Alex Duncan looks at the new opportunities for enriching both person-to-person and application-to-person services in an IMS world

Irrespective of whether you work in business development, engineering or operations, you’re almost certainly well aware that the design of much of today’s messaging infrastructure is starting to show its age – and cause big problems. You might be tasked with simultaneously cutting operational costs - but still have to cope with continually increasing message volumes. You could be seeing your competitors forming mutually profitable alliances with TV and radio programmes and consumer brands – only to find your own team’s marketing creativity stifled by a technology straightjacket. Whatever your particular perspective, it’s fast becoming clear that we can’t go on delivering messaging services - in all their different forms - in the same ways that might have served us well in the past.   

IMS & MESSAGING - Open message

Now, on top of this, not only do service providers have to find ways to cope with all the different messaging technologies out there – SMS, MMS, e-mail and IM – but they also have to start understanding how these can be deployed using the emerging platform technologies of the near future such as IMS and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).
Compounding this still further are equally complex - if slightly less technology-focused – issues around the messaging environment. For a start, service providers have to be able to support new relationships with both users and content, application and enterprise partners and this is going to require radical shifts in how customer communities are both identified and served. There are also a host of new regulatory demands on areas like customer privacy or advertising to children and, finally, costs still have to be contained while still growing market share and fighting off new competitors.

Old baggage
Unfortunately, much of the historic baggage from the early days of messaging is still largely with us and new approaches have had to be found to resolve these challenges in original and cost effective ways. As a result, it is now possible for mobile service providers to extend the life of their existing messaging infrastructures, dramatically increase its throughput and efficiency, readily add new revenue generating functions and begin to take advantage of both new technologies and new business strategies.
It has to be said right from the start that the hundreds of legacy messaging platforms out there - still generating vital revenues for their owners - were never designed for the kind of world that we live in now and reflect instead the engineering realities of their time. For a start, limits to battery life and cell coverage meant that it was essential for the systems to first store and then forward messages, with users often keeping their phones off to save power or remaining out of network range for long periods. Similar technological restrictions on the cost and performance of both processing and memory chips limited performance and flexibility both on the handset and in the messaging systems themselves.
Communications demands
In terms of its acceptance by customers, SMS turned out to an ideal example of a relatively simple technology that found its perfect niche. Utterly basic in concept, it's turned into a truly global tool for human communication, fulfilling a number of demands not met by other communications technologies. On one hand, its asynchronous nature saves users from having to speak directly to one another – often useful in a variety of relationships. On the other, it also answers that particular human itch to communicate in settings where voice communications are inappropriate.
While SMS continues to thrive, that 'store and forward' inheritance implies that as message traffic grows, the core messaging platform has to grow as well – along with parallel increases in the costs of software licences, hardware platforms and ongoing engineering support and maintenance. Messaging teams are increasingly finding themselves effectively chained to the spot by their legacy platforms – while having to run ever faster to just keep up with both market demand and pressure from their executive boards and shareholders.
The logical solution to this dilemma is to 'ring fence' the existing messaging platforms in an open, flexible and elegant way. By applying the much more powerful data processing technologies that are now available with intelligence that can recognise when a message needs to go through the core – or when it can be safely routed directly – it becomes possible to add features and filters to greatly enrich messaging services. By creating what is, in effect, an intelligent and permeable boundary between the legacy SMS platform and the increasingly open, content-rich and complex world of what's now being fashionably called 'Mobile 2.0', service providers can continue to extract the maximum value from their existing investments – but without remaining locked in to rapidly fossilising past technologies.
Moving forward
As such, the role of this intelligent boundary extends far further than just taking a load off the legacy platform and extending its working life. On one hand, a service provider may want to introduce anti-spam features to their network, while another may be looking at strengthening their least-cost routing policies. Only by intelligently disentangling the old messaging platform from the fast changing world of today – while still keeping it running at maximum efficiency – can service providers keep moving forward.
While such an approach brings instantly tangible benefits in the shape of cost savings and an extended life for the legacy core, it also has the potential to transform a mobile service provider's whole messaging strategy over the longer term.
Mobile operators around the world are rapidly waking up to the fact that a network and a license are, in the future, not going to be the automatically golden route to riches that they once were. While the end-customers themselves are becoming ever more fickle, newer subversive technologies such as WiMax and VoIP - along with emerging threats from fixed and new operators – are rapidly changing the traditional rules.
The only rational solution is for service providers to aggressively embrace that change and out-manoeuvre their historically more nimble competitors. And the only way they can do that is to open up their networks and platforms to co-operate with these new business and service models, becoming 'stickier' than their competitors in terms of their ability to offer creative routes to market
Consider this: The mobile service provider has a brand, customers, billing systems, CRM teams as well as a deep and essential understanding of the complexities behind even the simplest telecoms service. What they haven't had – at least until very recently – are ways of securely and reliably exposing those assets to specialist third party application and service partners or even large corporate customers.
Consider also the major changes underway across the whole of the telecoms sector that are being driven by IMS and SOA. Both initiatives accept that openness will be a the key defining characteristic of the next generation service environment and that the old closed world of semi-proprietary telecoms is doomed to slow but inevitable oblivion.

Composite applications
But how can current legacy messaging platforms be easily adapted to interact with such an open world? The solution we would argue lies once again in keeping the existing messaging platform doing what it's good at – but using open APIs and standardised technologies such JAIN/SLEE to interact across the smart boundary to provide the kinds of rich inter-working functionalities demanded by tomorrow's applications. Openmind Networks, for example, is already working closely with SOA and SDP vendors such as IBM to open up legacy messaging platforms to the possibilities of a truly interconnected IMS world.
And these applications of the future? In truth, it's highly unlikely that there'll ever be a 'killer application' like SMS again. Increasingly however, composite applications will be designed, launched and then dismantled – on faster and faster time scales – as new ideas are generated, as marketing fashions change and as brand or entertainment partners schedule their own promotional timetables.
This creativity can only be unleashed by separating the current message platform from the increasing complexity that is now surrounding it. Recent examples of effective and easily deployed new messaging functions include auto-reply text or picture messaging for both individuals and businesses, or the introduction of sponsored messaging, where text or multimedia messages with a sponsor's message are carried at a rate reduced rate. Each new available function and each new API ultimately acts as an important building block in each operator's own marketing and revenue generation armoury. They're not going to win a war by themselves, but without them, the whole campaign is lost.

Alex Duncan is CEO, Openmind Networks, and can be contacted via: alex.duncan@openmindnetworks.com

TeleManagement Forum actually started life as the Network Management Forum but broadened its remit to include the rest of the telco ‘back office’ as the telecom sector changed through the 1990s. Now, at this year’s May TeleManagement World Conference and Exhibition in Nice, it’s limbering up to make that back office remit even broader. TMF Chairman, Keith Willetts, tells Ian Scales where the TMF is going, and why

Organisations like the TeleManagement Forum have a dilemma when it comes to anniversaries. TM Forum’s 20th birthday in 2009 will naturally be a cause for celebration: you don’t get such a long run in this business unless you’re doing something right. But there’s a nagging worry too. Can a successful first 20 years as a thought leader; framework and standards setter – mostly for telecoms operational and business support systems - serve as a basis for another 20 years setting frameworks for an industry that is turning rapidly into something else, as new players muster at its borders? Does the heritage help or hinder when it comes to refining a role in the rapidly converging telecom, media and Internet industries, where the new tends to be seen as ‘good’ and anything else is consigned as ‘legacy’?

LEAD INTERVIEW - Brave New World

For Keith Willetts, the TM Forum's original co-founder and current Chairman, it's a question that soon answers itself, once you apply a little deep thought to the matter.
“What's become really clear, over the past year or so especially, is that convergence is here – it's for real and we're really at the start of the process,” he says. “What you've got is three trillion dollar industries - media, Internet and telecom - all coming together. You just have to pick up a newspaper, listen to the news or, of course, surf the web to see that it's happening. Who's Virgin bought?  What services is Skype offering now? All that sort of thing. And over the coming years we're going to see far more of this mixing and matching – where a company strong in one field takes over or forms an alliance with a company that's strong in another.”
For Willetts it's a process that brings opportunities as well as threats.  One apparent threat for many in the telecom industry is that telecom becomes sidelined in many markets as a new breed of player moves in and takes over. This extreme scenario might involve powerful, highly capitalised Internet companies, such as eBay with IP telephony company Skype (which it bought in 2005) completely disrupting the traditional telephony market.
“I use Skype and I'm amazed at just how good the service is. I wonder to myself, 'why would you need anything else?. But,” admits Willetts, “the more likely scenario is that we'll end up with a real mix of companies which take elements from all three sectors.”
There lies the opportunity. Willetts thinks the TMF can provide the frameworks that integrate the players, just as it has hitherto provided frameworks to integrate telcos' disparate back-office systems. The challenge is to apply its expertise in a new way.
“What we've been good at is helping our members develop a lean end-to-end process environment – a set of frameworks and standards encapsulated in our NGOSS  (New Generation Operations Software and Systems) initiative that enables them to build flow-through business processes that cross the old internal demarcation lines that were, and often still are, such a feature in traditional telcos. Using NGOSS they can begin to join the dots between things like inventory, provisioning, service assurance and so on.”
What's clearly required in the new converged telecom-media-Internet world, he points out, is a similar set of guidelines at the inter-company level. “We are going to need standards and frameworks that reach beyond the company and the sector to automate things like content delivery, digital rights management and things we haven't even thought of yet.
“Of course, it's a huge area and there are a number of unresolved questions,” he says. “For example one specific conversation we've recently had within TMF has been around the possibility of defining a value chain. And we came to the conclusion that such a question presupposes we know who is going to be where in the chain. In fact, all we can actually say is that there will be value chains and there will be different people at different positions within them.  What we're looking at is the development of something more two- or even three-dimensional than a simple chain – it's probably better to think of these relationships forming something like a  'value web', where companies might sit in any one of several positions.  They might be undertaking one set of commercial roles in one territory and a different set in another.”
In fact, says Willetts, TMF as an organisation is keen to develop a role as an independent business and technical facilitator rather than being seen as the advocate of a particular, sector-specific, approach.  The reason is simple – the telecom industry itself won't exist as we know it five to ten years from now.  It's transforming, and as web and media companies are moving onto some of its traditional turf, telecoms itself is branching out into many new areas. 
 “It's important we aren't seen to be in the business of promoting any particular outcome,” claims Willetts.  “We want to be part of an environment where there can be a range of outcomes, shapes and services. The important thing is that user companies and providers can actually put the pieces together and have them work. It's a case of  'may the best man win'.”
So where exactly is the TM Forum running to?
First, TMF is inviting thought leaders from media and cable companies to join its Board in order to get a 360-degree view of emerging needs.  Second, it's rapidly broadening its business and software vision to encompass the needs of information and content-based services and the myriad of virtual providers and value chain players.  Third, collaboration with other bodies will be important and ongoing.  For example, recently TMF  struck a landmark deal with the Broadband Services Forum (BSF) with a formal partnership where relevant work is shared.  In fact the members of each organisation will have influence over related technical work in the area of telecom-web convergence issues and the first fruits of the collaboration will show up in a new TMF document entitled “Telecom Media Convergence Industry Challenges and Impact on the Value Chain”. The relationship will also contribute to more multimedia focused panels at TM Forum events, and future development of process standards for content management and convergent media-telecom operations.
 “One of the most exciting and fundamental things we're going to do is to develop what we're calling a ' super-catalyst', and we'll be kicking that project off at Nice this year.”
The TMF Catalysts are joint projects undertaken by members and sponsored by service providers, usually to demonstrate leading edge thinking on how to solve problems in integrating the back office, using approaches based on  TM Forum standards and guidelines. The results of these projects are demonstrated at TMF's TeleManagement World conferences in Nice and Dallas each year.
 “The super-catalyst, which we're likely to call the Converged Services Showcases, will be  really major events, involving media companies, device companies, cable TV, IPTV and mobile TV,” says Willetts.  “The idea is to show a whole set of advanced service scenarios, but unlike what you'd see at a trade show - where you typically just see the thing working - with the super-catalyst you'll be able to walk around the back of this and be shown how it's actually being operated and controlled using standards and the various OSS and BSS systems involved.
 “It's at an early stage of development, but the general idea is that you go to the show floor and you see the equivalent of a town with houses and retail establishments and so on.  And you see all these services that you're getting and then you walk around the back to the network operations centre and you can see how it's all being managed.  It's a big leap.”
We're working on, not just a demonstration, but a real catalyst designed to flush out problems and what standards you need, and what bits you need to invent that you haven't thought of. The fact is that we don't know what the standards requirements are in some cases in the converged world yet, and that's why this super-catalyst is going to be a great vehicle for developing the whole area. It's going to be a major undertaking.”
The plan is for the first super-catalysts to debut later this year at the TMF's Dallas TMW. 
Nice TMW will be the start of the major change.  “What we want to show is that convergent services are here. So we have a very strong convergence message and a very strong illustration that TMF is responding.  There will be discussion about managing content-based and entertainment-based services and more involvement from media companies. For instance, for a meeting at Nice we've invited executives from Disney, Time-Warner and Virgin Mobile to join the table. The fact is that it's just as relevant for a senior executive at BT, say, to sit down with a Disney executive, as it is for the Disney guy to get to understand how the company can exploit the telecom space.”
 “For some of these players convergence will result in a partners' love-fest and for others it will be 'daggers drawn', as they realise they're going to be contesting the same space, but in the long run nobody knows who will be in which role at any one given point in time. TMF's role isn't to try and predict that.”
What about the core frameworks and standards generated by the TMF? Will these have to change markedly to accommodate the broader remit and the entry of new types of player into the value web?
“Yes, no doubt there will be changes as we go forward. One area that we're probably going to have to address in all our output is outsourcing. While our current guidelines intrinsically assist players to define and manage all their processes, so that outsourcing, where required, will be simpler to accomplish, it's also true to say that outsourcing isn't often specifically allowed for. I've just been to India to speak at a TMF event there, and what I heard there was really eye opening in terms of the way outsourcing is being used to reduce costs.
“At Bharti Airtel, one of the big mobile operators with 80 to 90 million subscribers, all the IT is outsourced and they operate at a cost level that a European mobile operator, for instance, can't even come close to.”
Willetts says he thinks that outsourcing and partnering arrangements are bound to become more complex and must be catered for in the back office in a fundamental way.
“For example BT might run an IPTV service in the UK using its infrastructure, and in Germany it might run a service on someone else's because it doesn't own any infrastructure there. But it will probably want to run the same brand and service.  The back office systems need to support that sort of thing.”
But the big question has to be asked. Isn't there a danger in all this for TMF?  This is a member-driven organisation and it is energised by a core of highly motivated, mostly telecoms-oriented individuals who give, not just their companies' time, but often their own time and effort as well. Doesn't TMF run the big risk in realigning itself so radically?
Willetts is adamant: “What people sometimes don't understand is that it's not a question of: 'If you go and chase all these converging media and web companies, will you desert your core telecom membership in the process?'  That question forgets the fact that  telecom companies are, themselves, becoming multi-media companies.  So, the reality is, to be of maximum use to our core constituency, we need to run with them, not away from them.”

Ian Scales is a freelance communications journalist.

Customers yearn to be loyal, claims Geoff Webb, but there are far better ways of keeping them on-side than conventional loyalty schemes

Let’s face it: most loyalty schemes today are really a confidence trick.  The rewards they offer are meaningless to most customers. Do even the major brands that launch these schemes honestly expect them to be effective in winning true, bankable, customer loyalty? I doubt it.

CUSTOMER LOYALTY - The knot that binds

The tiny value of benefits offered by loyalty schemes - typically about one-hundredth of what customers spend - is one main reason why these schemes rarely work. An even more important reason is that the schemes don't address what customers actually want.
Understanding what customers do want, and even more importantly, why they want it, is essential if you intend to be in the leading pack in the customer loyalty stakes, and not just an also-ran.
These are strange, often bewildering, times to live in. What are we to make of an age when hundreds of thousands of different brands compete wildly for people's time and their business – trampling across each other's turf? When the Internet has become all pervasive and so influential? When busy people who like to play global Internet games in their limited spare time are willing - even eager - to pay real money on specialised auction websites for virtual game credits such as game gold? When, if we look at the big picture, customers are confronted by a blizzard of distractions and competing choices for their hard-earned money?
It's a blizzard that may make many consumers feel like staying in their tents until the storm abates. Except that it is not likely to do so.
These are times when instant gratification is no longer seen as a vice. Instead, it is regarded as a major benefit that a product or service can and should offer. These are times when consumers have more opportunities to indulge in hedonistic enjoyment of life than since the days when our species first evolved from the hungry hominids that were the real Adams and Eves. These are times when shopping is not a chore but a hobby, and according to several research sources the most popular hobby of all.
The pleasures offered by our world may be exciting. But it is also a complex, confusing, distracting and bewildering world, and now it has a virtual dimension as well as a physical one. Hardly surprising that we often want to escape from it.
A good way to escape from it is through our imaginations or via the imaginations of others. Historical dramas have never been more popular. One of these, the UK's Dad's Army, which turns up regularly on satellite channels and repeats on terrestrial TV, has a great deal to teach us about customer loyalty.
You'll remember the doddering absurdity of Mr Jones, the butcher, but you'll also remember that Jonesey, ludicrous as he is, always knows what special cuts of meat his regular customers want for the week-end, and what little delicacies they would particularly enjoy getting under the counter as a special treat.
The world of Dad's Army has vanished as completely as food rationing, but Mr Jones the butcher had an approach to rewards and winning customer loyalty that is even more relevant now than it was when Churchill led the War effort. Jonesey knew his customers, and cared about them, and took it for granted that he was in business to look after them. Above all, he made them feel he understood them and that they had a special relationship with him.
Today, an ambitious customer service manager at any organisation that is striving for real competitive advantage could do a lot worse than borrow a lesson or two from Jonesey.

The loyalty challenge today
All organisations - even very successful ones - are facing an unprecedented challenge on the customer loyalty front.  Competition for customers is intense. Organisations are only too aware of the financial benefits of being able to win loyalty from their customers at a time when getting a new customer is more expensive than it has ever been.
Disloyal customers are fickle, well aware of their spending power, and demand more and more value for money. And who can blame them for so often being disloyal when the rewards for loyalty are so meaningless?
Winning customer loyalty, making your customers want to buy more things from you and getting them into a frame of mind where they automatically turn to you to buy more things is the reason why organisations exist. You want your customers to stick to you. You want minimal churn of your customer base. You want to see your sales revenue and importance to the customer shooting up as a consequence of that loyalty you are winning.
Yet if the customer loyalty challenge is difficult for any organisation, it is toughest of all for very large organisations, the type with hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers.  Why? Because at heart customers still want a 'Jonesey' type of customer service. They want that type of personal service because they are people, and people have a natural desire to want to feel that the organisations from which they are buying things care about them.
People want personal service, relevant rewards and the real service efficiency that should come, they feel, from familiarity. The excuse 'we are a massive organisation and we have too many customers to offer different services and rewards' simply isn't going to wash.
The customer service challenge is especially difficult to meet when an organisation is selling what can be termed non-emotional products.
These are products that do not, at least on the face of it, embody any inherent emotional gratification. These are products that people buy because, basically, they have to buy them. All the customer expects from the product is that it will do what it is supposed to do. Such products might include:
•    insurance, pensions, investments and most other financial products.
•    domestic cleaning chemicals and any other regular domestic purchases.
•    most, if not all, over-the-counter pharmaceutical products. There will be ones you prefer, but you aren't going to be very emotional about buying them.
•    basic foodstuffs that you buy regularly.
•    most other things that you buy regularly because you use them up.
Research suggests that in practice about 90 per cent of purchases are non-emotional. That leaves ten per cent that are emphatically emotional, meaning that they offer a clear and inherent emotional reward.
It's impossible to be completely certain about which products and services are likely to be emotional for particular people, as the emotional appeal of something will vary from one person to the next. All one can say for certain is that some products and services do have a significant amount of emotional gratification attached to them.
Emotional purchases are particularly interesting features of the customer loyalty stakes. Organisations selling products and services that have a high emotional appeal wrapped up with them often don't need to struggle so much to win customer loyalty. The product or service does the job for them.
People who love Jimmy Choo shoes, or Prada handbags, or holidays from companies such as Abercrombie & Kent, Western & Oriental or Red Carpet very likely don't care too much whether these vendors offer them a free suitcase with every six holidays they take. All these customers want is for the vendor to keep producing great experiences (embodied in specific products and services) that make them feel special when they buy them.

Winning loyalty for non-emotional products
But that is only one part of the story. Why? Because there is compelling evidence that, in fact, it is possible for organisations selling emotionally ungratifying products and services to enjoy real success in winning customer loyalty, if they go about in the right way.
How is it possible to win loyalty for such products and services?   Because, at heart, customers want to be loyal. The same blizzard of distractions and choice that makes the modern commercial world seem like one where individual organisations have no earthly chance of winning customer loyalty, has in fact created a situation that is ripe for the winning of loyalty.
When we are in an unfamiliar and even frightening situation we want to find anything that reminds us of home. It follows then that when we are confronted by a vast amount of choice, we love having comforting, special relationships with organisations that we like and which we know like us. It's merely human nature at work.
But organisations need to make a real effort to win this level of loyalty from customers. It takes careful thought. If you want your customers to feel they have a special relationship with you, you need to give them reasons to feel this. Just tossing a loyalty card at them that gives them spending power back equal to one per cent of what they spend with you is never going to be enough.
Instead, you should work to develop relevant rewards that reinforce the special relationships consumers are looking for. Make your customers feel special. Give your existing customers better deals with every new purchase, which return some or all of the money and effort you save when your existing customers make another purchase simply by clicking on an icon on your website or by activating any other method of buying from you. Don't do what most organisations do, which is to reward new customers better than existing ones.
Create categories of customer depending on criteria they will appreciate, and make your best customers know you regard them as that.  Create a multi-tiered loyalty scheme (eg. one with Gold members, Silver members etc) that confers not only status but also benefits. The British Airways system where Gold members get a luxury lounge to unwind in is a very real and tangible benefit amidst the chaos and hubbub of the average large airport. It is a more important reward than BA miles, contrary to what most people think.
Make the next incremental purchase easy to achieve. Once you have won a customer, make it as easy as possible for that customer to buy other things from you. Every time you are in touch with a customer, whether face-to-face, via the Internet, by phone, by mail or whatever, ensure that there is some really easy way for the customer, in effect, to 'just say yes' in order to make a particular purchase.
In practice, only a small minority of organisations actually take the trouble to make it easy for existing customers to buy the next product. Most organisations manage this repeat business element of their interaction with the customer so badly that it almost seems they don't really want the new business. Remember: ideally you want each of your customers to buy at least three products from you. Selling one product a year to a customer is not a relationship.
Give customers a relevant reward for their purchase. By 'relevant' I mean something that has a practical use and which also relates directly to what you are selling. Don't offer them the chance of a free hot air balloon trip if they are loyal for four years. That is a mindless and pointless reward. The first thing you should offer is a 'share the savings' discount on the next product or service you are selling them, you know how much cheaper it is to retain an existing customer than win a new one: you should pass some of that cost-saving onto your loyal customers.
It should really be straightforward for you to design the next levels of benefit if you focus on the three things that will make your loyal customer feel special. If you want to be certain of what they want, ask them, and listen to what they say. Add a good dose of common sense and aim to give them things that extend the current relationship. For example, a gold customer of an electronics retailer might be offered merchandise at a reduced cost, or access to a home trouble-shooting service.
Standard loyalty schemes may even be worse than useless because they can so easily distract organisations from the real challenge of getting to know their customers and giving customers relevant and effective reasons to stay loyal. In my experience a poorly-designed loyalty scheme will usually block the business that launched it from improving its customer relationships in more sensible ways for at least three years.
Organisations that rely exclusively or almost exclusively on price for their attempts to win customer loyalty also have reason to worry about their competitiveness.
Competing purely on price is the last refuge of the unimaginative. It is not so much that pure price competition will always fail in the end, though it will, but rather that indulging in it is likely to stifle an organisation's ability to discover and react to what really matters to its customers. Customers don't have time to invest in a hundred brands or service relationships – there is too much going on. A winning brand has to give them reasons to stay loyal that really work.
'Customers don't want to be loyal any more.' Examine that statement against the real evidence available, and you'll find it's a myth. This whole idea that customers today are butterflies who have no other wish than to dart from one flower to another is an idea created by those organisations that can't be bothered to identify and implement the right measures to keep existing customers loyal and bring new ones to the party.
You can do better; you know it. What's more, your customers urgently need you to do better.

Geoff Webb is chief executive of The Webb Partnership, and can be contacted via tel: +44 7767 777 887; e-mail: geoff@gpw.com

Hugh Roberts sets the scene for BIMS 2007

Whether you prefer to call them ‘silos’ or ‘stovepipes’, the history of telecommunications has been dominated by the development of vertical towers. Within the traditional telecoms operations environment, every new service created a new conduit from network to subscriber, creating new systems and processes from customer order to trouble ticket via provisioning, billing and termination along the way.

The first wave of activity in the 90's (BPR initiatives notwithstanding) focused on systems consolidation. Incumbents (and ex-incumbents) with 200+ billing systems realised that to compete they needed to cut costs and IT headcount, and – more to the point – could potentially achieve a more consistent 'one-touch' view of their customers at the same time.
Since the Millennium, the second wave of functional consolidation has had to face up to the challenges of systems convergence head on. In addition to the natural desire to simplify operations by integrating disparate business units and functions, the demand for innovative content and eCommerce services to create new revenue streams has complicated both business and operational environments and relationships.
We are now entering the third wave of industry consolidation, where the convergence of market sectors no longer respects traditional boundaries. In the light of reduced margins for traditional services, fixed wire, mobile, cable, satellite and third party brands have all sought to extend their virtual or physical service footprint to achieve ubiquitous market presence and maximise the leverage of their customer ownership. At the same time, new technology platforms have evolved, creating competition from unexpected quarters.
M& A activity is creating – where regulators will allow it – larger operators and vendors that own or provide a greater proportion of the communications infrastructure. Where direct ownership is impossible, virtual service extensions – through MVNO strategies or otherwise – are now presenting customers with full multi-play offerings. However, this apparently inexorable evolution has masked some critical aspects of the underlying market reality: 
1. Corporate competition between technology platforms at the network layer, each with its own mechanisms for customer access, is not sustainable. Increasingly, customers don't want it, and neither do regulators.
2. The 'bitpipe' business model based on multi-channel infrastructure ownership will be very profitable, but as a high volume low margin business, will only be sustainable if it can remove the need to financially support a consumer-facing brand.
3. Multi-play offerings, by their very nature, change customers' perceptions and expectations of the interaction between the branded elements of their overall communications (and entertainment) environment. This in turn will lead to changes in the fundamental relationships between service providers, third party content and financial brands, and the suppliers of their hardware and software.
All of these factors, plus the attentions of the EC Commissioner Viviane Reding, makes structural separation inevitable. It is simply not realistic for network infrastructure owners and communications service providers to continue as integrated entities. The question therefore arises… to which tier in the new horizontally defined 'divergent' environment will the various elements of operational and business functionality need to migrate?
Silos clearly won't work, but then neither will the anticipated tight coupling of the OSS and BSS layers, particularly when considering the integration of new development areas such as customer 'attention data'. This is the debate we need to be engaged in – how do we correlate, filter and share all of the data we can now generate? The repositioned 'telcos' (and their business models) that turn out to be successful will be those that actively contribute to a value chain that can collectively achieve effective information management.

Hugh Roberts will be co-presenting the 'Keys To Establishing A Successful MVNO/E Business' Seminar with colleagues from Logan Orviss International on June 5th, as well as running the  'What's New In Billing?' free Tutorial.

You can visit the Billing & Information Management Systems Exhibition (7th – 9th June 2007) free of charge if you register online at www.iir-billingsystems.com/exh.
Billing & Information Management Systems

Professor William Webb argues that it is possible to predict the next 20 years of wireless with reasonable certainty.  Given that, writing in 2000, his predictions on the development of wireless communications in 2005 proved to be pretty accurate, he may well have a point

Many take the view that the pace of technological change is becoming ever faster. This is seen as particularly so in the worlds of computers and communications. If this were so, it would perhaps be rather foolish to predict what the world of wireless might look like 10 and 20 years hence.

For example, in 2000 I made my first prediction of the future, published in a book called The Future of Wireless Communications. Based on a mix of deduction and contributions it predicted what the world would be like in 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2020. When we reached 2005, I analysed how accurate my predictions had been. They were almost exactly right. The only areas of difference were in the particular standards that would 'win' – for example in 2000 it was unclear whether BlueTooth, WiFi or cellular picocells would dominate in the home, although it was clear that wireless home networks would increasingly emerge. Interestingly, in overall terms I predicted little change of substance between 2000 and 2005, and that is exactly what transpired.
In 2006 I repeated the exercise, taking a long hard look at the current industry position and making some fresh predictions for 2011, 2016, 2021 and 2026. These predictions are detailed in Wireless Communications: The Future, published in early 2007.
Some of my conclusions were contrary to current thinking and in particular to the view that technology is changing ever more quickly. For example, I came to the view that that there would not be a completely new '4th generation' of cellular as 3G reaches the limits of what is possible in a radio channel; that fixed wireless access would not succeed – even with the advent of WiMax technology; and that W-LAN in the home will provide the basis for convergence between home and cellular systems and not cellular 'femtocells'. I considered industry structure and drew the conclusion that the current vertically integrated approach where operators own networks and provide customer facing services was not sustainable in the long term, but would persist for many years and, in doing so, would slow convergence.
I took a look at adoption rates; at average monthly spend on telecommunications and its change over time; and at the process whereby new concepts become assimilated into society. This led to the conclusion that services take between five and ten years to be adopted, even if the service is 'perfect' and that spending on communications can only grow slowly.
Finally I studied the theory of wireless communications and the many physical and empirical laws that have been used to predict future developments, noting that some, like Moore's Law, are likely to continue to hold true for decades, whereas others, such as Guilder's Law, are already inaccurate and cannot be used as a basis for prediction. I examined a whole raft of emerging technologies such as cognitive radio, smart or MIMO antennas, fibre radio and much more. I concluded that none of these advances was likely to make a significant difference, instead steady growth in wireless capacity will be driven by ever smaller cells.

Major growth areas will include ever-enhanced handsets, home wireless networks, intelligent software and service provisioning. Areas where change will be beneficial but very slow coming will be in battery capacity and the ability to cheaply backhaul high capacity small base stations.
Compared to the predictions I made in 2000 there is much alignment. Where there is a difference, it is almost always a delay in 2006 predictions compared to the 2000 predictions, showing how slowly many things develop in the world of wireless and how easy it is to over-predict change.
In summary, I believe that it is possible to predict the next 20 years of wireless with reasonable certainty. For the user, the next 20 years will see a very substantial, but steady change. Users will come to rely on their handset as a single device to manage their communications and indeed, much of their life. It will truly become a “remote control on life”, with massively enhanced capabilities including huge storage, advanced methods of user interaction such as speech recognition and many in-built tools such as cameras, music players, etc. Users will cease to differentiate between different communications channels and instead see the world as one large communications network, able to provide them whatever content they need wherever they are. Users will also no longer see broadcasting and communications as separate and indeed, the concept of broadcasting will change dramatically to one of content provision that is sought out by users – more like the publishing model of today. Users will perceive their lives becoming more convenient with wireless systems automating a range of tasks, providing new capabilities and altering travel according to conditions.
Achieving all of this will require little in the way of change for wireless technology – and indeed no further significant advances in wireless technology are expected. However, there will be substantial progress in the intelligent systems that use context to configure devices appropriately, control interaction with the handset, and control home and office networks in a simple, yet intelligent manner.
Overall, the future is marked by an initial period of stability as 3G and broadband networks are built out followed by the emergence of new services. Beyond this I expect the underlying wireless communications infrastructure to become a slow-changing utility similar, for example, to railways or, increasingly, the core Internet infrastructure, but with substantial excitement and growth around the services provided on top of this wireless platform.

Professor William Webb is Head of Research and Development at Ofcom.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a member of the Board of Trustees of the IET.

Declining ARPU, decreasing EBIDTA and increasing churn rates on the one hand, and ever increasing subscriber acquisition costs on the other, are forcing the telecommunications industry players in saturating markets to find new ways of increasing minutes of use and airtime.  Martin Löffler looks at survival strategies

Mobile network operators are increasingly challenged by market developments. Facing the threats to which they need to respond, new attitudes, and openness to new business models will be critical to survival.

MVNOS - A new lease of life?

Communities such as lifestyle, special interest groups, fan groups, health, sports, music, etc. could be ideal targets. Singly or in combination they could support a viable MVNO business. However, a mindset shift is required to separate the business models necessary for communities of interest - typically service provider-led and driven by 'pushed' services - from those required for affinity groups, where the groups themselves determine key issues such as membership, security and profiling.  In both cases the opportunities to drive up data revenues for the MVNO (and therefore also the underlying MNO) are strong – in Japan there are already examples of mobile data ARPUs above ?25.
Organisations, including Logan Orviss, are closely following the market conditions for MVNOs.   EMarketer, for instance, recently said that 'MVNOs will become increasingly important for both wireless operators and brands', and indeed, MVNO business is expected to account for almost $30 billion in overall revenue by 2010 (ARC Group).
Logan Orviss International's assessment examines how MVNO business models are evolving, including the expanded use of revenue sharing models with the operators, versus today's cost-plus pricing approach.
As mobile markets are reaching saturation, or have already reached saturation, in all European countries, the further appearance of potentially successful MVNOs has added to the competitive pressures on the existing mobile operators. Moreover, competition is arising from new and unexpected sources. In this fiercely competitive landscape operators have coped by differentiating through their business models, with some adopting a walled garden approach, and some utilising a dynamic, open garden approach which requires constantly monitoring demand amongst its subscriber base and constantly offering new services.
Despite the fierce competition MVNOs have proven their ability to enter these markets and still have the capability to increase overall market revenues from basic services like voice, SMS and PSMS. With increasing market share MVNOs can reduce their cost margins and evolve into a high ARPU business. However, not all MVNO business models will survive.
MVNO models have usually been seen as relevant only to developed markets where the penetration rates are high and customer retention through loyalty (coupled with overall ARPU growth) is the critical success factor.  MVNOs allow the MNO to access revenues from market niches that could (a) potentially conflict with the core brand positioning and/or tariffing regime, (b) avoid the cost and risk of going after these niches, and (c) potentially increase their market share – even over and above that allowed by the regulator – by extracting revenues from an MVNO whose ownership is maintained at 'arms length' from the MNO. Although the returns are lower, the MNO's revenues from MVNOs are relatively risk free and under-utilised network capacity is exploited with minimum outlay.
At first glance, this wouldn't appear to be applicable in high growth markets where the current penetration rates are low and the MVNO model is seen as being 'more trouble than it is worth'.
However, in high growth markets, shareholders and boards are continually pushing for an increase in the number and proportion of postpaid subscribers (ie converting prepaid into postpaid subscribers) as a way of increasing ARPUs. (Example fact: No network in Nigeria claims to have more than 50,000 postpaid subscribers.) From the shareholder perspective, a secondary but equally critical factor is that with postpaid (contract based) revenues the potential to project revenue streams forward (under increasingly onerous audit rules) is much greater. This can be of high importance for the CEO/CFO, allowing them to present a stable, auditable and profitable business growth/development plan.
In predominantly prepaid markets there is little point in trying to create a wholesale migration to postpaid - it won't work and is not, at this point, remotely competitor proof. But why shouldn't operators build a wholesale platform that allows them to easily connect MVNOs to grow their overall number of subscribers? In many developing countries the banking system is still weak and people don't trust direct debit, which is an important factor in postpaid environments. An alternative strategy is to redevelop the brands and sub-brands in a way that separates them from the payment mechanism, but not from potential ARPU stratification.
Brand management expertise deployed in many developing markets is becoming increasingly more sophisticated. Currently, global best practice in telecoms markets is, quite possibly, to be found in Pakistan,  not in Europe. One key factor is the cost of advertising, and hence the cost of supporting multiple sub-brands, which is much cheaper in developing markets. Mobile channels also allow direct interaction with the customer. Customer experience management has now moved far beyond basic SMS interaction and into the domains of balance enquiry and AoC (Advice of Charge) marketing, which, if the MIS is set up correctly, is highly cost effective and very good at generating service usage growth.
This approach – based on marketing smoke and mirrors rather than hard technology - benefits from a degree of systems convergence, but does not necessarily require it. .
The CMOs and CIOs in high growth markets tasked with enabling large scale pre- to post- conversion are struggling. Many have 95 per cent prepaid customer bases; the survey and focus group responses suggest that this isn't going to change in the near future, and that if it does it may well negatively impact their overall growth rates. Further, whilst their postpaid ARPUs are higher, the margins achieved are not necessarily any larger as the overall cost of customer management can be much greater. Many shareholders – and even some board members – of companies active in these markets are unaware that in some cases up to 40 per cent of their postpaid subscribers have very low ARPUs. These 'vanity' customers maintain postpaid accounts purely for the social prestige value, and therefore don't generate significant service revenues. Indeed, in many cases these customers may be retained on negative margins, but can't be churned off without creating negative pressure on the 'elite' postpaid brand positioning. The development of 'hybrid' accounts – very effective in other respects - does not help much with this problem.
Brands and sub-brands, therefore, need to be aligned to lifestyles and bundled service offerings of which the payment channel selection is no longer the defining context, but becomes an option.
A growing concept in prepaid is service-led 'customer self-locking'.  Rather than locking a customer in to a contract to ensure their 'loyalty', the customer is encouraged (by a suitable marketing inducement) to subscribe to a single or bundled service subscription over a longer period of time. For example: a customer who might want a one month subscription to a text alert or paypal service is offered three free months if he pre-subscribes for six months, giving him service access for nine months. If the service is new to the customer, a one month 'try before you buy' offer could be added in to the mix, refundable against the free extra three months offer. The customer is now effectively committing himself to the relationship with the CSP – and any brand manager will tell you that this is far more powerful in customer experience management terms than a contract could ever be. Customers in high growth markets can be clever, and many often own multiple SIMs which they 'juggle' to minimise the price they have to pay (or at least their expectation of the price they have to pay!) and the specific services – for example international calling or fund remittance to family members 'back home' - that they frequently use. Leaving aside SIM-locking practices in some countries… anything such as a self-locking programme that keeps the SIM in the phone for longer is good news as it will attract both inbound termination revenues and promote serendipitous additional service usage.
The strategies outlined above potentially offer a greater degree of customer retention, but they don't substantively assist the CFO in providing auditable forward projected revenues, which are an important factor in increasing shareholder confidence. One route to achieving this could be to adopt an MVNO model based on either third party brand ownership, or as a JV through a discretely branded subsidiary. Termination clauses placed in the business agreement between network and MVNO could be designed to enhance and stabilise forward revenue projections. The entertainment industry offers many good examples of how this approach can be exploited. However, the same methodology has been far less successful in the commercial aviation environment.
Whilst the per subscriber margins from MVNO-sourced customers will obviously be lower for the MNO than from a 'direct' customer, the cannibalisation effect will be minimal in the high growth environment. However, assuring revenues on this basis may provide an effective means to appease shareholders on revenue continuity. This just might prove to be important, not least as they come to terms with the fact that mass prepaid to postpaid migration isn't going to happen and that their expectations have been based on the erroneous assumption that customer behaviour in high growth markets will eventually normalise with the behaviour patterns encountered in the UK and Germany.

Martin Löffler  is Managing Director, Logan Orviss International Deutschland

The battery-life of mobile devices is no longer a barrier to video content wherever you go. André Pagnac explains

Less than a decade ago, the advertising slogan for a leading Internet service provider was ‘where do you want to go today?’.  It meant this figuratively, of course, with the implication that by visiting any site in the world, you were travelling there yourself.

MOBILE VIDEO - Video on the run

The revolution in mobile technology now means that the literal opposite is true.  Now you can go wherever you wish and still be connected to whatever you wish to access via the Internet.  In terms of mobility, we have now moved beyond the concept of the office in your pocket, this year is about taking your entire house wherever you go.  In addition to business applications such as e-mail and web, the latest development is of course video content on mobile devices.
Until very recently, however, there have been barriers for consumers in accepting some new technology.  One major challenge for many customers is the size of files they have to download and the capacity these consume.  This is exacerbated by having to pay for content by the kilobyte.
Another obstacle is the drain on the batteries of applications such as video streaming.  The MPEG4 ASP is something of a chief culprit of both of these problems if it is to maintain the DVD-quality of 24 frames per second (FPS). 
To demonstrate this in real terms, take a modern mobile phone handset using MPEG4 ASP to play video content.  After just 90 minutes, it would run completely out of juice.  That would be before the user had made a single call, sent a text or checked their diary.

Quality v consumption
The debate continues to rage about whether or not mobile video content has a future.  This, however, is not what the debate should be.  It is already clear that it does indeed have a bright future.
For example, there is already an influx of LCD colour screens with improved quality, resolution, power consumption and lower prices.  Meanwhile, network bandwidth continues to increase with no real limit on high-speed wireless networks at home, work or public locations.
Yet although consumers are already used to IT, their incomes are rising slower than advances in IT.  However, they do have money to spend and the trend is to create their own content as well as to download that of others.  Whether for their own personal communication, entertainment, download to other sites or even 'citizen journalism', users of mobile devices are undoubtedly taking well to mobile video.
Consequently, they are sophisticated and discerning about user experience, available content and usage and in their choice of products.  The debate should therefore be on how manufacturers can create the best user experience. 
This means that the major business model challenge is for network operators as they strive to achieve further uptake of the potentially prosperous mobile video services.  How can they reduce power consumption and file size of video content without compromising on quality?

Codec wars
Original video source files in the uncompressed form are usually very big, and hard to manage. That is why compression is necessary for more efficient storage and transmission of the video.  Therefore, the key is to select the right codec. 
Most mobile phones today use ARM-based CPUs, operating at about 100Mhz to 400Mhz.  In such environments, most other video codecs struggle to deliver smooth, DVD-quality video.  Video compression and decompression are highly computation-intensive processes, with lots of calculations being done on a tremendous amount of data every second.
The current de-facto standard, MPEG2, is now becoming antiquated, so network providers and content creators alike are now seeking the next generation in compression technology.
We have already discussed the disadvantages of MPEG4, which, owing to its name, had initially been considered the natural successor.  One of the latest market entrants, Mobiclip, offers an alternative on all counts, including price, capacity and power consumption.
For example, compared with Mobiclip, MPEG4 files need to be 30 per cent bigger for the same picture and sound quality and so consume more memory on a mobile device.  Running content in MPEG4 also requires four times as much battery power as it would to run the same clip at the same quality using Mobiclip.
Of course, reducing power consumption and capacity requirements severely impacts on user experience, which manufacturers must avoid.  So, where MPEG4 would allow a user to experience mobile content for just 90 minutes, Mobiclip would allow the same mobile device to play seven hours of video, in even higher quality.
This means that, where someone might not even get to the end of their film using MPEG4, they could view two movies using Mobiclip and still be able to make calls and send texts.
So we see that the technology is there.  Demand is there.  So the debate is how to make creating and using mobile content as enjoyable an experience as possible.  That was why it was invented and that is why consumers want it.
Consequently, Ovum predicts that 2007 will see the real start of the mobile-TV era.  In the next 12 months, we will see mobile phones fulfil their potential as 'video iPods' and become the 'third medium' of entertainment after TV and cinema. 
For this to happen and for the market to reach its tipping point, manufacturers must ensure they select the right technologies to make the experience for users as positive as it was always intended to be.  That is, users can go anywhere and still have access to all the information and content they want.

André Pagnac is CEO of Actimagine and can be contacted via: contact@actimagine.com

European Communications recommends the shows that count in the period from March to June 2007

DCE + Data Centres Europe    London    21-23 March    www.datacentres.com
Telecoms Risk Management    Prague    26-27 March    www.vibevents.com
Managed Services & Outsourcing    Monaco    26-29 March    www.iir-events.com
C5 World Forum    Milan    26-29 March    www.iec.org
The Next Wave of MVNOs    Madrid    27-28 March    www.jacobfleming.com
CTIA Wireless    Orlando    27-29 March    www.ctiawireless.com
NG Network Interconnection    Brussels    28-29 March    www.vibevents.com
Telecoms Fraud & Risk    London    26-29 March    www.iir-events.com
Telco 2.0    London    27-29 March    www.telco2.net
Caspian Telecoms    Istanbul    11-12 April    www.ite-exhibitions.com               
Future Technologies    Oxford    13 April    www.conted.ox.ac.uk/cpd
Fixed-Mobile Convergence     Amsterdam    16-18 April    www.marcusevans.com
Mobile Roaming Strategies    Barcelona    16-19 April    www.iir-events.com
WIMA 2007    Monaco    18-20 April                www.wima.mc
Managing B2B Experience    Vienna    19-20 April    www.jacobfleming.com
Mobile TV    Berlin    23-25 April    www.iqpc.com
ISP & Broadband Forum    London    23-26 April    www.iir-events.com
Service Provisioning    Prague    23-26 April    www.iir-events.com
IMS 2.0 World Forum    Monte Carlo    24-26 April    www.informatm.com
Infosecurity Europe    London    24-26 April    www.infosec.co.uk
Billing & OSS World    Chicago    25-27 April    www.telestrategies.com
Triple-Play and IPTV Forum    Barcelona    25-27 April    www.marcusevans.com
IPTV Opportunities                    Milan    26-27 April    www.jacobfleming.com
WiMAX Business Strategies    Prague    8-10 May    www.iir-events.com
HSDPA/HSUPA    Rome    14-15 May    www.jacobfleming.com
SVIAZ/Expo Comm Moscow    Moscow    14-18 May    www.expocomm.com
Revenue Assurance     London    15-16 May    www.vibevents.com
IPTV World Forum Eastern Europe    Prague    15-16 May    www.iptv-easterneurope.com
Handset World    Amsterdam    15-17 May    www.informatm.com
Mobile Device Management    Amsterdam 17-18 May    www.jacobfleming.com
TM World/Excellence Awards     Nice    20-24 May/24 May    www.tmforum.org
MVNO Business Strategies    Barcelona    21-23 May    www.marcusevans.com
ANGA Cable    Cologne    22-24 May    www.angacable.de
WiMAX World Europe    Vienna    29-31 May    www.trendsmedia.com
Kitel    Almaty    29 May-1 June www.ite-exhibitions.com 
Youth Marketing in Telecoms    Lisbon    31 May – 1 June    www.jacobfleming.com
BIMS     London    4-8 June    www.iir-events.com
Carrier Ethernet Services    Rome    11-13 June    www.marcusevans.com
VON Europe    Stockholm    11-14 June    www.pulver.com
Capacity CEE 2007    Prague    18-19 June    www.telcap.co.uk
NXTcomm    Chicago    18-21 June    www.nxtcommshow.com
CommunicAsia 2007     Singapore    19-22 June www.communicasia.com

As commercial mobile TV and IPTV services are rolled out around the world, it is becoming clear that telecom operators hold some winning cards: in particular, the ability to deliver truly interactive and personalised TV services without the need to invest in brand new networks. Per Nordlöf and Anders Kälvemark fill in the picture

As TV enters fixed and mobile telecom networks, user behaviour is evolving from a ‘lean back’ approach to a ‘lean forward’ one in which consumers want greater control over what to watch, how to watch, and when to watch it. Consumers are getting used to personalising, controlling and interacting with content, services and brands. At the same time, there is greater availability of high-capacity fixed and mobile broadband connections, and content is increasingly available in digital format – making it easier to store and distribute over fixed and mobile IP-based networks.

MOBILE TV - A unique revenue opportunity

The generations that are growing up with sites like YouTube, Google Video and other user-generated content sites will want to do more than just watching traditional 'linear' broadcast TV. In the USA, 20 per cent of TV viewers now surf the web at the same time as they watch TV, for example.
TV of the future will be about giving users access to their favourite programmes and content, wherever they are, whenever they want and whatever device they are using.
As TV moves from traditional one-way (broadcast) distribution towards digital two-way networks, it is undergoing a fundamental change. The addition of a return channel makes the TV experience more interactive and personal; less passive and more active.

Mobile TV over cellular sets the pace
The good news for telecom operators is that mobile and IPTV services can already benefit from the built-in return channel. They enable users to enjoy interactive, personalised TV services wherever they go – whether mobile TV on the go or IPTV in the home.
Out of the 120 mobile TV services that have launched worldwide to date, more than 100 are distributed over existing cellular networks. And there are already more than 10 million regular viewers of mobile TV in developed markets – around four per cent of mobile subscribers.
A recent study conducted by Ericsson ConsumerLab among more than 700 mobile TV users in six countries (France, Italy, Japan, Korea, the UK and the USA) shows that there is strong and growing interest in the services. These people claim to watch an average of around 100 minutes of TV on their mobiles every week. Around two-fifths of those surveyed say they watch mobile TV every day, with viewing situations spread fairly evenly between commuting, during breaks, waiting for someone while out, at home and anywhere when there is a big event on (such as a major sporting event). The most popular time for mobile TV viewing is between 6pm and 10pm – today's prime time for normal TV.
More than half of consumers in the study pay a monthly subscription for mobile TV, or have it as a part of their monthly subscription, and around one-third do not pay anything for mobile TV. On average, consumers pay 14 euros per month for mobile TV, although there were large variations between markets. Interestingly, the payment option does not seem to have any effect on usage – perhaps indicating that users are more willing to pay for worthwhile content.
The study found that mobile users value different types of mobile TV content in different situations. Commuters looking to fill some time want 'light' content that allows for frequent disturbances – to enable them to get on and off public transport, negotiate crowds of people, listen to station announcements, and so on. Such disturbances should not cause the user to miss too much plot or content.
People typically tend to relax at certain times of the day, and mobile TV content should be designed to fit into this pattern of behaviour. For example, the Ericsson ConsumerLab study found that people will watch weightier content early on in the day – on the way to work, for example – when they may want to check the day's business and technology news. This is also true of people who commute long distances and so have time to concentrate on more demanding content.
The enthusiasm of those taking part in the study is echoed in real-world trials of interactive mobile TV services conducted by Ericsson and Norwegian state broadcaster NRK since 2005. Two-fifths of those who downloaded the mobile TV client used it every day – around four times a day on average. One of the most interesting findings is that average session times for users who have access to interactive features are typically double those of viewers watching standard programming.
One new aspect of the NRK–Ericsson collaboration is the world's first trial of interactive, personalised advertising, started in December 2006. The advertisements are interactive, customised to ensure their relevance to individual users, and tailored to the user's age, gender, location and personal interests. Without any marketing, around 200 consumers downloaded an easy-to-use client that enables them to receive personalised mobile TV advertising in return for free TV shows, radio channels and other content on their mobiles (users still pay for the connection). As at January 2007, the trial has shown that clicking on ads increases average session time from around two-and-a-half minutes to over six minutes, and the average click-through rate is 16 per cent. The most popular driver of click-throughs is the offer of free ringtones.
The results of such studies and trials are encouraging, but the key question for operators now is, what is the best way forward for operators to meet the demands of a mobile TV mass market?

More interactive, more personal
Mobile TV is much more than traditional TV delivered to a small screen. In addition to being able to view content wherever they go – with a combination of linear TV, on-demand TV and Podcast TV – users have access to easy-to-use programme guides, fast channel switching, interactivity and personalisation features.
Users have greater freedom in where and when to watch. They can use personalisation features to get a notification when their favourite team has scored and then get the video clip and goal summary pushed to their device. They can interact with friends and other communities, for example through commenting on or voting for their favourite contestant in a TV talent show. Mobile TV clients are available as downloadable client software, which offers consumers a convenient way to access the service, change programmes using the keypads or a menu, and get a programme overview through an electronic programme guide.
For operators, interactivity opens up new revenue streams possibilities, for example through premium SMS when voting.
Personalisation is valued by users. With mobile TV delivered by cellular networks, consumers can personalise their own TV programme portfolio according to their preferences. Based on their video-on-demand consumption history, a recommendation engine can offer a tailored programme schedule. Content can also be provided based on location or TV advertising region.
Ericsson ConsumerLab's study found consumers have clear views about where and when advertising is acceptable. Ideally, ads should be placed before or preferably after a programme – not included as a break in the middle. The length of the ads also needs to be balanced: users have a limited amount of time available when watching mobile TV, and they do not want this time eaten into by long ads. The length of the ad must be in proportion to the length of the programme so, for example after a weather forecast, they would be happy to see a short sponsor's message, while during a longer TV serial episode they would accept a slightly longer ad before, and maybe one after.
What is clear is that a well-functioning and robust service, with great choice of content, is a must for continued mobile TV usage. The study found that features that enable users to take control over their mobile TV viewing would be very popular. For example, the ability to pause and play, rewind and fast forward, and record content would be well appreciated. Consumers are also interested in making their mobile TV watching more flexible and would like to be able to use the mobile phone as a portable media controller.

Converged vision
Mobile TV services via cellular network open up new business models and revenue streams for the operator – for example, through targeted advertising and add-on sales. The vision is one of networked media delivered over three different screen types – TV, computer and mobile phone – enabled by IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). 
To enable such seamless, converged service offerings for a mass market, removal of usage restrictions is key. If we want to enable any TV to interconnect with any mobile device or any computer – to be able to view content in the most appropriate way at any given time (TV screen in the living-room; mobile phone when waiting for a bus) – we need to have industry-wide agreement on how these different devices will share content.
Mobile TV and IPTV solutions must meet very high requirements on scalability and performance. The telecoms industry is used to talking about five nines availability: TV services must meet at least the same requirements – just imagine the consequences of large events, perhaps sponsored by major international brands, being interrupted by technical difficulties.
The telecoms industry, with its well-established commitment to global standards and high quality of service is well placed to address these requirements. Interactive, personalised TV should be part and parcel of fixed–mobile convergence and full-service broadband, underpinned by IMS and other open international standards.
Mobile cellular networks already have, by default, both down- and up-link communication abilities in the network, and so are ready to offer interactive, personalised mobile TV services. More to the point, existing mobile networks already have more than 2.5 billion customers and global coverage in place, and their capacity is being given a tremendous boost through High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and, in the future, Long Term Evolution (LTE).
Today, mobile TV services are delivered over cellular networks using unicast streaming technology. Data packets are transmitted from a single source to a single destination, for example from a content server to a mobile device.
There is more than enough capacity in 3G networks to scale up for mass-market mobile TV services, especially if the operator has deployed HSPA. HSPA provides several capacity increase steps, enabling more users to be served with a greater diversity and higher quality of mobile TV content. LTE moves mobile capacity up to another level: Ericsson recently demonstrated speeds of 144Mbit/s in a live network using LTE.
Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (MBMS) will enable broadcasting over 3G networks by allowing traffic channels to be shared by all users that are simultaneously watching the same programme in the same area. MBMS complements HSPA to support higher loads in dense areas and ensure efficient network utilisation (as shown in Figure 1)
Figure 1. Mobile cellular networks can meet mobile TV capacity needs today and tomorrow

By using a combination of unicast and broadcast, network capacity and investments can be optimised. Broadcast bearers can be used for the most popular programmes, and an unlimited number of additional programmes and on-demand content can continue to be delivered efficiently using unicast. In the combined unicast–broadcast scenario, the user will not notice any difference in how content is delivered. The user will have a single user interface (TV client) in the terminal to access all content. This combination unicast and broadcast provides the best way to meet personalisation and mass market.
One glimpse of how converged TV services will work is being provided by a joint project between Endemol, Ericsson Netherlands and Triple-IT. The companies are creating a service that enables subscribers to interact with TV shows – for example, by sending in live news reports or comments from their mobile phones – in real-time, even from overseas.
The opportunity for telecom operators to create unique interactive, personalised mobile TV services is there – all that's needed now is for the right technology choices to be made.

Per Nordlöf is Product Strategy Director at Ericsson, and Anders Kälvemark is Senior Consultant at Ericsson ConsumerLab

Two associations, TIA and USTelecom have joined together to create a single, much-needed industry venue, say NXTcomm organisers

NXTcomm will bring together the unique strengths of each of two trade association - TIA's representation of supplier and technology companies, and USTelecom's representation of the world's leading communications and entertainment companies.


The event will showcase the leading telecommunications companies in the new converged ICET industry who are merging communications and entertainment via innovations fueled by broadband deployment.
"NXTcomm will be about doing business - about advancing an industry of central importance to the modern information economy, and showcasing what's next across the colliding worlds of information, communications and entertainment," says USTelecom President and CEO Walter B. McCormick, Jr.
The show will bring together top executives from every segment of the global industry to exhibit, explore new business opportunities and buy the latest technologies driving the converged communications and entertainment industry. Showcasing hundreds of new and innovative products, the NXTcomm exhibit floor will reflect the dramatic changes in the sector. The show's programming will feature keynotes from the top CEOs in the communications, entertainment and technology sectors. From enterprise users and service providers to technology suppliers and content providers - the forces that drive communication and the solutions to harness it converge here. With 20,000+ attendees and 450+ exhibitors, NXTcomm aims to be at the center of the expanding ICET universe.
The event's keynote speakers include AT&T Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre; Bell Canada President and CEO Michael Sabia; Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers; GE Vice Chairman and Executive Officer and NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright; Motorola Chairman and CEO Ed Zander; Verizon Communications Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg; and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin.
More speakers will be announced in the coming months.
 “These CEOs are directly responsible for charting the course for the converging communications, entertainment and information industries,” says Wayne Crawford, Executive Director of NXTcomm.
The event aims to bring together top executives from every segment of the global industry to exhibit, explore new business opportunities and buy the latest technologies driving the converged communications and entertainment industry. Showcasing hundreds of new and innovative products, the NXTcomm exhibit floor will reflect the dramatic changes in the industry. The show will also feature a broad range of educational programming.

International Attendees
International attendee who plan to come as a buyers, qualify for special benefits, including:
•    The International Trade Center (ITC), exclusively for the use of international buyers
•    US Department of Commerce assistance in finding U.S. suppliers
•    Interpreters (in the International Trade Center only)
•    Transportation between official hotels and McCormick Place

NXTcomm 2007 - Conferences: June 18 – 21, 2007; Exhibits: June 19 - 21, 2007
McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago Il, USA www.nxtcommshow.com

Network Resilience promotes peace of mind for business of any shape or size according to Piers Daniell

With businesses becoming increasingly reliant on telecom communication it is surprising how many companies rely on a single voice and Internet solution without a backup in place. Consolidation has been a buzz word in the IT industry for the past few years, but a consolidated communications network creates a big risk for business in the form of a huge single point of failure.

CONSOLIDATION - Another string to your bow

Historically, network service levels have been managed by availability, but today poor performance can be equally or more damaging as no service at all. To remain competitive, networked application performance must meet the needs of the business and its end-users.  It is now widely accepted that service provision and receipt should be governed by an agreement – the Service Level Agreement (SLA). This is essential to define the parameters of the service, for the benefit of both the provider and the recipient and it is crucial in setting the expectations of all parties as to what service can be relied upon and what the results of failure will be.  Of course, once the expectations and the agreement have been set, it is essential that the terms are adhered to by all parties. This is not always easy to achieve.
With BT currently suffering widespread and well-documented resource issues it is regularly failing to meet its SLAs.  This can mean that businesses are putting their future at risk by losing their Internet or voice services for, sometimes, extended periods of time.  It is critical that they evaluate the costs to the business of such service losses and seek to protect those services to a relevant and appropriate level.  Obviously, if the business relies totally on the availability of its telecoms infrastructure then greater weight will be given to this equipment and the steps taken to protect those services will be rigorous. 
However, few businesses, in reality, have actually looked in detail at the response they would get from their ISP should the worst happen. And, they need to ask the crucial question “what compensation will we actually receive?”. No telecom service would recompense against the true loss of business and the majority would only look to reimburse the customer for a percentage of their monthly service rental. This equates to a pitiful amount when compared to the lost business if a company loses e-mail, Internet or voice, even for the smallest of companies.
The answer may well lie in a philosophy that has saved many a shrewd businessman from disaster – the idea that spreading the risk reduces the exposure. In this instance, this means putting additional measures in place to limit the impact of a single source problem, and companies should consider this to protect against service outages.  By purchasing, for example, a smaller Internet connection from a different provider, they protect against a technical problem with the main connection.  For larger businesses this is a common solution but for the smaller companies the cost implications or the requirement for additional hardware and network configuration demands can often prevent them from making this provision.  This is where the cost equation comes into play and should be carefully considered before further infrastructure investment is declined. 
Outages can be caused by so many factors that no matter how reliable your connectivity, single points of failure are just too risky and need to be eliminated. Increased resilience and backup will already be in place on the ISP's core network. However, that is only a small part of the overall solution when an Internet connection is provided. The copper in the ground for the service line is most likely owned and operated by BT, which runs to a local telephone exchange where voice and Internet traffic is routed to the major data centres across the country. This 'last mile' suffers from a multitude of potential problems that could take out the vital link for a business and its customers.  And these problems may be as simple as road workers cutting through cables as they dig up a road to lay new pipes.  Although this is an easy mistake to make and one that occurs on a fairly regular basis, it can cause immense problems and take a good deal of time to rectify.  The simplicity of the mistake is no consolation to the companies that are affected by such an outage. 
Then there are the more technology driven problems.  For example, LLU SDSL providers are reporting an increasing problem with users being unceremoniously disconnected by BT engineers unfamiliar with the technology. SDSL operates over a data-only circuit with a true symmetrical dataflow. However this means the copper cannot be used for voice, as is the case with ADSL, and so there is no dial tone on the line. The dial tone is used by engineers to tell if a line has been properly connected and is in use. Without a dial tone engineers might accidentally reuse the copper when cabling a new circuit in the local exchange.
Aside from careless engineers, major outages can cause longer periods of downtime no matter how much care is taken or engineering resource is available. From rats chewing through cables and allowing water onto the copper, to lightning strikes or power surges, faults are difficult to troubleshoot and timely to fix. Businesses should therefore ensure proper procedures are in place and alternative connectivity has been sourced to maintain communications.
Network resilience and connection redundancy are essential. At the very least businesses should look to purchase two different kinds of Internet connections from their supplier so that, should one line or technology have an issue, the business will be able to continue to operate using the other. Also by taking this secondary service from the ISP it is possible to request that both the primary and secondary circuit utilise the same network settings hence making it easier for anyone to switch connections as no further network configuration would be required. There are also systems on the market from companies such as Cisco that have the capability to include two routers in one case, making the switch over from primary to secondary lines pretty much seamless. Many customers who do consider backup stick with the industry standard of ISDN, however with per second billing the service can prove costly should it be used a lot. Also ISDN only offers 64Kb/s of data transfer, which is a very small amount compared to the 20,000Kb/s offered by some ISPs' ADSL services. But with the advent of DSL technology in the UK there has been quite a bit of investment into the technology and now businesses have a number of options when considering backup.
SDSL, which offers symmetrical data connections, has proved popular as primary connections with the SME market but also as a secondary backup to a larger company's leased line service. Moving down the scale, ADSL offers great backup for businesses invested in SDSL and can be used in the aforementioned Cisco routers. When looking to back up an ADSL circuit this is best achieved by actually choosing a second ADSL circuit, but also by making the following provisions. Ensure that the second ADSL line is activated over a totally different phone line within the building. This is because normal phone cable carries three phone lines and hence, if a cable has a fault, it can affect a number of lines. Secondly try to get the second line activated over a different ADSL technology, which will be using a different part of the exchange. Over the past few years telecom carriers have been upgrading BT's exchanges with their own ADSL technology which has been know as Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) providing alternative connectivity options.
Although the concept of bonding or aggregation has been with us for some years now, it is only recently that some service providers have developed state-of-the-art aggregation technology which makes it possible to provide customers with a connection bonded using multiple lines from different providers and even using different technologies. The potential of such a service is huge as it increases the level of resilience many fold. This can be presented to the consumer in a single hand-off, avoiding a lot of the downsides of a simple backup connection, as there is no need to use different hardware, reconfigure the internal network or miss out on the extra bandwidth as the service is completely aggregated together creating one virtual service at all times.
Looking at voice protection standard services such as call answering can prove invaluable when all office communications are severed, ensuring client enquiries continue to be dealt with. Other solutions, especially with new technologies, such as VoIP, empower businesses to forward calls straight to other landline phones or mobiles in the event of loosing connectivity.
Whatever way businesses chose to protect themselves, the message is clear – with the internet and telecommunications becoming key facilitators in day-to-day business activities across a wide range of industries, forward planning and backup solutions are essential.

Piers Daniell is Director of Fluidata

If you think telecom-media-Internet convergence means a few years’ turbulence and the captain switching on the seatbelt sign to make sure nobody gets injured, think again. Keith Willetts notes that it's clear that all three sectors are going to fuse, but also thinks that telecom can play an important role in the rebirth

The imminence of so-called ‘convergence’ has been a hot topic in communications and networking for at least 15 years, probably longer. ‘Will telecom converge with broadcast media?’ we were always being asked.  ‘Will fixed and mobile telephony come together in a single service?’.  And so on. 

Well not any more. Convergence is no longer just something rumored to be around the corner. Like that other imminent happening, climate change, it's already here and is making itself felt.
With the telecom, media and Internet sectors now so clearly banging up against each other it's not surprising that this year's TeleManagement World in Nice (20-24 May) is putting convergence and its opportunities front and center.
With an overall theme of Managing Telecom-Media-Internet Convergence:  Leadership Strategies for the World of Communications, Information & Entertainment, we kick off on Day One with an executive summit 'The Big Bang: Telecom-Media-Internet Collision & Rebirth'.
That's what we think we're looking at now.  Not a gentle coming together of sectors where one group of businesses makes a few incursions into another group's traditional territory, but a full-scale fusion and a subsequent re-birth a little further down the track.
EBay's purchase of Skype is an obvious example of the process in action, but there are plenty more. We see traditional telcos trying to turn themselves into Communication and Entertainment Service Providers by adding IPTV to their service offerings and looking to buy and deliver the content themselves. We see cable operators and even satellite broadcasters also selling telephony; mobile operators selling broadband; and just about every other crossover permutation you can think of.
The most urgent question being asked by people working in all these sectors is, naturally enough, who is going to win out?  Will traditional telecom service providers be killed off by voice over the Internet on one side and mobile on the other?  Will the emerging online publishing industry, enabled by the rise of the Internet, knock out traditional paper-based publishing?
There may be relative winners and losers over time, but a more realistic scenario is that we are entering a technical convergence phase where different types of player will partner to move content over different networks, share revenue, ensure security and so on. 
We think that's where the TM Forum is going to make an invaluable contribution. Up to now our mission has been to provide a framework to enable different pieces in the telco back office jigsaw puzzle to fit together in an efficient, easy-to-integrate way. So we developed NGOSS (New Generation Operations Systems and Software), which could be thought of as a blueprint for the internal convergence of the fiefdoms, and information silos that have developed within our service provider members.
Now we're facing the same sort of convergence problem one level up, between different sorts of companies.  Because we think we know what we're doing – after all, we've had the practice - we want the TM Forum to be a vehicle for bringing together the new converged telecom-media-Internet environment.  After all, we're not just seeing a fusion of technologies but a fusion of different competencies and one of the characteristics of the telecom sector, as exemplified in the work of the TM Forum, is a certain methodical way of stitching together complex, overlapping technologies - it's what we've been doing for about 100 years and we're good at it. 
So come to Nice in May and hear more about how we're going to be an important midwife at the rebirth of the new Telecom-Media-Internet sector. 

Keith Willetts is Chairman, TM Forum

Ever increasing sophistication among cyber criminals is putting pressure on organisations that must also meet the requirements of compliance legislation.  Peter Wollacott looks at ways to fight back

Cybercrime has come a long way since 1988 when the Morris worm - considered by many to be the first piece of malware and certainly the first to gain widespread media attention - hit the Internet.  The worm, technically a Trojan Horse piece of malware, was written by a student at Cornell University, Robert Tappan Morris, and launched on November 2, 1988.

CYBERCRIME - Safety first

The replicating and 'clogging' concept of the worm, which effectively brought the Internet to a grinding halt, has since been copied many times, although no-one could have foreseen the developments in the world of malware and cyber-attacks that would ensue in the years to come.
If we fast-forward just over 18 years to January, 2007, we see the Nordea Bank in Sweden reporting a loss of $1.1 million to Russian organised criminals over a three-month period, with a key logging Trojan at the heart of the scam.
According to BBC news reports, the bank lost its money in relatively small amounts over the three months, with debits spread across the accounts of around 250 business and consumer (retail) customers.  Reports note that the Russian criminals developed their own custom Trojan, which was sent to the bank's customers disguised as an anti-spam application.  Because the Trojan was custom-made and only sent to a small number of Internet users, it fell below the radar of conventional IT security software.
Once the bank's customers downloaded the application, they were infected by a modified version of the haxdoor.ki Trojan, which triggered key logging when users accessed their Nordea bank accounts online. These details were then relayed to a group of servers in Russia, where an automated routine started siphoning money from the customer's accounts.
The bank has borne the costs of reimbursement to all the affected customers and is seeking ways of preventing further attacks of this nature.
Unfortunately for customers worldwide, this type of low-value, multi-account fraud is extremely difficult to counter, unless the bank concerned has both heuristic and holistic IT security technologies to protect its IT resources.
The Nordea bank incident illustrates the fact that modern cybercrime has "come of age" driven at least in part by the arrival of organised criminals using sophisticated techniques to extract significant amounts of money from organisations both large and small without detection.
Most modern organisations have installed multi-vector security technology, including perimeter security systems, to protect their IT resources against almost every conceivable form of external attack, whether it is an e-mail-borne virus, hybrid malware, or a sustained brute force attack on their EFTPOS/financial systems.
But this is only part of the security equation. Today there is also the very real issue of internal attacks, originated by anyone from a disgruntled employee to a WiFi-wielding cracker who gained access to the company's internal network using a wireless backdoor, courtesy of a new Centrino-driven notebook sitting on the marketing director's desk.
Employing user privilege-based control systems on the IT network, as well as installing event monitoring/response technology that can block any unauthorised and/or unusual activity on the IT resource, can protect against loss through internal attacks of this type - as well as sophisticated hybrid attacks from the Russian criminals involved in the Nordea Bank scam.
Unfortunately for hard-pressed IT managers the world over, some of the best IT monitoring/control systems can be relatively expensive option to install and operate, meaning that a compromise in terms of security and cost might seem the order of the day. This could prove to be false economy and impact good governance.
Modern legislation, like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US, the Companies Act in the UK and other equivalent laws around the world, impose a duty of care on senior officers within organisations to install an auditable IT security system that protects against all known and unknown security threats that might impact their organisation.
Perhaps worse, these new laws do not take account of the fact that hacker techniques - as clearly illustrated in the Nordea Bank attack - are becoming more sophisticated and specifically designed to evade existing detection methodologies.
Many of the forensic accounting and data auditing software seen in the last decade, in fact, is now significantly out of date against a backdrop of the increasing levels of authorised misuse, unwitting internal participation and fraud that are starting to appear in many major organisations. Authorised misuse is a grey area that many IT security managers overlook at their peril. If, for example, an office worker starts downloading the entire company customer base, it may be that a legitimate back-up is in progress, or it might be the beginnings of a major contravention of local data protection legislation. But which is it?
An effective monitoring system capable of alerting IT management staff to such an event and taking pre-defined lock-down action, as appropriate, goes a long way towards protecting against loss, keeping the auditors at bay, and, perhaps more importantly, keeping the management on the right side of the law.
This is because a failure to address such increasingly prevalent internal security matters is a breach of a growing number of compliance legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley in the US and the Companies Act in the UK.
All is not lost, however, as a new generation of monitoring systems, capable of using real-time heuristic and holistic analysis techniques - alongside more conventional auditing and IT security software - can help IT managers meet the demands of increasingly complex risk environments set against increasingly draconian compliance legislation.
Our observations here at Tier 3, where we have developed a behavioural intelligence approach to IT resource protection and control, is that an increasing number of  major organisations around the world that do business with their US counterparts are now adhering to the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  This analysis leads us to the conclusion that most US companies will soon include Sarbanes-Oxley or similar compliance requirements into their commercial trading terms and conditions with other parties.
Improved governance is good business practice and so even those non-US organisations not forced into a 'comply or die' situation with international legislation will, we believe, find it advantageous to move to this best practice approach on IT security.  For this reason, organisations should consider moving from a point-solution based IT security system to an integrated approach, with multi-faceted security technology installed, at all technology levels, across the organisation under the control of a fully automated and auditable database-driven ICT Threat Management system.
In addition to this, if an organisation takes steps to perform a continually updated research and risk analysis on its IT systems and resources, then it is well on its way to ensuring relevant regulatory compliance - as well as protecting against organised criminal gangs using customised Trojans to extract money from the organisation's bank accounts.

Peter Woollacott is CEO, Tier 3

If operators are to build profitable content-based service businesses, they will need to address unacceptably high levels of avoidable revenue loss, says Geoff Ibbett

Year on year telecom operators lose about 12 per cent of their revenue to avoidable leakages. Clearly, operators have a great opportunity to show immediate improvement in their top and bottom line performance if they can successfully tackle this revenue leakage.

REVENUE MANAGEMENT - Stopping the leaks

And there is some good news too. Revenue maximisation programmes managed by CFOs deliver best results in containing revenue leakage. Undoubtedly, telecom operators can show dramatically improved results if they implement an enterprise wide revenue management programme effectively managed by, and reporting to, the CFO.
And there is some good news too. Revenue maximisation programmes managed by CFOs deliver best results in containing revenue leakage. Undoubtedly, telecom operators can show dramatically improved results if they implement an enterprise wide revenue management programme effectively managed by, and reporting to, the CFO.
Unfortunately, over the years, operators have deployed BSS/OSS systems with an eye on the immediate needs of the business without necessarily analysing the impact on existing systems within the chain. This has often had the effect of fragmenting the operations chain into seemingly impregnable silos. An executive can access a lot of data but very little actionable information.
In addition, telecom operators are stepping into the exciting world of content-driven services. These new services will help telecom operators combat the problem of rapidly commoditising voice-based services that suffer from high rate of subscriber churn and falling ARPUs.
These next-generation services will have an even more complex revenue distribution and settlement chain associated with them, involving partners and resellers. Telecom operators will find themselves cast as trusted partners for product delivery and related payment receipt. This new role will sharply bring into focus the impact of revenue leakages. In the conventional voice-based services environment, operators could treat revenue leakage as opportunity loss. In the content-driven service environment, however, operators will suffer real loss because an operator is liable to pay the content provider even if he does not or cannot collect matching payment from the subscribers.
The greatest challenge, for a telecom operator is to establish a strategic framework to foster sustained profitable growth. This is easier said than done. The industry is fiercely competitive, demands rapid response from operators to ever changing business and technology environments but offers little leeway to experiment, let alone make mistakes, and this is where the next generation of revenue management platform comes in.
Revenue management in its broader context though, is much more than just assuring revenue, reducing fraud and managing credit risk.  It should provide a mechanism for actively managing the performance of an operator's business. 
Of course it should monitor, control and ensure revenue integrity within all of the various revenue chains, but also provide the ability to manage the cost base associated with service delivery to allow profitability and product margin to be managed rather than just revenues alone.  This is because not all revenue is good revenue; at least if it costs an operator more to deliver the service than is received in receipts from its customers.  Often this information is simply not available to the business manager.
But the holy grail of revenue management is to provide a single, consolidated, real-time view of the overall performance of the business that supports business managers in their day-to-day decisions, making it a role that directly impacts the performance of their business.
Next generation revenue management moves beyond just managing leakages, it needs to address profitability and even track subscriber behaviour so that the assets of the business are put to optimal use.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in achieving this is in bringing information together, from the traditionally separate systems that exist today, and providing a visual representation of this information from a business perspective.
The concept of the Revenue Operations Center (ROC) is in doing just that, and presenting it in a manner that enables issues that are affecting business performance to be easily identified, investigated, diagnosed and corrected.
Modelled on the Network Operations Centre (NOC), it is intended to provide an equivalent view to the financial community of the operational effectiveness of a telecom operator's revenue network, as the NOC itself does for network operations.
A Revenue Operations Centre, though, is much more than just another dashboard; it should be underpinned by an integrated suite of revenue management solutions, providing multiple levels of drilldown to support the day to day activities of different levels of business management.
To support the goal of assessing and quantifying business performance and revenue integrity, the Revenue Operations Centre also needs to provide comparative analysis of revenue operations.  The full power of the ROC can be realised when business performance can be tracked at key stages of revenue realisation.
Six such stages have been identified for monitoring by a ROC:
•    Forecast Revenue, based on revenue targets usually derived from a company's business plan.
•    Predicted Revenue, based on revenue projections of the current subscriber base together with estimated ARPU and AMPU.
•    Expected Revenue, based on the provision of service within the network and service usage recorded within the network
•    Invoiced Revenue, based on actual billed revenues
•    Collected Revenue, based on the revenue actually received by the company
•    Reported Revenue, based on how those collected revenues are reported in the accounts and summarised in the company's annual report.
In an ideal world all of these revenue stages should give the same value, but of course they never do.  For example, the difference between Expected Revenue and Invoiced Revenue can be accounted for by revenue assurance losses and internal fraud, and the different between Invoiced Revenue and Collected Revenue can be accounted for by external fraud and bad debt.
By comparing these key revenue perspectives, the operational effectiveness of a business can be determined and, by combining information from a telecom operator's various monitoring system, gaps between the revenue stages can be quantified and a business is able to understand whether there are any gaps that cannot be explained. 
The process of investigating these gaps will reveal hitherto unknown issues, such as revenue leakages, stranded and under utilised assets, inflated operating costs and inefficient systems and process amongst other things.
It is the Revenue Operations Centre that will become a key business solution that will enable a business to manage its four levers of profitability, namely, price, cost of service delivery, product portfolio and targeted customer effectively.  Those businesses that can achieve this will be able to maximise profit growth within an increasingly competitive and complex industry.

Geoff Ibbett is Director, Product Management, Subex Azure


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