AEX specializes in OSS/BSS for fiber operators

A company called AEX got its start in South Africa and was rather prominent at the recent Fiber Connect show in Orlando. AEX was founded about 25 years ago, doing IT services for small businesses, and it eventually moved into network operations.

“South Africa is, oddly enough, about 10 years ahead of the U.S. in fiber deployments, partially due to the fact there was a lot of copper theft. It went to fiber to prevent that,” said Greg McLaughlin, CEO of AEX. He said South Africa is, by regulation, an open-access fiber market.

Now, AEX has entered the U.S. market, and it’s eyeing all the opportunities presented by the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) fund along with private investments that are also flooding the market. It particularly wants to help internet service providers with their operation support systems (OSS) and billing support systems (BSS).

Because South Africa is an open-access system, that means that multiple service providers use the same fiber infrastructure. Early on, AEX struggled to help service providers because their OSS and BSS systems couldn’t talk to each other even though they may be using the same fiber infrastructure. Ultimately, AEX worked with ISPs to create an interoperable OSS/BSS system. The software handles such functions as provisioning, billing, rating, ticketing, fraud detection and network control over devices such as OLTs and ONTs.

AEX has set up a U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, with about 10 employees. The South African branch of the company employs about 200 people, and software development is still done there. It handles 500,000 active subscribers managed for about 37 ISPs.

U.S. market

McLaughlin said that in the U.S. AEX will be targeting “anybody that’s running a fiber network that we think would benefit from offloading a lot of costs.”  He said new ISPs may be the company’s best targets. “Frankly, the less they know about running a network the more we can help them. As we see a push by the [Biden] administration to democratize the operation of networks, the more we can help that be a successful thing.”

AEX is not in the business of setting up a fiber network in terms of construction or deploying cables or electronics hardware. “We don’t do construction or build networks,” said McLaughlin. “But a construction company is not going to operate the network.”

The company is primarily an operations support vendor. It has a network operations center (NOC) that monitors networks and provides visibility. And it does the integrated OSS/BSS provisioning, billing and ongoing customer care.

John McLauchlin (with a similar last name as Greg McLaughlin), VP of Implementation at AEX, said, “We can tell a client, ‘You manage a construction team and a sales team, and we’ll manage everything else.' We allow clients to jump in whether they’re a team of 5 or 50.”

AEX does not require capital investment from its customers. It integrates its software into their network and gets paid per subscriber.

Back to open access

McLaughlin, the CEO, said, “Having done open access, it’s easy to do closed access. It’s just open access with a single ISP.”

And of the more complicated scenario with multiple ISPs on an open access network, he said, “We were born with open access. We’ve seen that movie over and over again for 25 years. The economic models are going to be the real challenge.”

He also said there are different business models for open access. He’s seen utilities build fiber networks where they put spare strands in the ground and then lease those strands. But they’re otherwise uninvolved. “That kind of ISP is really a closed access operator using another person’s fiber,” he said.