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February 2013

Migration Success or Migraine Headache: Why Upfront Planning is Key to Network Decom

Migration Success or Migraine Headache: Why Upfront Planning is Key to Network Decom

In today’s telecom world, constant technology refreshes -- to LTE, 4G, and IP everything -- have become a way of life.

So in a fast moving environment like that, it’s crucial that an operator develop a process to effectively and efficiently migrate networks and decommission legacy equipment.

Trouble is, you can‘t pass full responsibility for network migration to people who already have a full-time job.  So an operator is faced with a quandary: how do you walk the tightrope between driving revenue on new networks and gracefully shutting down your older networks.

The answer, I think, lies in calling in outside experts to help.  This makes sense for several reasons:

  • The functions of network migration and decom are varied and complex -- everything from inventory audits and environmental disposal... to tax planning and real estate negotiations.
  • There are consulting firms out there who do this work for a living and therefore have the vital cross-carrier experience to smoothly carry out migration and decom programs effectively and efficiently.
  • Allows the internal team to focus on their day time job of generating revenue and increasing customer satisfaction.

One of the leaders in this space is the telecom ops consulting firm TMNG Global, and here to give us some advice on the many network issues surrounding network migration and decom is Ron Angner, TMNG’s Senior Vice President of Consulting.

Dan Baker: Ron, network migration and decommissioning covers an awful lot of ground.  Can you help simplify our understanding of what this is about and how carriers need to think about this issue?

Ron Angner: Happy to do so, Dan.  Actually there are many different paths a service provider can take: de-commission a network, repurpose a network, or anything in between.  And the least attractive option is to do nothing and watch your costs pile up.

Think of a network asset as a living thing — a person, say a relative or friend who comes to stay for a few weeks.  Now that person can either earn their keep by helping around the house or be a couch potato who sits at the TV and eats all your snacks :- )

But network migration is not only about saving money; it’s also about customer satisfaction.  In these major transformation projects, it’s vital that customer support and satisfaction is maintained at all costs.

Finally, you need to do this cost effectively.  With the growth of data services, carriers want to either squeeze the data into the existing network or expand their networks to provide additional bandwidth.  So the question becomes: how do I increase my network capacity?

Should I groom the network?  Should I add new transport?  Should I migrate to new technology?  If so, which regions should I migrate first?  Which services should I migrate and in what order?

So network migration and decommissioning actually implies a larger understanding of network and equipment life cycles.

One thing’s for sure: you will almost never have a situation where there’s a clean cut over from one network to another.  Clients will be on one network or the other.  And while everybody gets excited about the new technology and new services being deployed, you can‘t forget about the legacy network because some of your best customers haven’t made the switch yet.

There are so many facets to network migration and decom.  It sounds like a minefield where the slightest misstep can be disastrous.

Yes, it very much is a minefield and that’s precisely why you need to lean on experts and an experienced program manager who’s been through the process many times before.

Let me walk you through the main domains that need to be managed.

  • Networks -- In networks, we are not only interested in the specific network technology that’s being replaced, there’s also the transport and access pieces of the puzzle.
  • Equipment -- For the equipment you’re shutting down, you’re going to be concerned about either selling the asset or scrapping it, and whichever path you choose, the equipment manufacturer, the EPA, local and state government and other stakeholders often have terms to be complied with.
  • Site Leases are a very big deal in wireless.  Radios are hung on towers at sites: sheds, base station controllers, and transport are all part of the mix at the site.  And as the network is pulled down and even as it’s modified or upgraded, many carriers choose to redo the access facilities, which means new equipment is required, so there’s the issue of what to keep and to make sure everything still has proper power.  And if closing a site, leases need to be terminated and equipment disposed of properly.  Each is a critical issue that needs to be managed well.
  • Personnel is another big gotcha.  As your company migrates from one network to another, the objective is to get the new network installed as quickly as possible because that’s what’s going to generate the revenue going forward.  The reality is there are not enough people to do both the installation of the new network and keep the legacy network running or prepare it for decommissioning.  So the carrier is forced to change the engine of the Boeing 767 while it’s still in flight.  In short, a lot of care and oversight is needed to make sure folks are doing the right thing at the right time.
  • The last major domain I would mention is Inventory.  Working with your existing data to get an accurate inventory is key because you need to know what you’re starting with.  And it really should come as no surprise that with the incredible growth of telecommunications and the many mergers and acquisitions, and the movement off various BSS/OSS systems, the inventory and billing databases are not accurate enough to do network migration cost effectively.
When you say “equipment”, Ron, exactly what equipment is affected by these network migrations?

Well, the most obvious equipment is the network elements that are going to be decommissioned — to either sell or scrap.  For instance, if it’s wireless, then it’s the equipment in MSOs, base stations controllers, etc.

But don‘t forget: the transport and access side are also affected.  In many cases facilities are being leased from other carriers.  So preparing a disconnect plan for facilities that are freed up due to equipment decommissioning is a very critical element of the decommission plan — and also a key to cost elimination.

Another gotcha are what I call the “special services” that are put on the network for clients.  And if those are not documented well, then they can have a significant impact on customer satisfaction if these facilities are inadvertently taken down during the decommission process.

All in all, as you bring all these things together, paying attention to customer satisfaction is absolutely critical.

What are the key things carriers need to watch to stay out of trouble in these network migrations and decom?

Well, there are a lot of things to be done, so you need to enable a process — and that process boils down to knowing what to do and when to do it.

The danger — and I’ve seen some operators stumble on this point — is to think you can get by with a so-called “random walk” through a process.  That’s a big mistake, because you need to carefully sequence things.  A poorly planned and ill-advised process can be a total disaster for a carrier, not only from a cost perspective, but from a customer impact angle.

Overall, there are several things that are important to get right:

  1. Validate your legacy circuit inventory.  First of all, the carrier really needs to start from a base line that encompasses accurate logical and physical network models.  And this applies to any of the networks we’ve talked about: the access network, the high capacity network, wireline, wireless etc.
  2. Build a PMO governance and reporting structure. Best practice is a single organization and person driving the process.  And this is someone who knows exactly what’s happening, who’s doing what, and who the partners are, because in many instances there are many partners above and beyond the carrier involved.  And most importantly — can you believe? — coordinating with the marketing and sales organization who understand best which customers to migrate and when to migrate them.

    So this concept of having a PMO, not just within the company, but across all the sub-suppliers and contractors, is one of the most important things the carrier should do.  When an experienced PMO sets up a solid reporting structure with realistic SLAs, that’s what drives a successful network migration and decom program.
  3. Assign staff to manage and confirm disconnect orders.  When decommissioning a network, the transport network is where the operator should start.  The high cap costs of legacy networks are extremely expensive, so the faster the team can disconnect those elements, the better in terms of saving big money.  It’s also key that the various suppliers are notified so equipment is shut down in the proper order, making the whole process more cost effective.
  4. Design a reverse logistics process to dispose of unused equipment.  This is so critical because it needs to be timed with everything else.  There are many downstream suppliers who handle things like equipment disposition or worry about EPA issues such as making sure batteries and things that produce dangerous gases are disposed of properly.
  5. Create a site lease renegotiation process.  You need dedicated, experienced folks to do that sort of work.  We usually work with Black & Veatch, who is a specialist in this area.
  6. Assign staff to work with asset disposition companies.  Take the pain out of asset disposition and utilize someone who knows the process and stakeholders well, because the carrier is typically not an expert in the ins and outs of asset disposition.

And I go back to the idea of having a PMO -- somebody with an end-to-end view of all these requirements and chunks of work.  And it’s so important to properly communicate and track that tasks are done, when they are supposed to be done, because the last thing we want to do is kill a circuit that still has clients on it.

A network migration should increase customer satisfaction, or at least maintain it.  And finally everyone wants to reduce capex and opex as much as possible.

Ron, why do you put so much emphasis on validating legacy equipment and creating a baseline?  I mean you’re getting rid of that stuff, so what’s the point?

It’s funny, Dan, but we get asked this question all the time, and it’s one of the biggest misconceptions actually.

Here’s the deal: if we don‘t begin the process with a clear understanding of where we are starting from, we’ll never get through the process effectively.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • You could drop live traffic.  This point almost goes without saying: if you truly don‘t understand who’s on a circuit, you could take down service and customers.
  • You won‘t know if you’ve disconnected all the underlying circuits.  Some of these circuits can run hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in cost, so you need to identify precisely what the logical and physical networks look like.
  • The likelihood of getting your orders processed through the LEC system is low.  As you know, every LEC and CLEC out there has a very specific set of data that they require, often times made up of more than a dozen items of specific information before they will disconnect a circuit.  So guess what: if the carrier doesn‘t have that information, the LEC can reject the disconnect order and may not even disclose that they rejected it.  Remember, there’s no incentive for the LEC to disconnect the service, so you’ll keep paying the LEC money until they get the right disconnect information — and that information is exactly what comes out of creating a clean inventory.
  • You have a clean inventory baseline going forward.  Finally, by going through the trouble of creating a clean inventory, a baseline can be established for new network modeling techniques.
OK, Ron, you make a good case that base lining the inventory is a valuable aspect of the process.  So if you’re going to do that, what are some of the keys to getting that right?

Dan, the school of hard knocks applies here.  So as we go through the inventory baseline work, TMNG Global can teach you the 99 steps that we’ve stumbled upon, but we will find another ten steps that are unique to your operation.  So the key is to build those lessons learned into your processes as quickly as you can.

So here we go with a few key lessons learned:

  1. Work with each LEC up-front to understand their ground rules.  As I mentioned before, the LEC is minding its own business, not yours, so you really need to make sure the LEC knows what you’re doing to confirm and ensure whether they are supportive.
  2. Validate higher order circuits via LEC assess systems first.  As you begin validating circuits, we’ve found it’s more effective to start with the higher capacity circuits first — say at the OCN level down — because it enables us to identify all the links in between.  That way, if we’ve got a DS3, we’ve got all the links covered.  So that’s a tip from what we’ve found.
  3. Leave the circuit fall-out until last.  No matter how good you think your data is, there will be issues that crop up that have not been identified.  So the strategy should be to get as many things done as possible on the first pass through: don‘t waste time doing fallout.  It’s the old 80/20 rule: get 80% of the job done and worry about the remaining 20% stragglers later.  That way, you’re moving circuit disconnects and customer migrations forward more expeditiously.
  4. Establish a central PMO reporting structure to track progress.  Finally, and I keep coming back to this because it really is a critical success factor.  Put a PMO in place who knows what to do and when to do it.  And that’s where it’s useful to have some outside professionals look at the plan — some people who have the ability to cross the T’s.  That team is key to managing the sub-contractors and establishing a good set of SLAs.
Thanks very much for this fine briefing, Ron.  Now I understand why you are the Gold Sponsor for a Dallas conference on Network Decommissioning in early May.  What’s the deal?

Dan, we’re pleased to support this first-ever conference on Network Decommissioning and Life Cycle Management.  The time has come to give this topic the industry attention it deserves so we’re more than happy to be a catalyst for the event.  The plan is to have people present across a broad range of topics to be aware of in the process.  I urge your readers to check out the website and join us May 1-2 for the information and discussion.

Copyright 2013 Black Swan Telecom Journal

Ron Angner

Ron Angner

Ron Angner, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President and Head of Business Assurance and telecom operational consulting at TMNG Global.  In addition to managing the practice, he takes the consulting lead on some engagements and travels the world extensively.

For more than twenty years, TMNG Global, with its team of 500 experts, has provided strategy, operations and technology consulting services plus technical solutions to hundreds of communications firms worldwide.   Contact Ron via

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