3 Takeaways about SDN / NFV from TM Forum Live!

Posted: June 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Events, Industry Insights | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

At the beginning of June, Comptel attended TM Forum Live! in Nice, France. The emphasis in the keynote sessions was building a better customer experience, but there was an alternate, overarching topic on the show floor: software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV).

In fact, most of the conference attendees believed that infrastructure virtualisation is eventually inevitable for all telcos and the adoption of SDN / NFV was an effective way for communications service providers (CSPs) to modernise their systems, although purely virtualised environments are still years away. SDN and NFV will become integral to controlling and simplifying networks, as well as creating agile, quick-to-market services. With these technologies, operators can more easily and more economically manage the end-to-end orchestration of complex services deployed across virtualised, multi-vendor networks.

However, as new SDN / NFV deployments are introduced, they will be required to work alongside legacy networks for several years to come, requiring OSS/BSS layers to support hybrid architectures of a traditional non-virtualised and the newer virtualised approach to networking.

This potentially means that in the earlier stages of adoption, there may be an increased level of complexity, rather than a reduction. That means operators need to take a long look at their current systems and decide on a transformative or supplemental approach to modernisation, creating a future-proof environment or adding a new OSS stack for the new technology.

Comptel, focusing on the future-proof concept, recently partnered with Nakina Systems to capitalise on these possibilities. TM Forum Live! served to show that many industry leaders are already thinking about the opportunities, too. Here are three trends we noticed in Nice concerning SDN and NFV:

1. NFV is on Everyone’s Minds.

During the event, Aileen Smith, vice president of organisational transformation at TM Forum, spoke with RCR Wireless News about SDN / NFV in detail. She explained that NFV in particular was “the hottest topic at the show.” She added that when TM Forum ran a pre-conference workshop about NFV, more than 200 people attended.

At the conference, Smith said she saw a lot of attendees preparing and discussing NFV deployment. Operators and vendors collaborated in focused, agile groups, brainstorming strategies for virtualisation.

2. NFV and SDN are Putting Hardware in the Background.

In one presentation, a speaker noted that NFV technology allows CSPs to steer traffic through both physical and virtual network services. Rather than orchestrating and managing network functions across hardware appliances, many orchestrations will take place on virtual infrastructure. Another presentation highlighted how Time Warner Cable is rolling out NFV in a way that supersedes physical machines in favour of a virtual environment.

With NFV and SDN deployments, CSPs will put more emphasis on virtual software environments and less emphasis on physical appliances. Separating the data plane from the control plane presents an unprecedented opportunity to transfer a coherent control of the intelligent decisions taken in the network from distributed expensive specialised hardware to commodity hardware allowing CSPs to decrease time-to-market and significantly cut operational costs. Consequently, the virtualisation layer deployed across network, storage and computing hardware will usher in a new era of business agility, applications and responsiveness.

3. NFV and SDN Can’t Happen in a Vacuum.

At TM Forum Live!, Comptel decided to demonstrate exactly how NFV and an SDN environment can be orchestrated. Through the Comptel fulfillment platform, we can create a catalog-driven and modernised order orchestration environment across SDN/NFV networks as well as legacy networks.

The demonstration was driven from an integrated Salesforce front-office user interface, namely the Service Order Validator application – that makes relational management of customers, their services and the network – easier than ever before. The application combines Salesforce CRM functionality with back-office orchestration from Comptel Fulfillment, incorporating service catalog, order management, logical inventory, provisioning and activation to deploy a true end-to-end service complete with virtualised firewalls and load balancing functions as examples of simple VNF (virtualised network function) instantiations.

Virtual environments offer exciting possibilities, but consideration has to be made for solutions that bridge the gap between legacy and SDN/NFV, allowing CSPs to take full advantage of those possibilities. This is all the more important, as legacy equipment becomes incrementally replaced with commoditised and virtualised infrastructure. Much traditional network hardware will stay in place during the transition, leading to interim hybrid infrastructure that is both virtual and physical – with complex relationships.

OSS/BSS technology will play an exciting role in this evolution – the successful platforms will have to be able to orchestrate network virtualisation and control across multiple layers. Despite the euphoria around it, CSPs cannot focus exclusively on SDN and NFV – as front-end aspects of the business change, companies have to think about how services are created, delivered and consumed at every point in the service lifecycle.

Watch Comptel’s Steve Hateley discuss this trend in more detail:

Save Money, Make Money with a Predictive Approach to Critical Alarms

Posted: June 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Save Money, Make Money with a Predictive Approach to Critical Alarms

The influx of smartphones, tablets and other connected devices has changed the fabric of mobile customer expectations: in short, they’re higher than ever before. People today expect to work online, consume content or access cloud services, wherever they are and whenever they want. These new technologies add to the complexity of already diverse networks, which requires an increase in maintenance work and a balancing act of how to allocate scarce resources and competencies across the board.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by Comptel and Vanson Bourne, Quality of Service (QoS) is one of the primary drivers of customer acquisition and retention. It is a basic competitive requirement for communications service providers (CSPs) today, thus traditional network planning and optimisation or maintenance tasks are no longer sufficient. QoS management needs to be a much more proactive process today, to help keep customers happy in the long run.

That being said, the business case for proactive service management has multiple factors. Many telcos have scaled back on preventive plans to save money and resources. But while the savings are immediate in the short-term, corrective site visits and longer downtime can, ultimately, be more expensive and cause costly customer compensation and retention activities.

So, how can CSPs predict network faults and correct them preventively, without overspending? Comptel recently published a whitepaper that outlines the benefits of a predictive site maintenance approach to critical alarms, where tasks are prioritised based on anticipated network failures.

Critical alarm prediction allows CSPs to see further into the future. It’s a new kind of service management that predicts alarms and service disruptions on a network element level with advanced real-time analytics.

Here’s a quick preview of the whitepaper on the value of Critical Alarm Prediction to CSPs:

Reduce operating costs

A major cost in site maintenance comes down to workforce expenditures. When there are no emergencies and maintenance work is conducted during normal working hours, CSPs can achieve the most efficient use of their workforce. By simply predicting faults before they occur, and using the workforce accordingly, CSPs can save on operational expenditures.

Prevent revenue loss

CSPs know the angst associated with an unexpected site failure. Not only is the current traffic on the site affected, but any future traffic to the site is impacted until it’s back online. However, when potential faults are predicted, site maintenance can be scheduled and prioritised, and traffic can be even re-routed proactively, if necessary, reducing downtime and potential revenue loss.

Improve customer experience

The cost of churn, including churn prevention, is the single largest cost item for mobile operators. Coupled with data-savvy customers who are less likely to sit through local network outages, CSPs should prioritise QoS and the quality of experience (QoE). Introducing Critical Alarm Prediction enables CSPs to predict faults and schedule maintenance, which helps reduce site downtime and positively impacts the customer experience.

Build a culture of proactive service

Critical Alarm Prediction has the potential to introduce completely new ways of approaching proactive service management. It’s a business application that can help CSPs act before failures occur and, ultimately, move toward more intelligent analysis and operational processes.

Want to learn more about how a predictive approach can benefit CSPs? Download Comptel’s whitepaper, “How Prediction of Critical Alarms Helps CSPs Reduce OPEX, Prevent Revenue Loss and Improve Customer Experience.”


TM Forum Live: Your Greatest Competitor is Your Customer’s Future Expectation

Posted: June 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , | Comments Off on TM Forum Live: Your Greatest Competitor is Your Customer’s Future Expectation

Aside from the excitement around network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), TM Forum Live! 2014 had another undeniable theme: the customer experience. Among the keynote speeches and conferences, the idea that customers were in control of the industry’s destiny was everywhere.

Perhaps the person that summed up the situation most eloquently was Michael Matthews, chairman of Archer Mobile, who told communications service providers (CSPs), “Your greatest competitor is your customer’s future expectation.”

The telecommunications industry doesn’t just have to adjust to the data needs and bandwidth requirements of consumers today. In fact, in addition to the clear need for intelligent data monetisation strategies, CSPs have to anticipate what customers will expect tomorrow – and that will mean overhauling their back-office systems, breaking down organisational silos and taking a serious look at advanced and predictive analytics. It could also mean rethinking how mobile data is monetised.

Flipping the Model Upside-Down

Another story that was told during the conference was of a customer experience gone wrong. When a customer had a problem with the cable bill and wasn’t able to pay it, he tried to get in touch with his Internet service provider (ISP). But without the number of the ISP, that wasn’t possible.

That model is operator-centric, not customer-centric– today, CSPs will need to reconsider how to build business around an improved and engaging customer experience. Another cautionary tale told at TM Forum Live! was how, after discovering that customers generally churned after two years, a CSP stopped investing in services for customers after one year.

As mobile growth slows in maturing markets, this short-sighted formula is only going to hurt CSPs. To build loyalty, CSPs have to continue to build business by creating and continually supporting memorable customer experiences.

As Matthews explained, new business is going to come from anticipating customer needs. That will be dependent on understanding what customers want and when they want it. One speaker described how people now “live in a feed.” They’re constantly streaming data from their phones. To fit in, CSPs have to build services that drop into the feed and match their needs.

LTE is already rolling out to various markets and VoLTE/IMS is starting to emerge in some marketplaces as well. With 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) barreling down on us, those needs are only going to get more complex.

The Crystal Ball

Learning what kinds of service offerings will engage customers will require contextual intelligence at different—and every—customer touch point. CSPs must be able to parse through their data, and CIOs, CTOs and CMOs must work together to make the most of that knowledge. With the right technology, CSPs will finally be able to learn how customers are interacting with networks, service and their peers, and better target and engage them.

The right tools and the right team can make a world of difference, and for CSPs, that may mean the start of a new era that puts excellent customer experience and loyalty at the forefront, leading to more sustainable and innovative revenue streams.

Want to learn more about building a better customer experience? Download “10 more methods to monetise mobile data,” written by consulting firm tefficient, an international efficiency specialist for telecom operators and suppliers & sponsored by Comptel.

10 Creative Ways Telcos Can Price Mobile Data Plans in 2014

Posted: June 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

There’s a lot happening in developed telecommunications markets when it comes to monetisation – communications service providers (CSPs) are no longer charging customers per minute, they’re charging per megabyte. Talk and text are usually unlimited, while data has become limited.

The business of charging customers for data can be complex. Many major mobile operators offer capped data packages, but in certain cases, this may impact customer experience. Consumers understand that their phones use data, but it’s not always clear how that data is consumed. Does Facebook use more data than WhatsApp? How many songs on Pandora can be played before the cap gets hit? How many YouTube videos can be watched?

The data usage of different apps and services can be confusing. When customers hit a data cap without expecting it, their experience may suffer if there isn’t an easy, flexible and affordable way to top up for the rest of the month. Otherwise, customers will use WiFi instead of mobile when they’ve reached their monthly data allowance.

Future revenue growth will depend on flexible, personalised service packages, and how fast CSPs are able to launch them to the market. Through a combination of tried-and-tested monetisation methods – and new ones – CSPs will be able to build a better customer experience while introducing new sources of revenue.

Comptel recently worked with tefficient to create a whitepaper that highlights 10 more methods mobile operators should consider implementing to monetise data. Here’s a preview of three methods that are covered in the whitepaper:

1. Ad-funded mobile

Last year, an ad-funded MVNO called Wifog launched in Sweden with a unique proposition: users could consume as much data as they wanted, but they had to be open to advertising and data collection. For every 100Mb of data used, a Wifog subscriber watches a 45-second video ad. Wifog gained 120,000 users in five months.

Established CSPs may not want to replicate this exact model, but it’s possible for them to host these kinds of ad-funded mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). In that regard, this could be a way to generate revenue from advertisers while hosting customers that traditionally use Wi-Fi or Over-the-Top (OTT) services.

Analytics could come into play here, too – CSPs could monitor user habits and customise the customer experience, targeting them with the most relevant ads.

2. App time-based charging

With the right approach to policy and charging, CSPs could potentially create a service plan that monetises how often customers use an app, with pricing plans based on hourly, daily, weekly or monthly rates.

In mature markets, this data plan could solve the “end-of-the-month” problem, when customers have run out of their data allowance and don’t want to pay for another whole-month package if they only have a few days left. Consequently, there are a lot of customers who would like to pay for a bundle at a lower price point.

If CSPs can leverage analytics to see which kinds of apps these customers use, a more affordable, Facebook-only package could be more effective for the last few days of the month. The harmony of policy, charging and analytics play an essential role here – the agility and flexibility offered by the right solution can help monitor app usage to guarantee that customised, time-based packages are delivered when a data cap is hit.

Indian operator Uninor shifted from a Mbyte-based offering to time-based app pricing – for example, users can now pay one rupee for a day of unlimited access to WhatsApp or Facebook.

3. Apps for flat fees

CSPs can also offer a set of apps for a flat fee. Japan’s second largest mobile operator, KDDI, offers this model with a “Smart Pass” package, which allows members to get unlimited access to a set of apps for a flat fee. In addition, members are given a few other benefits, such as discounts and photo storage services. “Smart Pass” launched in 2012, and in March 2014, 10 million customers were on the plan.

The really exciting part about offering apps for a flat fee is the potential for predictive analytics. By monitoring how customers use apps and what apps are used, CSPs will be able to personalise offers and predict which apps are going to be used across their networks, creating custom packages for different audience segments.

Possibilities, Analytics, Case Studies

In this blog entry, we only covered three ways CSPs can monetise mobile data, but our white paper has ten. In the future, a diversity of offerings – and the policy management product that allows for responsive and flexible delivery and pricing – will be key.

All subscribers have different habits when it comes to using their mobile phones.  With the help of policy charging and predictive analytics, CSPs can create personalised service packages that are delivered at exactly the right time.

Want to learn all of the ways CSPs can monetise mobile data? Download “10 more methods to monetise mobile data,” written by consulting firm tefficient, an international efficiency specialist for telecom operators and suppliers.