Conference Report: IIR Cloud Summit in London, 17-18 June

Posted: June 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Going by column inches alone, Cloud services are one of 2010’s hottest topics around telecoms. At this show, the quality of delegates was certainly high, and there was plenty of engagement between the stage and the conference floor.

Few delegates or speakers disputed that Cloud services will be a big part of the business IT landscape, with a significant swing to the Cloud model over the next five to ten years. Few expect the change to be to be big bang, but as physical and logical components of the IT infrastructure are replaced over time, we should expect the question of whether those functions can be performed equally well (and more cheaply) in the Cloud to become increasingly standard.

Flexibility and cost-efficiencies remain the key drivers—highly attractive to many businesses for reasons which don’t require too much analysis. McKinsey calculates the average utilization of back-office infrastructure to be as little as between 15-30%—figures which correspond to a lot of very expensive kit sitting idly around for much of the day. Key words which came up with some regularity included ‘dynamic’, ‘fast’, ‘efficient’, ‘elastic’, ‘green’, ‘optimized’, ‘minimal commitment and planning requirement’…in principle, it seems that if you can make them fit your business model, there’s not much to not like about Cloud services.

Discussion was much more open on whether, and how, telcos would fit into the Cloud services landscape. Though there was strong consensus that Cloud services were a viable offering for telcos, delegates felt that they would need to choose their roles in the model with care and that Cloud would almost invariably be a partnership play, even for tier-zero carriers.

Telcos have many strengths to bring to the Cloud market, including the well-rehearsed brand trust, broad, accessible market and communications know-how. The telcos’ capability to support utility services, consumer and SME markets, and high-volume, back office processes was also regularly cited—major IT vendors may understand virtualization and IT management very well, but managing large- and mass-market propositions is something with which they are far less familiar. These basic telco strengths could prove significant in capturing SME and SMB market share.

Though it wasn’t an OSS-focused show, natural curiosity couldn’t be suppressed for long, and I asked several carrier representatives whether Cloud services created a compelling need to buy new OSS/BSS. While some felt that modern OSS/BSS should be flexible enough to handle the requirements of Cloud services—a view that Comptel would wholly subscribe to—many others anticipated that telco-oriented systems would be tested by IT-oriented services and processes. Interestingly, more than one saw OSS confusion as an even bigger challenge, suggesting that Cloud could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of consolidating multiple silos into a more rational platform.

As the show proceeded (and a certain amount of ‘Cloud fatigue’ began to set in—does any telco subject justify a conference of more than one day?), it was noticeable that ‘Cloud’ is as susceptible to scope creep as any other telco concept, seemingly able to accommodate an almost limitless series of service offerings—application hosting, IP communications, mobile Internet…even legacy voice was at one point described as a ‘Cloud service’. As far as some analysts are concerned, if it doesn’t live in a box in your building, it would seem you’re at liberty to call it ‘cloud’. However you define it though, Cloud doesn’t seem likely to evaporate any time soon.

LTE: Breathing New Life into IMS?

Posted: June 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) is back in the news! Remember IMS? There was a lot of hype around it a few years back, then came a big reality check (e.g. how can the cost of deployment be justified?), and in the end just a few operators decided to roll out IMS in earnest (and indeed Comptel was part of some of those successful deployments).

So, why is it in the news again?

The main reason why IMS is currently making headlines is LTE (Long Term Evolution): the new mobile technology that effectively brings in IMS. This has led some observers to declare that IMS is nowhere at the moment but will be everywhere once LTE comes in. Now I don’t see it that way—far from a big bang, the introduction of IMS is and will remain to be a slow and incremental process. I would like to explain why.

Firstly and most importantly, I believe that the foundations for IMS are already being laid now at many mobile operators, because of factors that are not directly related to LTE. The massive increase in mobile broadband and the development of packet core networks is moving the industry slowly but inevitably towards an IMS type of all-IP environment. To an OSS/BSS vendor like Comptel, this can be witnessed relatively easily by the amount of work done around DIAMETER and various DIAMETER protocol implementations. We see that, for example, in various policy control approaches taken by most mobile operators, such as AT&T (which I blogged about recently) or the Comptel Roaming Cost Control implementation at DNA Finland. DIAMETER is not necessarily the de-facto standard yet, but it seems that more and more equipment supports DIAMETER as the ‘standard’ protocol for usage charging or policy management. And this is key to IMS succeeding; DIAMETER is part of the IMS architecture.

Another factor driving the progressive evolution to IMS is the growing interest in using user data for active decision-making in OSS/BSS. I have already mentioned policy control, but we are also seeing an increased need for customer-centric fulfilment and charging. And, this is mirrored by the evolving role of customer information repositories, such as GUP (Generic User Profile), SPR (Subscriber Profile Repository), HSS (Home Subscriber Server) and HLR (Home Location Register) and others, as well as the significantly increased awareness and adoption of 3GPP-aligned strategies. So while data management is still a major challenge and synching all repositories is still a major headache, there is no doubt that customer data and intelligence are moving towards the network—as IMS requires it.

That said, while there is clear evidence that the foundations are already being laid pre-LTE, I also believe that when operators do eventually deploy LTE, they will not go to an all-IMS architecture straight away. The main reason for this is that operators are unlikely to do a wholesale replacement of their established 2.5 and 3G networks. The fact is that, despite the growth in data, revenue is still mostly made with voice, and voice does not really need an all-IP environment. The Circuit Switched (CS) core is still there, and why not use it? Just like PSTN, the CS core will be more or less a place where no new investments are made, and if they are made, it’s because the new stuff is substantially lower-cost, if nothing else. Furthermore, while IP core is struggling to cope with the smartphone load of IP traffic, I would think that operators would be adopting the wrong strategy if they put their money making voice onto an overloaded (or soon-to-be overloaded) IP network. There may be a time when it will make economic sense to move to an all-IP network, but operators will also be keeping a CS network. And that also means that IMS will have to sit alongside more traditional and indeed legacy systems.

There is one final factor that I would like to highlight: China. While the rest of the world is contemplating a move to IMS, China Mobile and more recently China Telecom are boldly going where virtually no other has before—a large scale, nationwide IMS infrastructure. In my opinion, aside from the example it sets, this will mean that some vendors who supply the network-side kits to this investment will be in a fairly strong position in the future, having gained invaluable experience, and that will serve to reassure other telcos about IMS. This move will impact the telco sector much more than we can even imagine today.

In short, I believe we are unlikely to see a mad rush to IMS, just a slow and steady adoption as we have seen up to now.

In reality, neither IMS nor LTE (or any other technology) matters really. What matters is that we, the users, get the services we want at a price we’re willing to pay for with devices and technology supporting it. If IMS or LTE are the technologies that can deliver the necessary capacity, experience, latency or whatever functionalities (or not) needed, while balancing operators’ costs so that they can continue to build more, then they will be adopted. If not, they will fail and be hyped about for awhile and forgotten.

From the FIFA World Cup 2010: Mobile Networks Under Control

Posted: June 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on From the FIFA World Cup 2010: Mobile Networks Under Control

Even though a 2-1 victory against France was not enough to see my home team through to the second round, I am loving the whole atmosphere, vibe and spectacle of the FIFA World Cup. Thanks to dual nationality, I am extremely happy to cheer on my ‘other home team’, England, and just now see them make it through to the next round!

One thing that has been performing well, according to reports, are the mobile networks. I even performed some tests at a match I attended in between blowing my vuvuzela. (An aside: to those who find vuvuzelas offensive or annoying … don’t knock it until you have tried it! There is something addictive to ‘answering the call of the hive’, something that appeals to the ‘primeval instincts’ deep inside!)

Despite the 65,000 people in the stadium, I had no problems exchanging a few SMS with the baby sitter, receiving a call from my father-in-law asking ‘are you there yet’ and even updating my Facebook status with ‘at Italy-Paraguay match’ to up my social network cred. That is certainly more than I have been able to do at midnight on just about any 1 January anywhere in the world! Of course, there may be many explanations for this—not least of all that most people were actually watching the football match rather than playing with their phones.

There are two, more likely explanations. Firstly, it is possible that foreign visitors are being cautious when using their mobiles while roaming for fear of receiving large bills on their return home. This issue of ‘bill shock’ is currently a hot topic as blogged about by my colleague here.  But, this is probably not the entire reason though, as many visitors are likely to have activated their pre-paid SIMs distributed by MTN, along with international ticket sales, upon arrival.

Secondly, and more simply, it appears that the investment in additional capacity around potential congestion points, like stadiums and airports, has paid off. Of course, this investment is only half the story, as the backhaul and core network capacity also need to be upgraded to support this. So, while nobody gets embarrassed by the performance of these investments during the World Cup, the interesting question will be how can operators recoup this type of investment after the World Cup: price wars or service innovation to increase ARPUs?

Around the World…

Posted: June 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

B/OSS | Tara Seals’ Blog…
Savoring That World Cup Draw with England
Editor Tara Seals blogs on innovative ideas for telecom and ruminates on why the industry has not gotten there yet. She identifies customer-centricity (a common theme at recent Billing and OSS World Conference) as one of the main reasons. She states that, although carriers and vendors are moving away from a service-focused model, there is room for improvement. Tara shares with us a personal experience with ordering a service and how she became annoyed in the process. Tara isn’t the only one affected by customer service—friend of Comptel and Telesperience analyst Teresa Cottam also recently blogged about similar experiences in “#IVRhell and #churnfury”. Maintaining quality of service and quality of experience is important for service providers and needs to be a priority to advance this competitive market.…
Will Carriers Be Big Players in the Internet of Things?
David Goldstein blogs on a recent GigaOM article and In-Stat report that looks at mobile devices using integrated wireless broadband, and whether the shift to 4G will free up 3G capacity for new mobile gizmos, which have been coined “connected devices” (e.g. e-readers, tablets, Blu-ray players, etc.). In-Stat estimates an 11 percent cumulative annual growth rate in the number of devices that require wireless services; however, carrier networks are already struggling to keep up with demand from existing devices. Policy control can help operators ensure that each user has enough bandwidth and that others are not “squeezed” from the network; this is particularity useful for driving continued uptake of wireless broadband and “connected devices” in the future.

TM Forum Community Blog…
LTE: More Restrained This Year, But Equally Impressive
Martin Creaner of TM Forum blogs on the outlook of LTE and the foundations to support the technology. According to the GSMA, there are currently 88 operators (in 42 countries throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia) that have deployed or are trialing LTE. And, what’s even more encouraging is that these numbers are expected to grow. The Forum’s current initiatives are developing core management interfaces for these technologies and working with other industry bodies, such as 3GPP and NGMN, to ensure that the whole industry adopts a consistent approach.

AT&T: Taking Charge of Its Mobile Broadband Services?

Posted: June 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on AT&T: Taking Charge of Its Mobile Broadband Services?

While I was painting something in my garage (and waiting for it to dry) this past week, I was surfing the Web on my E90 Communicator and reading about AT&T’s recent announcement.  I think the communications service provider’s (CSP) move to pricing ‘bucket plans’ for its mobile broadband offerings is a very interesting one—compelling me to write a blog post…

What AT&T announced was that consumers with smartphones can choose a DataPlus package, pay USD $15 a month and get to download 200 MB of data.  They will also receive a notification when they near the quota limit and a warning about additional charges for exceeding the 200 MB.  Alternatively, consumers can go with the CSP’s DataPro package, pay USD $25 a month and get to download 2 GB of data.  Otherwise, this package principally works in the same way as the former.

After digesting this a bit, I saw many similarities between these plans—with a monthly subscription, an online quota management and a selective bucket, extra usage pay as more is charged and a notification of nearing the quota—and the type of capabilities offered by Comptel Control and Charge, which are currently being explored by CSPs worldwide.  But that’s not all… With Comptel’s solution, CSPs can, for example, offer fixed-mobile convergent quotas and service-specific quotas or exclusions, such as streaming music or downloading it from iTunes or Spotify, so that it does not consume the entire limit.

It is becoming more and more evident that ‘all-you-can-eat’ types of mobile broadband propositions are being converted into something more value-based and limited.  Although the limit may be large—like AT&T’s offering, where 200 MB is enough for 65% of users and only 2% exceed 2 GB—it is still there, preventing excessive usage or charging for high usage, and thus either creating new revenue opportunities or limiting (and guiding) customers’ behaviours in some way.

AT&T’s case is not the only example around, but it seems to be quite clearly well-defined and focused on a classic issue associated with mobile broadband.  I think it is a fairly fair policy and definitely a case where the CSP is taking charge of its services.

FIFA World Cup 2010 Kick-Off: Is South Africa (and Mobile Operators) Prepared?

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on FIFA World Cup 2010 Kick-Off: Is South Africa (and Mobile Operators) Prepared?

With only a few days left until the FIFA World Cup kicks off, it feels as though the world is watching my home country, South Africa.

While the flow of news is increasingly focused on football (or soccer) itself rather than the preparations (thankfully!), there is still that nagging (even if unasked) question at the back of most peoples’ minds of whether South Africa can successfully host the single greatest sporting event on earth.

This is not only a doubt expressed by foreigners, but also South Africans who have endured seemingly endless infrastructure projects in preparation—road upgrades (and the resultant traffic jams), airport renovations (and waiting to board your plane from a temporary draughty tent structure), stadium and hotel building sites (noise pollution and more traffic jams)…and even shattered house windows from ‘over-eager’ blasting for the high-speed rail link in Johannesburg!

But now, most of these are completed, and over the past few weeks, South Africans have been getting increasingly excited.  Most roads have re-opened, the traffic jams caused by construction are now forgiven, travelers are thrilled with the new airport facilities, and talk-show radio stations have been inundated with calls from self-confessed naysayers who are now ‘believers’.

Of course, the recent (surprise) show of form by South Africa’s own team (Bafanna Bafanna) culminating in the ‘friendly’ win over Denmark the other day has only helped to raise the sense of excitement that South Africans themselves may actually have something to cheer about.  Even my grumpy and cynical old father-in-law bought my four year old son South African flag face paint after that victory.

Now, we have to convince the world.  The majority of spectators will not experience the World Cup first hand but rather via the media and conversations with friends there.

That brings me to one bit of infrastructure where the investment has been almost ‘invisible’ and not affected me personally at all—and that is telecoms.  Of course, the communications infrastructure dedicated to supporting the organizers and media is unlikely to have any direct impact on me or the majority of visitors now—but the mobile networks will be a different story, as these will be inundated by visitors using their mobiles to ‘stay in touch’.

Visitors calling families at home, sneaking a look at work emails, looking up directions to the hotel, updating their Facebook status (‘At WC Final’)…  For many visitors in an increasingly ‘online-addicted world’, some of the experience will be defined by them having (or not) continuous and seamless Internet access on their mobiles.  One thing for sure is that the demands placed on the mobile data networks will never have been as high at previous football World Cups.

Will they cope?  Only time will tell.  The real impact of the investment on mobile networks will only become evident once the games begin.  And, one only hopes that the impact will live on where I, the consumer, can benefit from the supposedly extra capacity following the World Cup, with reduced prices and better service.  Then the question for the operators, once the visitors have gone home, will not be so much how to manage the demands on their data networks, but how to maximize and recoup their investments in that capacity.  Here’s looking forward to the kick-off—and excess network capacity after the World Cup.

Around the World…

Posted: June 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Around the World…

Light Reading
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes | Nice Show: Management World 2010
In this article, senior analyst, Ari Banerjee of Heavy Reading captures the key takeaways from Management World Nice. The common theme proved to be providing flexible and efficient software solutions and improving customer experience. Check out our recent posts from the show.

Data and Telecom | IT Business Edge…
4G Is Not the Only Game in Town
Blogger, Carl Weinschenk explores the wireless landscape and ponders the future of LTE and WiMax. While, these technologies are certainly the industry’s focus, Carl states that 4G is not everything and brings to our attention to High Speed Packet Access Plus (HSPA+) technology, which is informally called 3.5G technology. Do you agree with Carl’s views on HSPA+ and 4G? Do you think it’s comparable to 4G?

Broadband Expert…
World Cup Travelers Warned Over Mobile Bills
With the World Cup approaching, many experts are warning travelers to be careful about using their mobile devices to avoid costly and unexpected bills. Check out blogger William Harvey’s posts for recent industry commentary. This is particularly timely with the EU’s July 1 data roaming regulation approaching. This is a growing concern among operators globally, as they need to give their customers more control of their own experiences. How do you think this will unfold over the coming weeks?

A Dynamic Customer Experience: Going Beyond CRM

Posted: June 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Back in 2006, Comptel developed its vision of the Comptel Dynamic OSS. This wasn’t just a piece of marketing spin—there was real substance behind the concept. What we realized was that we were on the midst of a major shift in telecom software, and that Comptel was in quite a unique position.

At that time, customer experience management was becoming a key differentiator, but much of the focus of communication service providers (CSPs) until then was on bringing in self-care and a better CRM. What we recognized was that one of the key aspects of the customer experience was happening below that glossy surface. With customers, consumers or businesses, increasingly wanting things “now!, it was essential for CSPs to be able to create and tailor both services and charging plans to suit their needs. And, that called for dynamic, real-time fulfillment and charging capabilities closely linked with customer-centric data repositories. (Hey, that is exactly the area of business that Comptel specializes in!)

Fast forward to 2010—now customer experience is at the centre stage.

At Management World 2010 in Nice, there was much talk about policy management, for example.  What is policy management when you think about it? At its core, it’s about being able to deliver personalized services and charging plans dynamically to customers. And, that requires dynamic policy control and charging solutions coupled with customer-centric information—like Comptel Control and Charge.

Another example of the need for customer-centric, dynamic OSS is SIM management. Although you’d think the issues around dynamic resource management would have been solved ages ago, they’re not. We launched Comptel Dynamic SIM Management in February 2010 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to address the issue created by the pre-provisioning model. The idea is to completely transform the process into a just-in-time one. This enables CSPs principally to unbundle their prepaid (or postpaid) commercial proposition from the SIM card and all related assets, until the service is actually acquired and activated by the subscriber. This way, we lower the cost to acquire a customer substantially, and we also provide the ability to launch new services or campaigns to market much faster, as the ‘product package’ is dynamically allocated at the time of activation. Think of it as a means to run campaigns per any and every day, as SIM card packages no longer define the campaign offering! Also think of the “first use experience and personalization” you are able to offer with this new type of activation process!  Once again, it’s about dynamic OSS components working closely with customer-centric information.

Solutions like Comptel Control and Charge and Comptel Dynamic SIM Management are key ingredients and very vital parts of CSPs’ strategies in being able to ensure the best, differentiated customer experience, while lowering costs and increasing revenues.

With Management World Americas 2010 on the horizon and the future ahead of us, it will be interesting to see what will be the next ‘dynamic’ solution that will enable CSPs to reach the next level and offer an improved customer experience! We’d like to hear your thoughts on what it could or should be…