Digitalization of inter-partner processes using MEF LSO Sonata/Cantata standard

Blog, Inter-provider, MEF, nBrace


by Dominik Pacewicz, Product Marketing Manager at Amartus

We have previously discussed the various aspects and importance of the MEF LSO Sonata/Cantata standard. As an active participant in the MEF organization’s standardization efforts and having worked closely with numerous customers on their LSO adoption journeys, we would like to provide additional insights on the fundamentals, the growing significance of this standard, and how to successfully implement it.

In order to remain competitive in the global market and facilitate collaboration with others, service providers must integrate themselves into the digital ecosystem by implementing standardized Open APIs, supporting standard processes, and utilizing standardized products. The MEF LSO Sonata/Cantata standard is likely to become a dominant standard for inter-partner processes, ranging from basic connectivity services to SASE, SD-WAN, IoT, and even multi-cloud and edge management. We hope you find this information helpful and inspiring…

Why do we need another standard?

Large corporations, especially those operating on a global scale, need to connect their individual branches quickly, reliably, and securely into a single network. Even the largest Service Providers operating in multiple markets don’t have infrastructure covering the entire world, and no company wants to search for local providers who can offer services at a similar level as in their other locations.

Moreover, integrating solutions from different providers can be another challenge. Currently, the dominant model is for companies offering global services to collaborate with one or several providers operating locally in areas where they don’t have their own network coverage. From the customer’s perspective, having a one-stop-shop is the most convenient solution as one provider takes on the burden and responsibility of delivering the entire suite of services to the company’s different locations.

While delivering global services is possible due to existing business partnerships, the technical-level collaboration between partners is not always as automated as both partners would it to be. Different types of services, product models used, technologies used, architectures, or internal processes are just a few possible reasons why the majority of interactions between partners in the area of collaboration are still carried out in a traditional, fairly manual manner.

This is a problem throughout the entire lifecycle of the customer’s services, including checking availability, preparing an offer, ordering, monitoring the installation process, and maintaining services. All of these operations, when done manually, are time-consuming, and in some cases, their handling costs more than the margin you get. This way of working doesn’t allow for meeting current and addressing future customer and market expectations, such as reducing the delivery time of flexible global services from months or weeks down to days or even hours.

What are the alternatives?

The answer to these challenges is automation, and in the case of inter-operator relationships, it cannot be discussed without standardization. It is thanks to standardization that building a global ecosystem becomes possible. There are many standardizing organizations in the telco market,  without which it would not be possible to provide services beyond the scope of Service Provider’s own network.

When it comes to access services for companies, there are essentially two standardizing organizations: TM Forum and MEF. While TMF is older and more recognized, its role was to define all frameworks and standards using them for a long time, including the SID data model or TMF Open API. On this foundation, MEF (formerly the Metro Ethernet Forum) began defining its standards in 2001, approaching the problem slightly differently. Instead of generic APIs, MEF has been trying to define standards that provide “plug-and-play interoperability” for the integration of wholesale provider systems for several years. Initially, the organization was focusing on Carrier Ethernet services and its providers, but in recent years, it has significantly expanded its activities.

Currently, MEF is a global association of providers of both networks and cloud services and technologies, as well as solution providers & BSS vendors. The organization’s goal is to provide a common standard of service definition, key processes around serviceability, quoting, ordering, and soon it will expand into the operational domain. Their Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) standard has become a universal language used not only by operators but also by their partners in the field of technology and process integration between them.

MEF is standardizing various services, including SD-WAN, and work is underway on SASE and SNaaS. The automation of the procurement and delivery processes for these innovative services is made possible by the before-mentioned standardization work, which centers around the MEF LSO Reference Architecture and the defined interface reference points (Interface Reference Points) implemented through standard APIs. One of these APIs, particularly significant in the context of inter-operator business process automation, is LSO Sonata.

How can standardization be achieved in a practical way?

At the core of the success and increasing popularity of the MEF LSO Sonata standard (and its variant for business customers, MEF LSO Cantata) is its increasing application by the largest operators, initially for International Wholesale of Last-mile connectivity, and now expanding to other products and use cases. It is these active members of MEF who continue to develop the standard based on their own experience gained during its implementation with their partners. Essentially, MEF defines subsequent standards by systematically and comprehensively addressing further problems or requirements at the operators’ interface. The DNA of this organization is to deliver a standard that is extremely practical and easy to apply by all interested parties. It is quite obvious that a “dry API definition” is not enough for the systems of two partners to connect and cooperate smoothly because each side may interpret and use the standard differently. Therefore, MEF decided to go significantly further than TM Forum, on which it strongly relies, and standardize not only the APIs but also:

– The definitions and structures of Products /  Services that sellers and buyers will trade,

– The process of serviceability check, quoting & ordering of services, which is the basic process that both partners carry out and whose efficient execution is in the best interest of both parties.

In essence, the scope of the MEF LSO Sonata/Cantata standard can be summarized as a standard defining the full context: the APIs, processes, and products on which inter-operator communication will be based.

Figure 1 – MEF reference architecture

How to achieve it?

Of course, there are several ways to comply with the standard, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

The biggest players often choose to build an in-house solution. With substantial budgets and adequate human capital, they invest in a solution tailored to their specific needs. This process is inherently long-term. Providers who have opted for this path speak of a minimum 12-month complex project that must remain open as standards are constantly evolving, and such a solution must be constantly developed and maintained.

When company resources do not allow for an in-house solution, an alternative option is to order a “turnkey” component from an external supplier. However, since the MEF standard is still relatively new, few Professional Services providers will be able to deliver such a solution much faster. With a high probability, the solution will be tailored to the current needs, products, and processes and may not be ready for flexible adaptation to future business needs. Furthermore, each addition of new product types or changes in the B/OSS architecture – practically all providers have even several ongoing transformation programs – may require changes to the code of such a dedicated solution.

The third option is to use LSO Sonata interfaces directly exposed by BSS solutions used by the operator. Unfortunately, this standard is currently supported by only a few solutions on the market. In this approach, it is even more difficult to ensure uniform coverage of the entire functional area required by the standard since the BSS landscape usually consists of a series of solutions from various vendors connected to turnkey solutions. This means that, in principle, an additional layer must be built, a kind of facade that covers the non-uniform landscape of solutions and all their imperfections, similar to the first approach.

The fourth option is to use solutions provided by MEF LSO technology partners, such as Amartus nBrace™, a unique ready-to-deploy solution for rapid implementation of MEF LSO Sonata/Cantata processes & APIs that works over the diverse set of BSS applications a typical operator has. Production deployment can be achieved in a matter of weeks, Amartus handles all changes within the MEF standard and the facts that the solution is independent of the BSS applications means that the processes and APIs exposed to your Partners remain unchanged as your BSS evolves. nBrace’s roles is in harmonizing and coordinating the use of existing B-OSS systems while also filling any necessary gaps with its own capabilities. It can provide alternative features in case the current systems do not support the functionality required by the standard.

For example, it can calculate pricing and margins to provide so-demanded real-time quoting capability, offer manual support for certain process steps in the GUI, or deliver a service for automatic verification of the installation address. It can also help with the mapping of products used within the MEF ecosystem, whether MEF-standardized or provider-specific, to those used within the provider’s current BSS. It is worth noting that although MEF is working on definitions of standard models, in practice, many Partners offer their own products (described similarly) and operate on them through the same, standardized interfaces and processes. MEF LSO Sonata / Cantata fully support this, so their implementation should be ready for it as well.

Regardless of the chosen path, before production use, operators are using the MEF test emulators (based on nBrace and provided by Amartus in partnership with MEF), i.e., the Onboarding and Inter-op Testing service, in short, the MEF OIT Service. This is the only tool authorized by MEF, it supports both buyer and seller testing, depending on the needs. Passing these tests guarantees that using the solution with the real partner will be possible and that the final integration will require, at most, fine-tuning. According to operators who have used this solution, savings due to the use of the OIT service in the partner onboarding process alone reached 80-90%.

Do we need to seriously consider standard APIs in the field of inter-operator services?

If you want to do interop, you have no choice. As outlined in the introduction, the digitization of inter-operator processes, like the transformation of other areas of any operator activity, is a necessity today. Just looking at MEF data makes it clear the scale of the phenomenon. Currently, almost 30 companies, including the largest in the US such as AT&T, Lumen, as well as Colt, and some providers from the Orange, Telefonica, and Telia groups, are already using the standard commercially. MEF forecasts that by the end of 2023, over 45, and by the end of 2024, over 60 companies will be using the standard in production. According to MEF, a total of over 100 companies are already on the path to implementing the standard, of which 37% are the largest providers, a similar number are classified as Tier-2, and only slightly less are from the Tier-3 group.

Figure 2 – LSO Sonata adoption forecast by MEF

The conclusion is clear – sooner or later, providers who want to remain in the global market and cooperate with others will have to become a part of this digitized ecosystem, namely by exposing their systems through standardized Open APIs, supporting at least basic standard processes, and operating on standardized products. With high probability, in the area of network leasing in a wholesale model and the products offered therein, the standard that defines all these aspects, due to its constantly growing popularity and support among the largest players on the market, will be MEF LSO Sonata/Cantata.