The Mobile Phone Bill Is What?!

Posted: May 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Telecom Trends | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Last summer, I went gold prospecting in Finland’s Lemmenjoki National Park, which is about 250 km (155 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. This was at the height of the economic crisis, and desperate times called for desperate measures!

There is a serious telecom point to my story—while taking a break from panning, I checked my phone and found that it was connected to a Norwegian mobile network, even though Norway was some 65 km (40 miles) away! In other words, I was standing in one European country and roaming in another!

Unintentional roaming is not an unusual experience in Europe, but it also occurs elsewhere. For example, it happens frequently in Niagara Falls, which sits on the U.S. and Canadian border.

This brings me neatly to the subject of roaming cost control. Whether roaming intentionally or not, using one’s mobile phone abroad is far more costly than when using it at home. We’ve all heard the horror stories (admittedly some probably apocryphal). My own favourite is the one about the French café owner living on the Belgian border; he was hit by a €46,000 (U.S. $ 57,000) mobile Internet bill after unintentionally roaming into the neighbouring country. (An alternative, less credible but often quoted version of that story involves a German woman who downloaded an episode of Lost while in France.)

Now, however, regulators are stepping into the debate. Most notably, the European Union (EU) will, in just a few short weeks (1 July), enforce a new regulation on communications service providers (CSPs) in order to prevent ‘bill shock’. The legislation dictates lower costs for data services while roaming, and that subscribers are adequately informed of the charges.

One example of an operator preparing for this change—Finnish CSP DNA Ltd has deployed Comptel Roaming Cost Control, which allows subscribers to monitor their balances in real time, and notify them of any necessary actions, such as a notification or suspension of the services when a specified cut-off limit is reached.

The new regulation isn’t only affecting European CSPs.  After conducting a recent survey and finding that one in six mobile users have experienced ‘bill shock’ in service plans, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is putting pressure on U.S. operators and now considering legislation similar to that of the EU. Australian and New Zealand regulators are also looking into to tackling mobile roaming ‘bill shock’.

Excessive roaming bills have caused negative attention and bad publicity—and ultimately put customers off from using services that many operators are betting their futures on. Roaming cost control allows CSPs to not only comply with legislative demands, but also keep their customers satisfied and encourage data usage. As DNA points out, it is also an opportunity for CSPs to deploy real-time policy management and charging solutions that will help differentiate them from competitors by offering personalized services and price plans. This is critical for CSPs looking to fully monetize on mobile broadband services.

For the record, I did not find any gold. But thankfully, I was not hit by a big mobile phone bill either.

Management World 2010 Wrap-Up

Posted: May 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Management World 2010 Wrap-Up

Another Management World has come and gone. Over the course of the three days and Comptel’s 80+ meetings, we had some really interesting discussions about the current state and future of the telecom market.

Some interesting snippets from the show floor:

  • Barbara Lancaster and Trevor Hayes of LTC International commented that, in many cases, service providers still seem to be buying and deploying software to solve short-term problems rather than to prepare for future subscriber or service-usage growth and service innovation.  Are operators digging deeper holes for themselves?
  • Cloud computing certainly took centre stage at Management World 2010, but the issue of 4G and OSS began to creep up in conversations.  Ari Banerjee of Heavy Reading noted policy control and convergent charging as important for ensuring the customer experience with the migration to LTE.

It was nice catching up with those customers, partners, media and analysts that were able to make it to Management World 2010.  We welcome you to share any points you found interesting while at the conference.

What’s on at Management World 2010: Inter-Cloud Service Management Catalyst

Posted: May 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Over the past three days at Management World 2010, a lot of time has been spent in Forumville, where Catalyst participants gave demos of their collaborative projects.  Comptel took part in three of the four integrated cloud management scenarios, namely the Cloud Service Broker, Service Model and Inter-Cloud Service Management Catalysts.

As briefly mentioned in Olivier Suard’s Wednesday post, the latter initiative, championed by BT, aimed to demonstrate a unified service delivery framework for managing distributed inter-cloud services (specifically unified communications voice).  Comptel contributed service fulfillment solutions and a customer order portal to the project.

To give credit where credit’s due, Qwest acted as the cloud service broker exposing the product and service catalog into the cloud, while Cisco Systems brought the domain managers for infrastructure and voice applications as well as a service management portal.  Progress Software was responsible for the data interoperability with standardization and mapping, and managed services provider T-Systems integrated the customer self-care portal.

Management World 2010 attendees, if you had time to walk through Forumville, what did you think of the Inter-Cloud Service Management Catalyst and the others on display?  How might you like to see this particular initiative evolve (e.g. the addition of service assurance or billing components)?  Or, what other types of Catalysts should be considered for Management World Americas in Orlando in November?

What’s on at Management World 2010: Day 2 Highlights

Posted: May 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , | Comments Off on What’s on at Management World 2010: Day 2 Highlights

After a nice evening on the rooftop at the Le Meridien Hotel on the Nice seafront on Tuesday, the team on-site at Management World 2010 got started on another very busy day.

One highlight from the second day was a Revenue Management & Profitability Summit case study presentation from Telecom Personal, the mobile branch of Telecom Argentina with 14 million subscribers.

Among the market challenges the operator faced—Argentina is a saturated market with a 120% penetration rate, number portability and MVNOs are coming up in Latin America, and the region has seen high churn with the economic slowdown.

IT manager Leticia San Juan explained the service provider’s goal of delivering a multi-channel, self-service activation solution for pre-paid subscribers in seven months, with the hope of enhancing customer satisfaction.  She then described the pre-activation, validation and provisioning (where Comptel comes in) processes to meet this objective.

There were some positive results in the end.  Telecom Personal has improved customer satisfaction by reducing the time it takes between initial contact and all of the validations—all down to two or three minutes.  The operator was also able to reduce activation costs and better collect subscribers’ contact details with identity assurance.

Some important lessons learned as noted by Leticia—a pilot implementation is critical before launching innovative services, and don’t forget to continue focus on telco product innovation while undertaking such projects.

What’s on at Management World 2010: OSS and Managed Services

Posted: May 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on What’s on at Management World 2010: OSS and Managed Services

Yesterday evening, Comptel’s very own CTO, Gareth Senior, and Ralf Jaeger of Cisco Systems gave a talk on leveraging OSS for managed services as part of Management World 2010’s Successful Business Transformation Summit.  They focused on virtualized unified communications services and how the cloud environment is becoming a critical differentiator for service providers—especially in terms of guaranteed quality of service and combining assets in the network.  (If interested in seeing a copy of the presentation, contact [email protected]).

Some of the key OSS points made: it’s critical to have a full-service suite that offers a high degree of functionality out of the box.  The solutions should encompass not only the traditional elements, such as activation, order management, provisioning and inventory management, but also newer components like catalog that are important for next-generation business models, for example, Telco 2.0.

Wrapping up, Gareth and Ralf gave the Inter-Cloud Service Management Catalyst as an example of traditional OSS (service fulfillment) being applied to a brand new space.  The initiative involves the ability to run services between multiple clouds, partition networks into slices and provide end-customers with the tools they need to manage their use of on-demand cloud services.  But, more on the Inter-Cloud Service Management Catalyst coming up!

Leveraging OSS for managed services—and providing end-customers with the ability to make changes as they like—can certainly give service providers an edge (including time- and cost-savings as a result of automation and integration) over those that don’t know how to do it.

What’s on at Management World 2010: Day 1 Highlights

Posted: May 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on What’s on at Management World 2010: Day 1 Highlights

TM Forum’s Management World 2010 has kicked off, and luckily, we made it to Nice without much delay from the ash cloud.  After walking into the Acropolis Convention Center, it certainly became clear that cloud is the hottest topic on the conference agenda.

The keynote session also called out transformation and the customer experience as two key issues that would be largely discussed this week. Noted speaker, Liu Aili, executive vice president and board director at China Mobile, touched upon the former with a discussion about the operator’s move to an all IP network.  The world’s largest operator with 540 million subscribers and adding something in the region of seven million customers per month, China Mobile embarked on the move to 3G about six years ago, with the hope of dealing with the pressure from increasing CAPEX and OPEX.

Mr. Liu explained that there were many different opinions on how to manage China Mobile’s all IP journey.  His advice?  Address the easy stuff first—as such, the operator has almost completed the transformation of its voice network.  Mr. Liu also advised operators to take early action when it comes to IP transformation, as the process is far from being over for China Mobile.

We agree with Mr. Liu’s closing points—operators must invest more in their OSS and network technologies in order to get the most out of IP transformation and continue to ensure a high quality of service for customers.

Later on in the keynote session was an interesting talk on the importance of customer experience.  Panelists Akil Bashir, chairman of Telecom Egypt, Jan Vorstermans, executive vice president of technology and solutions at Telenet, and Steffen Roehn, CIO of Deutsche Telekom, elaborated on the impact of corporate incentivization, segmentation, social networking and more on the customer experience.

The priorities that the speakers believe operators need to focus on for improving the customer experience include simplifying the way they do business with their subscribers, executing service delivery as promised, and communicating what is best for their subscribers in a truthful and straightforward manner.

Like Mr. Bashir, Mr. Vorstermans and Mr. Roehn said, don’t forget to keep the five, critical “A’s”—anybody, anytime, anywhere, authentified and authorized—in mind for enabling the best customer experience.

Stay tuned for more Management World 2010 updates!

Q&A: Stratecast’s Karl Whitelock on Policy Control

Posted: May 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Telecom Trends | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Q&A: Stratecast’s Karl Whitelock on Policy Control

Policy control has become one of the hottest OSS/BSS topics.  As a recent Telecom Asia story aptly summarized:

“The sophistication of smartphones and netbooks, and the explosion of P2P, video and gaming applications that ride on top of those devices—not to mention the comfort people now feel with social networks—have created a serious dilemma for [communications] service providers [(CSPs)] trying to accommodate the exponential increases in the traffic over fixed and mobile networks.  Without a means to generate sustainable revenues that offset pressure to lower costs and improve customer experience—all while reining in operations costs—the huge demands on networks could prove disastrous.”

Comptel recently caught up with Karl Whitelock, senior consulting analyst for Stratecast’s OSS/BSS Global Competitive Strategies practice, and got his thoughts on this tug-of-war between data usage and customer satisfaction, and how CSPs can take charge of their services—and realize an acceptable level of profitability.

Q: How can operators achieve a balance between the business realities they face and the aspirations and needs of their customers?

A: Customers always want the most they can get for the least cost.  This applies to all things retail and wholesale.  With mobile plans, especially mobile data plans that offer unlimited usage for fixed amounts, customers think they are getting a great deal.  For the most part, they are. However, too many customers taking advantage of such plans with devices, such as laptops, dongles or the most advanced smartphones, usually creates service quality issues in various parts of the network.  This in turn often means the establishment of additional network capacity, which carries a price tag.  Customers can consume a lot of bandwidth and generate a lot of data that must be carried to whatever destination it is intended.  Now, I’m not advocating a severe thrashing of the customers that heavily use what they pay for, because they are doing what they are supposed to be doing—using the network.  Hence, it is important for CSPs to find ways to align that usage with realistic revenue goals.  This means that the day of “all-you-can-eat” data plans must be replaced with a strategy that is more balanced for all parties concerned.

Q: What steps should CSPs take to ensure that they get things right when it comes to customer-focused policy management?

A: Achieving the right balance between customer usage and the realities of increasing traffic volumes all CSPs now face requires innovation and the right tools.  Policy management is one of those tools, and can be coupled with a real-time rating and charging engine to allow customers to take control.  They can define how and when their services will be used.  It can have volume cap limits, financial limits and really any other “hard trigger”.  In addition, the customer needs to know when they are 50% towards a limit; this could be in minutes of use or capacity download volume, so they can make informed decisions.  Instituting policy control without customer involvement is the surest way to make customers unhappy.  While a CSP may not care that much about one individual consumer, what makes the “policy without involvement” approach so dangerous is the power one consumer can have by word of mouth through the social networking process.  Sharing just how bad their personal experience was with an operator in this manner can have huge unwanted consequences if posted to such places as YouTube or Facebook.  Again, the key is to give customers control on some things and inform them of when a usage change must be made if it looks like they are going to go over the designated limit and risk the consequences of being out of plan compliance.

Q: What impact do you see policy control having on OSS as a whole?

A: I relate OSS into two categories—the business support side (BSS) and the operations support side (OSS).  Policy control impacts both.  For the BSS side, it means integration with rating and charging, so the financial aspects of policy can be worked in properly.  It also requires the customer management side to give customers the information they need to make informed decisions about their mobile data and voice plan usage.  On the OSS side, if a CSP makes an upsell offer, say something like “for a small incremental amount, you can have a faster upload/download speed or be granted more download volume”, then the OSS, especially the inventory and activation functions, need to be able to allocate that capacity correctly.  This has a big impact on the fixed-line side, but even with mobile data, it means network capacity planning and utilization processes must be aware of customer actions.  In all cases, policy can be set for making an upgrade offer to a customer when a policy-defined threshold may be approaching.

For more on effective, customer-focused policy management, a Comptel-commissioned Stratecast whitepaper is available for download, and an on-demand TM Forum Webcast is available to play.

Q&A: BT's Gary Bruce on the Cloud Service Broker Catalyst

Posted: May 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Behind the Scenes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Got your head in the cloud?  There will certainly be a lot of discussion around the challenges and opportunities cloud services present next week at Management World 2010 in Nice.  For conference attendees wanting to experience key cloud management concepts, and forward-looking collaborations among communications service providers (CSPs), technology suppliers and enterprise customers, Forumville is a must!

Gary Bruce, Catalyst lead and project champion at BT Innovate & Design, answers a couple of questions about the Cloud Service Broker Catalyst (CSB), which will demonstrate a trusted, governed cloud management platform, to simplify the delivery of complex, cloud services to enterprise customers.

Q: How is the CSB Catalyst addressing the barriers to cloud adoption for enterprise customers?

A: Although cloud services offer many attractive benefits, enterprises are naturally concerned about losing control over IT governance.  Issues, such as maintaining application performance, delivering adequate security, preventing runaway costs and complying with regional or sector regulations, create significant barriers for cloud adoption.

The CSB Catalyst project starts to address these issues by developing a trusted interface between the enterprise and cloud service environments. This facilitates a secure, highly performing cloud-based environment for enterprise activity that operates in accordance with each organization’s own governance rules.

Using the CSB Catalyst, enterprises can benefit from cloud models, like pay-as-you-go, ‘OPEX not CAPEX’, and automatic scaling on demand, while retaining control and avoiding lock-in with any single underlying cloud platform.  The CSB also benefits cloud service providers by enabling them to offer services with transparent governance, and providing levels of control and assurance which would otherwise be difficult and costly to achieve.

Q: What will the demonstration scenario on display in Forumville entail?

A: The CSB Catalyst is acting on some of the primary requirements from TM Forum’s Enterprise Cloud Buyers Council, and explores the use of TM Forum standards to facilitate the cloud service broker function.  In particular, the CSB Catalyst employs the Product and Service Assembly (PSA) standard to facilitate automated interworking between each of the catalyst’s collaborators with respect to cloud service assembly and deployment.

The CSB Catalyst demonstration in Forumville will highlight:

  • Bringing a cloud product, including customer service level agreements, quickly and easily to market through the use of PSA catalogs to manage the service components and product lifecycle;
  • Fulfilling a customer order to meet both functionality requirements, and those for application performance, security, cost control and compliance, to the point of billing for the enabled product;
  • Responding to service quality challenges, for example, the dynamic creation of new capacity as a result of dips in application performance due to increased demand; and
  • Making status, activities, events and responses within the cloud service environment transparent and evident to both cloud service brokers and enterprise customers.

Q: How will the project takeaways help BT in the real world as a buyer and seller of complex cloud services?

A: Through the CSB Catalyst, BT hopes to make the provisioning of cloud services more easily accessible and viable for enterprises, and enable buyers to capitalize on the benefits of complex cloud services, while having the control they need over IT governance.

The initiative can also help cloud service brokers improve their customers’ experiences, by providing the best available resources at any given time, reducing service delivery bottlenecks and minimizing the effects of resource contention.

We hope that the Catalyst will encourage the adoption of cloud services, and open up new revenue opportunities for operators and cloud service providers.

To learn more about the CSB Catalyst, which also involves Comptel, Infonova, OpenNMS Group and Square Hoop, head over to Level 3 in the Agora 3 Mezzanine during the following hours:

Tuesday, May 18 from 12:30 – 19:00

Wednesday, May 19 from 10:00 – 19:00

Thursday, May 20 from 10:00 – 14:30

Q&A: Gareth Senior on Comptel's Cloud Strategy

Posted: May 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Behind the Scenes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Q&A: Gareth Senior on Comptel's Cloud Strategy

Cloud services have the potential to create a whole new line of business for communications service providers (CSPs).  Technology advances, particularly in virtualization and remote communications, are making these new offerings ever more credible, and customers are increasingly intrigued by the potential not only to save costs but also to reduce risk and increase business flexibility.  Meanwhile, businesses and enterprises are looking beyond software as a service (SaaS) and evaluating the benefits of outsourcing substantial parts of their IT environment to the cloud.

But, cloud services are not all bright new dawn and silver lining.  Hear what CTO Gareth Senior has to say on the issues these offerings create and how Comptel is applying its OSS solutions to help CSPs cash in on the cloud.

Q: What challenges do CSPs need to overcome, not only to deliver cloud services efficiently—but also to make some profit from them?

A: Moving into cloud services is not just an incremental change to the CSPs’ portfolios; they bring real challenges. Cloud services have much more in common with IT services and outsourcing than traditional communications services, and customers will view their providers rather differently, too.  For example, enterprises will need demonstrable reassurance that the CSPs can deliver quality of service, performance, security and regulatory compliance.  And of course, since cost reduction is a big driver, they will be extremely price sensitive.  So in order to succeed, CSPs will need to deliver services at least as effectively as their customers could—and definitely more cost effectively.  A tough challenge!

Q: What impact does Comptel see the sale of cloud services having on OSS/BSS?

A: As the services to be delivered are different than traditional services, it will have an impact on traditional OSS/BSS.  Resource management is going to be more IT-orientated than network-focused.  Service management will have to take place in a distributed environment, with services being bundled together from different sources and likely to include communications elements and components from third parties.  In terms of charging for these services, variants on ‘pay as you go’, combined with ‘pay as you grow’ models, are likely, even in business and enterprise propositions.  All of this means that even so-called convergent OSS/BSS could struggle to handle cloud services.

Q: How does the Comptel Dynamic OSS portfolio support CSPs and their end-customers in ‘catching the cloud’?

A: Comptel believes that cloud service providers require a comprehensive ‘concept-to-cash’ and probably even dedicated platform that can handle this very different kind of business.  Comptel Dynamic OSS is well suited to this.  Our products let CSPs:

  • Catalog and manage cloud products and services;
  • Manage the resources needed to provide cloud-based services, from servers to communication lines, to applications and more;
  • Fulfill customer orders, using automated order management processes;
  • Monitor and respond to customer activity using pre-defined policy;
  • Collect usage information;
  • Rate and charge for usage and events; and
  • Provide customer and operational visibility of cloud environments.

Comptel is partaking in a number of cloud activities at Management World 2010 in Nice next week, and invites you to join in the industry-wide discussion on making cloud service possible and profitable.  Leave a comment or swing by the company’s tradeshow booth (#21)!

Management World Nice Survival Guide

Posted: May 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Management World Nice Survival Guide

It’s that time of the year again—conference season!  Comptel is looking forward to Management World 2010 in Nice, where we will be taking part in a number of initiatives, reconnecting with customers and partners, and talking about the latest industry issues and opportunities. 

To help you prepare for the event, we’ve compiled our five top tips for ‘surviving and thriving’ at this year’s show.

  • Have a plan. Familiarize yourself with the expo and Forumville layouts and decide how you are going to spend your time—don’t forget to swing by our booth, #21!  Determine which keynote sessions and presentations you’d like to attend, and when you need to make time for any pre-arranged customer or partner meetings.
  • Pace yourself. You can’t do and see everything at the show, so try and stick to your plan.  Walking to and from and about the show is good exercise, but it will also wear you out!  A well-paced day (and taking time to bask in the sun outside of the Acropolis Convention Centre) will leave you rested enough to enjoy Nice by night.
  • Bring enough business cards. This is one of the best opportunities to network with others in the industry, and it would be a shame to miss out.  Following the event, connect with your new contacts through LinkedIn and on other social networks like Twitter.
  • Participation is king. Everyone has been talking about Management World 2010 over the past few weeks; stay engaged in the conversations during and after the event.  Add your comments to related blog posts, and tweet live (#mw2010) from the tradeshow—your thoughts and common experiences will go a long way in forging relationships.
  • Don’t forget to enjoy the conference goodies. As always, you can find the famous Finnish milk chocolate—Fazer Blue—at our stand in the expo hall.

Have any additional Management World ‘survival’ tips to share?  We invite you to leave a comment.  Look forward to seeing you in Nice next week!