence on them."
A lot of the new features are also designed with future 5G services in mind. As Banerjee explains it, these will require rating and charging systems that can handle the ultra-low latency communications 5G eventually provides. "You are looking for microsecond billing and charging and rating, which you don't need for normal services."
Netcracker's role in the Rakuten project is a huge marketing opportunity. With its rollout of a greenfield mobile network in Japan, based on the latest cloud-native technologies, the Japanese ecommerce giant has attracted interest worldwide. That is partly because of its efforts to roll telecom services into its overall service ecosystem.
"Cross-industry loyalty management comes from Rakuten," acknowledges Banerjee. Thanks partly to the software provided by Netcracker, a Rakuten customer can easily use loyalty points earned in one market to buy services in another, such as communications. This Amazon-like model is likely to hold interest for other service providers that are expanding into sectors such as banking, energy and media.
Netcracker faces strong competition in the BSS market from giants such as Amdocs and Ericsson, but it continues to rank as one of the top players, according to research carried out by Analysys Mason, and seems off to a strong start with its latest update. Amid the recent surge of interest in the telco cloud, and continued enthusiasm about 5G enterprise opportunities, the timing of its launch could turn out to be right on cue.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading