New IP Convergence Strategies Signal Move to Faster IT Track

Jim MacDonald, VP, sales & marketing, UXP

Jim MacDonald, VP, sales & marketing, UXP

 

Two Tier 1 Operators Prepare to Leverage UXP Platform

By Fred Dawson

February 17, 2014 –A new approach to enabling personalized next-generation multiscreen services embraced by two Tier 1 North American service providers offers fresh insight into how software innovation is reshaping service migration strategies.

The two companies don’t want to be identified, given the ambitious scope of their service overhauls and the need to make sure everything goes as planned before they publicize their strategies. But, assuming they’re on the right track, their approaches to enabling a personalized all-IP implementation of converged pay TV, voice and data services should buoy industry confidence that a well-architected layer of software cutting across legacy BSS, OSS and hardware service silos can be used at commercial scales to ease the pain of service migration.

The software layer in question is supplied by UXP Systems, a Canadian supplier which has been quietly building a foundation for implementing its technology in the legacy and OTT service domains through partnerships with a broad range of suppliers. Essentially, as previously reported, the UXP Multiscreen Interaction (MINT) platform is positioned in the operator’s core IT and network application environment to enable enterprise-level personalization and converged service experiences across multiple screens and devices.

As described by UXP officials, each of the Tier 1 companies is employing the same technology to achieve different ends. In both cases they’ve determined the most efficient, least disruptive way to orchestrate the mechanisms essential to reaching their goals is through activation of a network-agnostic IT operations layer in their back-office infrastructures.

One, a cable company, is engineering a transition to all-IP, cloud-based operations in what planners consider to be the reinvention of TV with personalization of experience a defining characteristic. In other words, this operator will be moving away from the household-as-subscriber perspective to the tailoring of navigation, advertising, applications and socialization to each person in the household.

The other company is a telco that has been offering pay TV services on the Mediaroom platform, which Ericsson acquired from Microsoft last year. Ericsson has been revamping Mediaroom to accommodate a more open IP operational environment that allows operators to extend services across all connected screens with advanced navigational capabilities that bring OTT content into the user experience. As a UXP partner, the company is deploying the MINT platform to facilitate implementation of personalized applications from third parties, such as recommendations, music services and health monitoring.

UXP drew attention two years ago with announcements of a system-wide MINT deployment by Caribbean MSO Columbus Communications and the launch of a trial by Cable Bahamas, which is now moving to full-scale implementation. Since then UXP has been building its customer base and working on refinements that are now part of the recently released MINT v3.5.

“We just finished a very successful year in 2013,” says Jim MacDonald, vice president of sales and marketing at the Toronto-based firm. “The traction we’re getting with operators is a reflection of what’s happening in the marketplace.”

Specifically, he points to four trend lines:

  • Everything is moving to IP;
  • Everyone wants a unified delivery system that leverages cloud-based software platforms;
  • The move to personalization of services is becoming universal;
  • There’s growing recognition that facilitating subscriber access to OTT content is essential to building customer loyalty.

Of course, these trends are all interconnected and mutually reinforcing, which can lead to implementation of a captivating new user experience if it’s done right. Or as UXP CEO Gemini Waghmare puts it, “It’s all about being able to deliver blended services on a personalized basis. But if you can’t make it compelling and seamless to the end user, it’s not going to be used.”

How to get to do that without ripping everything down and starting over is a big challenge, especially when the goal is to extend personalization into all service categories. “UXP was formed on the realization that there was no product out there that could work with operators’ existing backend systems to do these things,” MacDonald says. “This has worked out for us, because now operators are recognizing they need a multi-service gateway that allows them to blend together video and non-video services and offer them on a personalized basis across all devices.”

As described by MacDonald, MINT is a modular, Java-based enterprise platform that rides inside the operator’s datacenter. It performs synchronization of services and applications by packaging and abstracting into a set of device-agnostic data and commands all the network functions essential to delivering each service, resulting in seamless distribution of any authorized service to whatever device any given user is employing to access the service.

The platform is configured into three primary applications suites known as the Multiservice Gateway, User Lifecycle Management and Utilities. There’s also an optional fourth module, the Console Framework, which provides a lightweight software layer for client devices as a common baseline for supporting blended experiences on native OS/device combinations.

“The Multiservice Gateway manages the full lifecycle of blended services, including service registry, authentication, data and control plane extraction and synchronization of services,” MacDonald says. Components include the means by which each service can be identified with each user and enhanced with personalized features created by the operator or imported from third parties.

With release of MINT v3.5, UXP introduced what it calls “AnyService SDK”, which is a toolkit that allows third parties to exploit existing vendor integrations spanning OTT content, social media, communications, home control and core video system. “We’ve used the AnyService SDK to integrate to over 30 operator core and public cloud apps, such as iControl for home security, multiple backend billing systems, cloud-based offerings like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, analytics engines like Thinkanalytics and Jinni, and middleware solutions from SeaChange, Cisco and Ericsson,” MacDonald says. “If we go into a new operator and they have, for example, Amdocs and Ericsson and they use TMS (Tribune Media Services) or Rovi for metadata, all those integrations have been done so they can get to market quickly.”

The specific processes associated with personalization are contained within the User Lifecycle Management suite of applications. MINT Utilities is the set of functional tools and frameworks that allow developers to define the business logic and workflows that are needed to create those user-centric processes.

“There’s a lot more to personalization than adding an individual subscriber account to a household account,” MacDonald notes.  “There are multiple types of processes supporting a customer’s lifecycle as they join specific services.”

With creation of a user account data is amassed into process libraries from all available sources via a multiprotocol, multi-instance interface that communicates with multivendor billing systems, user directories, media systems and other resources. “These process libraries facilitate things like user creation, profile hierarchy, associating user to that service, single sign-up across all services and seamless personalization across multiple device types,” MacDonald says.

The complexities entailed in creating a useful personalization platform are immense. For example, when it comes to personalizing recommendations, there’s a big difference between how things work on individual user devices and what happens in the shared viewing environment of the TV. In the latter case, operators using MINT can generate icons for each member of the household, allowing them to generate personal recommendations with a click of the remote.

Personalization for video also entails continuity of viewing, where a user watching a program on a device outside the home can bookmark it and pick it up on the TV at home or vice versa. Recording, too, whether on a home appliance or in the cloud, must be personalized with activation enabled from any device.

Cross-service personalization introduces still more complexity. But the challenge should be addressed, because as connected users have access to ever more apps, the operator’s ability to bring those into the unified subscriber experience can add significant appeal to the service, observes Arif Hirani, vice president of business development at UXP.

One case in point is connected-home management, which UXP is facilitating by incorporating the security and energy management applications offered by iControl into the unified service domain. “With our integration with iControl, operators who deploy our MINT platform are able to seamlessly blend home control functions into video and converged experiences across set tops, tablets and smartphones,” Hirani says.

Operators have a lot of flexibility as to the scope and timing of such enhancements, MacDonald notes. Once a user account is established the operator can continually add features to the user’s services on a personalized per-user basis, and the user can customize the services to personal tastes as well through selection of whatever app and feature options are exposed for personal selection by the operator.

Critically, MacDonald adds, all usage activity and behavior across all service categories is logged by the ULM System into User Experience Data Records (UXDRs) that are associated with each individual account. “UXDRs are a key benefit that comes with the personalization of services on the MINT platform,” he says. “That data can be used to feed analytics engines for a wide range of applications, including recommendations, targeted advertising, customer service and network operations.”