By Stephen Lacey, Director of Business Architecture, Comptel
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has been overseeing standardisation in the telecommunications industry for more than two decades, and in our work, Comptel has been closely following ETSI’s principles for nearly that long.
Our involvement with the organisation first started from our roots in data processing and mediation; so you could say that we’ve adhered to ETSI standards since the beginning of GSM.
Over the years, part of our business has increasingly aligned itself to fulfilment and orchestration of complex enterprise, residential and subscriber services (rather than solely provisioning and activation), and as ETSI itself became more involved in orchestration, we began to consider whether it made sense to join ETSI fully. We are pleased to share that in the latter half of 2014, we officially became a formal member organisation.
The Influence of NFV
The tipping point was in 2012, when ETSI launched a workgroup for Network Function Virtualisation (NFV). This Industry Specification Group (ISG) was developed at the behest of seven communications service providers (CSPs), who desired standardisation around this nascent technology. Interest in NFV has since increased significantly especially in 2014 and will continue to grow this year, as more operators consider how it can help them move away from expensive, proprietary network hardware toward more flexible solutions.
Additionally, the other elements of our product portfolio, including mediation and policy control, are considered as network functions and will be deployed within the NFV environment in the future.
Ultimately, we feel that Comptel’s proposition—having a complete, automated software stack that requires very little intervention—was unique to ETSI’s workgroup, and that we could help provide a more complete picture into NFV deployment, scale and capacity management challenges, as well as offer effective insights to support standardisation in this emerging area.
Workgroups in Focus
Today, we are one of more than 200 CSPs, network equipment providers (NEPs) and technology companies within the NFV ISG, working to conceptualise and contribute to the standards that will guide this technology’s application in the years ahead. Formal meetings are held quarterly – the next one is scheduled for February in Prague. Individual work streams have monthly meetings to hammer out these standards – the next one for the interface and architecture workgroup is being held mid-January in Shanghai.
The NFV ISG has only just completed the first phase of standardisation, where the high-level architecture and design of this technology infrastructure is being developed. We are now entering the second phase of standardisation, where member organisations are divided into work groups to focus on specific items, such as examining the management and orchestration of an NFV system via an Operations Support System (OSS) interface.
How Operators Win
One major benefit of ETSI’s workgroups is that they bring together organisations from all sides of the industry to guide a collaborative and forward-looking conversation about an emerging area of telecommunications. Since Comptel will be intimately involved in those conversations now and in the future, we will be able to bring a higher level of expertise to conversations with our customers. We are excited about being directly involved in NFV’s development as a new foundational platform for network infrastructure.
NFV will define our future. More operators want the flexibility to run network operations software on commodity hardware, so that they can keep pace with the cloud-based competitors now edging their way into the market. To truly position yourself as a fully formed CSP, you need a partner who knows where this software-defined market is headed.
Visit our SDN/NFV Resource Library to learn more about how cloud and virtualisation technology helps operators unlock cost savings, enable flexible networks, and compete on a higher playing field.
We recently shared a story about Williams in Uganda and his success working through Kiva.org. Building upon that, Comptel is eager to share another story about the difference Kiva is making on communities across the globe.
Thirty year old entrepreneur Rosario lives in eastern Peru, right along the banks of the Ucayali River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. She employs two other people at her small business in Pucallpa, which buys and sells mobile phones. Rosario loves her work, particularly because she enjoys helping customers find a mobile phone and any accessories that meet their specific requirements.
Having successfully managed her business for eight years, Rosario recently found herself needing some financial assistance in order to keep up with increasing demand. Realising what an honorable, hard worker she is, Kiva decided to loan Rosario 2,000 Peruvian Nuevos Soles (USD $775) to help keep her business afloat. Thankful for Kiva’s support, Rosario is confident that her business will continue to grow and is now optimistically looking to the future.
We invite you to take part in Comptel’s team and help us alleviate some of the financial burdens carried by such hard-working individuals who often do not have access to typical banking services.
Let me briefly introduce myself. I am Mauro Carobene. I have been appointed CMO in Comptel a few days ago. I have been in the BSS/OSS business since 1996, when I started my career in Italtel. Since then, for one reason or another, I haven’t been able to leave the OSS/BSS arena. I have been in R&D, technical support, consultancy, sales and sales management roles.
I was asked me why I am still in this niche of the telecom market and not looking to do something else. I have asked myself the same question many times. If I look back to 1996 and consider what was understood as OSS back then, we have taken huge steps forward. Back in the day, most of the actions were completed manually on a type of VT100 terminal using MML commands. Today the situation has improved a lot on the one hand, but on the other the system complexity is growing exponentially. It is true that we have pretty user interfaces and nice tools to control the network, but it is equally true that the complexity of services and the time to launch and activate these services are growing exponentially.
To launch a new tariff plan five years ago required at least six months of planning. While still working in a different company, I remember working – already in March – in preparation for the Christmas campaign for one of our big customers… and I also remember how we failed the delivery already in November and how that customer was not able to run the campaign as planned. Nowadays, the marketing department of each operator (or Communication Service Provider since the difference between the two is getting bigger and bigger) can execute plans within a few hours. “Operators XYZ launched a flat fee campaign yesterday, we need to do it immediately as well!” and the CIO/CTO needs to execute immediately.
If someone asked me if operators have reached the right level of automation in running their operations, my answer is no. If we consider all the progress made in all the other fields of technology, I think that OSS/BSS is lagging behind.
What is missing?
1: “Plug and play” integration capabilities. When I buy an USB, I can plug it in to my computer and it works. I don’t need to care about the brand or the technology. I simply buy it, plug it in and I’m ready to watch movies, get auxiliary light or use a cup that keeps my coffee hot while I’m writing an email. This is USB. Does the USB “Plug and play” concept exist in today ‘s OSS/BSS? The answer is a definite no. Operators are still spending a fortune to integrate different components and applications. There are naturally good reasons for the current state of business, but the fact remains that we are still behind.
2: Time to market for new services. Ideally, every service should be 100% modular and completely separate from technology. The capability to build customised services should be available for everybody directly from a Web UI. If I buy a car, I don’t have to waste time thinking about the asphalt or the type of road in general when I drive. The level of expectation should be the same for telecommunications. We shouldn’t need to care about 3G, LTE or whatever technology. OSS/BSS should enable operators to completely separate the service layer from network layer, enabling them to build an overall service where each single service component can be hand-picked from a catalogue.
3: “Real decision automation”. Every CSP collects a huge amount of data and is capable of using different tools to correlate and post-process this data. The real issue is this: “Can these tools make decisions and make these decisions happen – and not just analyse?” If I drive a car and I have an ABS system, when I hit the brakes and the wheels start to swerve, the ABS takes immediate action. It doesn’t generate a report that says “you hit your brakes too hard and now you have crashed the car!” Just image what the driver of the said car would do with such report…Transforming analysis into action will be the key success factor in enabling automatic decisions.
This is why I am still in this business. I dream of the day when the operator CEOs will able to decide which component to choose without thinking about the possible hidden costs of the integration, will be able to launch a new tariff plan or a new service simply by asking for the PowerPoint presentation from their marketing department and last but not least, will be able to automate all the phases of the process without ‘having to hit a wall’ and then simply receive a report that states the obvious. This is what we want to achieve in Comptel and this is the mandate that will keep me in the OSS/BSS business for a time to come.
In June’s poll we surveyed the trendiest buzzwords circulating within the telecoms sector. “Analytics/Big Data” edged out with 43% of the vote, followed by “Customer experience management” with 38%. Rounding out the top three was “Innovation” with nearly 10% of the vote.
This month, we take a closer look at the poll’s trendiest buzzword to better understand what Big Data/Analytics means to you. Tell us what excites you most about applying Big Data/Analytics to the telecoms sector. We welcome you to post in the “Comments” section below as always.
Today, we announced Comptel’s financials for the second quarter of 2012 and for the first half of the year as a whole. This is a personal milestone for me, as it marks my second year fully immersed as CEO — and as you’ll see from our mid-year highlights, I’m confident in the direction the company is moving.
This past quarter, our order backlog rose to a record high, as we won a significant EUR 5.4 million project to consolidate the mediation systems of a leading operator in Western Europe.
The upfront investments in the customer interface have yielded results in our largest regions, Europe and Asia, and we won seven new customers globally. Although our net sales have not yet met expected levels, they stayed on par with last year’s numbers, EUR 20.3 million (EUR 20.0 million). And we are optimistic our investments will grow our 2012 net sales approximately 10 per cent from the previous year. Integration of the advanced analytics expertise acquired in February 2012 has proceeded exceptionally well, resulting in winning our first deal for Comptel Social Links software.
We continued to bring new products to the market as key strategic initiatives. The major launch of Next Generation Comptel Fulfillment 8 software this quarter was received remarkably favourably by the OSS/BSS industry. We also unveiled our Contextual Intelligence for Telco (CIQ4T) concept this quarter, providing communications service providers a framework for bringing customer experience to the next level. This innovative approach truly differentiates Comptel in the market.
Our business mix of licence and services sales was impaired by the personnel, project delivery and marketing costs, causing lower operative results than expected. To remedy this, we initiated first productivity action by streamlining R&D in Norway and further cost saving initiatives will bring us approximately EUR 10 million on annual level. During the second half of 2012, we will realise EUR 3-4 million savings. These initiatives will secure our competitiveness, sustain the execution of our strategy, and deliver an estimated 0 – 5 per cent operating profit of net sales, excluding one-off items.
Beyond the figures, we also concentrated the first half of the year on executing our new strategy. We opened new offices in Istanbul and Cairo and announced several major customer wins around the world. These included, Telefónica Central America’s mediation consolidation that enabled the efficient management of more than half a billion daily transactions, Thai mobile operator Real Move’s deployment of Comptel’s Fulfilment solution to gain customers from the 3G market, Kcell Kazakhstan’s replacement of its provisioning and activation system with Comptel’s Fulfilment suite to support its 3G rollout, and Kuwaiti’s Watanya Telecom improvement of its customers’ first use experience with Comptel’s Dynamic SIM solution.
Overall, the first half of 2012 has been largely focused on executing our strategy, investing in bringing new products to market, winning new customers and developing our Services Business. As we move into this next quarter, we’ll continue onwards building on our stated strategy and remain confident the productivity programme will secure our competitiveness. And I’m honoured to convey, on behalf of Comptel, that we are looking forward to continuing to deliver on our promises to the market in the second half of 2012.
Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of our new office in Cairo, Egypt. This new venture reflects our continued commitment to get closer to our communications service provider (CSP) customers in the region.
While Comptel is already well-established in the Middle East and has played a significant role in developing its telecom industry, the Egypt office will also enable us to fulfil our larger vision of expanding our reach within the region, especially strengthening our presence within Egypt’s burgeoning telecom market. We also have plans to add to our network of partners, including local system integration companies, that specialise in the telecom industry within the Middle East.
In addition, we consider this expansion to be an opportunity for us to highlight just how Comptel’s Customer Engagement solutions enable CSPs to respond quickly to network events and transform them automatically into relevant and timely actions that improve subscriber satisfaction. We’re looking forward to further enabling regional CSPs to better engage with their customers, so they can benefit from increased loyalty and drive new revenue opportunities.
The new office will be located at Smart Village in Cairo and headed by Ahmed Hamza, head of cluster, Egypt & Saudi Arabia. Complementing Comptel’s Middle East & Africa headquarters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, it will include both sales and service teams deployed to ensure rapid and effective customer and business service support.
For the telecom industry, spring is always such an interesting time due to the variety of events taking place. Most of us divide the season into the periods of ‘before and after Mobile World Congress’ and ‘by Management World’. Comptel’s no exception to this—we are participating in a number of events in the first half of 2012, as we continue to build our presence closer to customers, fulfilling the promise of growth to shareholders.
To obtain new customers and to make existing ones even happier, we continuously look for opportunities to operate in their local markets. So, this week, we are attending Eurasia Com in Istanbul, Turkey. Our CEO, Juhani Hintikka, along with other Comptelians, will be on hand at the conference and the networking event on the 20th of March, which we have sponsored in celebration of the opening of a new office in the country.
Personally, I regret that I cannot attend the event. Istanbul is a wonderful city with a mixture of Asian, European and Middle Eastern cultures. I lived in Istanbul when the famous WAP-era was about to start and there was talk about bringing Internet to everyone’s pockets. In those days, we had a hint of what was to come in mobile, but both technology and understanding of end-user needs needed a few rounds of evolution before the mobile Internet could truly take off. The business models between the network providers and service and applications providers have also developed drastically.
Another milestone I can recall from my experience in Turkey’s telecom landscape happened about five years ago, when the industry started to talk about customer experience. I had the privilege, with a former colleague, to benchmark where one of the Turkish service providers were in terms of customer experience, compared to one of the leading Western European service providers. Since then, the situation of Turkey’s telecommunications has changed quite a bit. In fact, according to the CIA World Fact Book, it is a “comprehensive telecommunications network undergoing rapid modernization and expansion especially in mobile-cellular services.”
Turkey indeed is an important market for Comptel, and we aim to continue building a strong presence there. I wish a great event to all of the Eurasia Com participants and hope you’ll attend the networking event introducing us and our “Making Data Beautiful” messaging to the country.
By: Dan Baker, Research Director, Technology Research Institute
I imagine there are quite a few mediation fans out there reading Comptel’s blog. And if you’re one of those mediation fans, you’re probably wondering: “What ever happened to the mediation market? Why has the sector been so quiet in recent years?”
Well, as an industry analyst who’s been following mediation and other BSS/OSS markets for quite a few years, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. Mediation doesn’t get the press attention and conference coverage that it used to, and that’s a shame because we know that mediation plays such a vital role in the telecom back office.
Behind the Curtain
Mediation is like the stage crew working hard behind the curtain of a theatrical production. They’re the guys who work the spotlights, handle the costumes, move the scenery and perform the dozens of other tasks needed to support the main actors. In telecom BSS/OSS terms, those actors include all of the functions who get the limelight coverage—billing, charging, policy control, revenue assurance, cost assurance, marketing and fraud management, to name a few. But the truth is that none of those actors would accomplish much unless mediation was there behind the scenes doing the valuable data collection, aggregation and often real-time query work it’s famous for.
So why is it that we don’t hear much about mediation these days? Well, I attribute it to a couple of things.
First, the number of independent software vendors who sell mediation solutions has dwindled over the years, meaning there are fewer mediation companies eager to get the word out about it. In recent years, for example, AceComm was absorbed by Ventraq. CSG picked up Intec. Narus, a vendor who leveraged its mediation technology in the cyber security business, was sold to Boeing in 2010. Comptel got into the act too, acquiring some of the mediation assets of the Norwegian firm, EDB Telecom, a few years back.
A second factor that’s put a damper on mediation’s visibility is the mobile broadband explosion. As the market for iPads, Androids and other advanced mobile devices took off, many of the mediation vendors, including Comptel, built on their mediation expertise to add products in areas such as charging and policy control.
Future Mediation Opportunities
Ok, so exactly where does mediation go from here? Will the sector stay quiet, or will we see some kind of resurgence in the next few years?
Well, count me as a mediation optimist. I know how deeply embedded mediation technology is in telecom, and I see several industry trends that signal some nice opportunities for mediation to step up and add value.
Analysing “Big Data” – Telecom is abuzz over “big data” and “analytics” applications these days. And if that’s the case, then mediation is in a bit of a sweet spot because it’s responsible for feeding and enhancing the data streams for those “big data” guys. And what if mediation stepped up and assumed some of those analytics functions itself? For instance, mobile subscriber location information lives in the network, and a mediation system can gain access to it in real time. So if a mobile subscriber flies to a foreign country, and when she/he arrives and turns on the mobile phone, mediation is responsible for sending the subscriber a promotion to sign up for a special in-country roaming plan.
Consolidating Multiple Mediation Platforms – Plenty of operators own more mediation systems than they care to admit. But you know the story: “Time to market is more important than achieving mediation system commonality.” Sooner or later though, high maintenance costs dictate it’s time to consolidate. And talk about bloat: one operator recently consolidated 40 mediation systems onto a single platform.
Converging Mediation Functionality – The software vendors are getting more clever at building mediation systems that handle multiple functions. They can do batch as well as real-time on-line transactions in the same architecture. Fixed-line and mobile services, pre-paid charging and post-paid advice-of-charge can all be done in one place now, making consolidation on an advanced platform more attractive than ever.
Merging within Multi-Operator Groups – Large multi-operator groups can greatly benefit from mediation consolidation. Here I refer to cases where usage data is collected and distributed, say, across four countries and served by a data centre in one of them. One operator we know, a Comptel customer, manages 43 million subscribers and two billion transactions a day using this approach. A key advantage here: mediation expertise only needs to be maintained in one location.
Offloading Processing Power – Services in the mobile data world generate a ton of usage. And the need to extract intelligence from that data is coming from two directions. First, marketing seeks to promote services and generate more revenue. Then, engineering looks to optimise the use of expensive network resources. Mediation is the logical place to offload much of that usage processing.
Not only does mediation have access to the data first, but it can often process that data at a fraction of the cost. The latest mediation platforms utilise X86 and Linux blades that can deliver the same processing power at one tenth the cost of a traditional system. As we know, most telecom IT shops are religiously attached to UNIX. But because mediation’s home is in the network, it’s politically acceptable to diverge somewhat from IT’s architectural preference.
Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect mediation to move into the limelight. Mediation has thrived quite well in a supporting role. And it can certainly remain working quietly behind the scenes.
Yet, the opportunities are tantalising. If mediation can offload even a small percentage of mobile broadband bucket computation and analytics, then mediation’s value to the telecom back office is guaranteed to grow very nicely.
Dan Baker is the research director of Technology Research Institute (TRI) and has been following the BSS/OSS market since he formed TRI in 1994. He has just released a major 600+ page research report entitled, “Telecom Business, Fraud, Cost and Revenue Assurance: State of the Market and Practice”.
Telefónica and Masternaut, for example, are using M2M communications to monitor driver behavior, such as braking and acceleration habits, for enterprises with large fleets of vehicles. On top of their service, they are offering an element that allows companies to rank their drivers and award a prize for the highest ranked depot within an organisation. By using the natural human instinct for competition, Telefónica and Masternaut are able to encourage safe driving.
Telefónica is not the only mobile operator looking closely at this space—many are interested in building an enablement framework that will allow them to reap the benefits of M2M technology. Do you see M2M being a major telecom trend in 2012?
ChannelNewsAsia… Telcos May Spend More to Boost Network Capacity This week, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore introduced measures to boost the quality of 3G mobile services for subscribers. As of April 1, operators must ensure more than 99 percent coverage in outdoor areas and more than 85 percent coverage within buildings, with a less than one percent rate of dropped calls.
Due to these measures, Singapore telecom operators are focusing on improving their control of surging mobile data volumes, and are predicted to invest between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion this year to boost their network capacity. This increase in capacity will be essential as the demand for faster data networks and LTE grows. The key for operators will be to guarantee a high quality of service in the wake of new regulations while also driving profits and preparing for the next phase of mobile broadband.
The new FCC regulations will present opportunities for CSPs to differentiate themselves on the customer experience front, by taking a closer look at improving billing services and personalised alert services. What do you think these new regulations will mean for the industry?
What Alex notes as most interesting from an OSS/BSS point of view is the expansion of the micro-transaction business models into massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), console games, video, communications services and social networks. With the majority of this money being paid as subscriptions, Alex says this opens an opportunity for pricing and billing sophistication.
Do you agree with M/C Partners’ list of the top 2012 communications trends? Is there anything else you foresee having a major impact on the industry in the New Year?
Microsperience…. Making the Impossible Possible (A Fishy Tale)
Analyst Teresa Cottam begins her blog post with an anecdote about a U.K. supermarket chain. In the midst of the recession, the supermarket was able to sell its Alaskan salmon at an incredibly low price, creating a truly competitive advantage. There was much speculation about how it was able to do this, but the answer was as simple as finding a new shipping route, which enabled the store to shorten the journey from Alaska to the U.K., and therefore, reduce the cost of the product.
Teresa’s main point is that almost nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. CSPs can innovate if they have a clear vision and sufficient imagination to prevent challenges from holding them back.
Teresa goes on to explain that she sees billing and charging as the next big opportunity for innovation, and believes that visionaries will see the opportunities CSPs now have to differentiate themselves and create new revenues. To achieve their business goals, CSPs need to bring their operational team members together, understand their customers and work with partners to deliver the right product at the right time.
In the end, the analyst challenges readers with the following question: “Are you, as a service provider, happy to risk falling behind when the leap comes, or are you one of those already preparing their run up?”
Venture capitalist Paul Doany warns that straying into commercial operations, such as new platforms and mobile apps, will be harmful for revenues. On the other hand, Osman Sultan, CEO of du telecom, thinks operators should take part in third-party advertising-based revenue streams, and believes this is possible if telecom operators across the Middle East work together.
Matching the tremendous growth of Internet giants will certainly be a challenge. However, Dr. Bassam Hannoun, CEO of Wataniya Mobile, says operators can drive the telecoms industry forward through management and protection of revenue. In the coming year, Bassam believes the operators who will find success are those who can turn a disconnected value chain into a seamless solution.