A crucial element in building a wholesale VoIP business and maintaining competitive edge in a harsh business environment is the choice of equipment that forms the core of the company's operation, says Nico Bradlee

As VoIP prospects seem to be bright and sunny thanks to new technologies and a plentiful choice of VoIP solutions, it presents an inviting opportunity for starting your own business. VoIP has entrenched itself in the telecommunication world and competitive carriers are exploring the numerous ways to derive benefits from this lucrative technology.

The wholesale VoIP market used to be overwhelmed with a huge number of players from different leagues. The popularity of wholesale VoIP was easy to explain - as you are your own boss you sell a product that can almost sell itself and requires minimum investment both in terms of capex for equipment and human resources.

But from the perspective of the past several years we can see that harsh reality intruded and small players could no longer compete with large-scale telecommunication tycoons. Competition being a lifeblood of technological progress, it remains an essential prerequisite for any market development, to say nothing about VoIP. Competition is actually the driving force that enables carriers to generate new revenues, and equipment vendors to offer new automated tools for them.

Nowadays the VoIP market is undergoing some transformation that affects the scale of businesses presented there. The number of transit operators is reducing due to margin reduction. It presents an additional challenge for the wholesale market's newcomers and poses another reasonable question - how to join the VoIP race and survive in this hard-bitten business world? One of the crucial elements of the strategy to build a brand new wholesale VoIP business will be the right choice of the equipment laying at the core of the company operations. So let's take a look at class 4 switching equipment from the top ten leading brands and get to the bottom of solving the question of how to choose the switch to save your network from going downhill.
Reviewed brands and products:

The platform: hard or soft?
It's of passing interest that the overwhelming majority of vendors use hardware platforms in their switching equipments. Though there is no definitive answer on what is preferable, soft or hardware, since both have their pros and cons.

A hardware platform doesn't require additional equipment and is shipped on already-based server, so you don't need to look for an appropriate base. All the vendors that we picked out, apart from MERA Systems, which uses software platform for its switches, utilise hardware based solutions. The advantages of a soft-based switch are also notable since you can install the software on an existing server and there is no need to turn to the vendor for its substitution in case of some defect. Moreover, if the carrier chooses to relocate the server there will be no call for its physical replacement.

Operating System
When it comes to the operating system there is also no right or wrong on what OS to use. The majority of developers use Linux OS, and it's quite understandable. It's Linux's universality, wide application and compatibility with servers and third-party systems that made Sansay, Nextone, MERA Systems and Audiocodes opt for Linux OS in their switching equipment. On the other hand proprietary platform can offer enhanced functionality and give competitive advantage before other market players. Therefore Acme Packet uses its own OS as an application base that allows increased productivity.

The functionality of switches varies greatly, and has taken a big step forward thanks to technological progress. As the prevailing number of operators who got used to H.323 has started to use SIP, all of the leading vendors support conversion of H.323 and SIP protocols ensuring interoperability between equipment from various vendors. Additionally, Sansay and Acme Packet support MGCP protocol, given that Acme can also work with H.248.
As to voice codec conversion, its support in switching equipment is realised only by Acme Packet and MERA Systems. Acme Packet's functionality includes transcoding, that is translation for wireline and wireless codecs, transrating - mediate between variations in rate (eg 10ms to 30ms) - and DTMF translations. MERA Systems' softswitches ensures conversion of a wide range of codecs: G.729, C.729A, G.729AB, G.723.1, G.711 A/U, GSM FR, Speex, iLBC.

An important feature of switching equipment is encryption protocols support. Built-in support of TLS and IPSec is offered by Nextone, Audiocodes and Acme Packet. The support of MTLS, SRTP and easy messaging between them is also specified in Acme Packet equipment.

Since hundreds of vendors around the world started to manufacture networking equipment to meet increased demand, the capacity of switches has increased to meet the requirements of different types of carriers. For instance, Nextone equipment, that is capable of handling up to 25,000CC, and Audiocodes that allows for 21,000CC, are targeted on Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators. Acme Packet, whose products are designed first and foremost for Tier 1 operators, also focuses on networks that handle at least 5,000CC and Acme provides this performance on a single server. Sansay and MERA Systems' products represent ideal solutions for Tier 3 and Tier 4 carriers whose network process up to 7-10K of concurrent calls in its most effective configuration.

No matter how productive and scalable your switching equipment is, for effective business you need a flexible third-party billing system to collect information about telephone calls and other services that are going to be billed to the subscriber A couple of good examples are Cyneric or Jerasoft billing systems. Of the vendors from the above list, an all-in-one solution (that doesn't require a billing system for the business to be operational) is only offered by MERA Systems. Its softswitch is a ready-to-go product with enhanced billing capabilities.

Pricing policy and target audience
Needless to say, the products considered in this article, being comparable in terms of switching functionality, are still designed for different types of carriers. While Nextone, Audiocodes and Acme Packet products deal with large amount of traffic, MERA Systems and Sansay concentrate on solutions for small and medium-sized wholesale businesses offering maximum functionality in switching equipment.

To put the whole thing in a nutshell, each vendor concentrates on various sectors of wholesale business, which explains the differences examined in this overview. It's up to carriers to make a choice and opt for the equipment that best serves his business purposes.

Nico Bradlee is a freelance business and communications journalist.

According to a recent poll, the revenue from current generation messaging services will continue to eclipse those for data services for at least the next four years - around the same time when we'll see wide scale deployment of Service Delivery Platforms. This creates something of a revenue void. Added to this, termination fees and roaming charges, where telcos are making their money today, face an uncertain future as termination-free IP networks are rolled out (if the EU has its way). New advertising and ‘content sponsorship' business models offer hope, as more third party brands are encouraged into the arena. However, in the short term telcos must rely on doing what they do best - selling telecoms services - but in a much cleverer way. Smart services, adding a little more intelligence to the call, could be the key to filling this void. But could they also be the catalyst for bringing advertising revenues to the fore? Jonathan Bell investigates

Hindsight is a wonderful thing - especially when it comes to evaluating the success or otherwise of past visionary ambitions of our industry. It only seems like yesterday that all the predictions and industry research confirmed that by this year our happy customers would be drowning in an interactive environment of data rich media services delivered direct to their handsets. More importantly, by this time, the world's telecoms service providers would have morphed into true content and entertainment companies, leveraging their ownership of customer relationships, access networks and billing systems to dominate this emerging value chain.

The reality today is rather more disappointing. Voice and messaging services continue to make up the great bulk of most mobile service provider's revenues - even as these are eroded by voice commoditisation. Other commercial entities from outside the world of traditional telecoms are actively seeking their own paths to market domination, potentially reducing the operator to bit-pipe players, while everyone scrambles to gain their share of an increasingly fickle and disloyal market.

So, what is to be done? One strategy already successfully adopted by service providers in both developed and developing markets is to introduce some form of advertising supported or brand sponsored services. While business models vary, these essentially translate into customers being able to make or receive calls (and messages) in exchange for exposure to adverts or, in some cases, for various types of content such as ringtones, ringback tones and wallpapers.

For the service provider, this type of activity could surely result in lower churn and higher loyalty, much-needed additional revenues and while infrastructures and technologies that can deliver truly rich services are being developed and deployed.

Of course, this is the first stage for ad-funded mobile usage. The next step requires a degree of personalisation. Being able to target the customer more effectively will be key when justifying larger budget requirements from advertisers. This is perhaps one reason why a poll of telecoms executives at the recent SDP Summit were charmed by the idea of increasingly ‘smart' voice and messaging services. And you can see why.

The ability to add an element targeting through use of location and presence data certainly takes us someway down the line of true personalisation.

In addition, adding intelligence to traditional ‘dumb' voice and messaging applications also offers consumers a degree of personalised call control and, because the services are very visible, they have a clear value to the user. This further reduces revenue erosion and churn.
So far, both research and practice indicate that such ad-funded models are serious and truly viable options - if the service provider gets it right from the start.

According to findings last year by market research company Harris Interactive, 35 per cent of adult US mobile phone users would be happy to accept incentive-based adverts. Of these, more than three quarters saw the best incentives as being simply financial in terms of refunds or free call minutes, with smaller numbers being in favour of free downloads such as games or ringtones. More interestingly - at least in the context of how service providers should best structure their SDP platforms - was that around 70 per cent of those interested in receiving adverts would be happy to provide personal information on their interests and likes and dislikes to their service providers if they can have a service customised to their needs.

On the practical side, we can see the success of service providers like US based Kajeet and the UK's Blyk. Both are targeted at the youth/child end of the market and both use various forms of sponsorship and advertising. Indeed, in the case of Kajeet, parents can also control user profiles, place calling and texting restrictions and call balances.

This combination of research and comparative commercial success, at least so far, does highlight one positive direction that mobile service providers can consider taking to avoid the dangers of disintermediation and eroding revenues. But the real magic is in bringing together multiple facets and contexts for each user or demographic. Service providers must then target groups of users to make the advertising truly personal and relevant - and not an annoying hindrance.

To create such an environment, the SDP platform required must have certain characteristics in terms of its ability to combine both fixed and changeable information about the user - from user-defined areas of interest or tariffing plans, to a user's particular location at any given moment.

As can be seen on any social networking site, today's youth are far more relaxed - at least for the present - about sharing personal attributes and information. Mobile service providers should be ready to exploit this to increase the stickiness of their own services, while growing their relationships with brand and content owners. If we can be smart with location and presence in the short-term, the longer term opportunities of increased levels of personalisation are much more achievable.

Of course, this requires the service provider themselves to develop and roll out services in a far more open and experimental manner than they have had to in the past. It also demands that they be ready and prepared to rapidly scale these up to mass-market offerings as opportunities emerge. And in turn, this requires a high degree of flexibility within core network infrastructure, billing and provisioning systems, and of the application itself - which brings us back to a standards-based approach.

The alternative is to be left out of this new value chain and see strategic assets - like network ownership, billing and customer identity relationships and location information - be exploited by more nimble outsiders with a better understanding of customer behaviours.
However, more than this, by utilising conventional voice and messaging services to both enable, and deliver more targeted advertising, the truly adverse impacts of voice commoditisation, and subsequent revenue loss, may be averted - at least in the short-term.

Jonathan Bell is VP Product Marketing, OpenCloud

Lean times
Fixed-line telecoms services are facing a bleak 2009 and beyond, according to a new report Western European fixed telecoms: market sizings and forecasts 2008-2014 published by Analysys Mason.

"Rapidly saturating broadband means we are entering a new phase for fixed telecoms," argues lead author and principal analyst Rupert Wood. "The structural problems it faces are only exacerbated by the current economic downturn."

The report indicates that all three of the main retail lines of business of fixed telcos face problems.  Broadband service revenue is slowing to low single-digit growth, and at the same time as the sector faces the need to invest to differentiate itself from an increasingly mobile internet, funding will be harder to justify. New services may stabilise the average revenue per line, but this is unlikely to grow.

Legacy voice has been in trouble for years, but the effect of an economic downturn will be to make revenue decline even faster relative to mobile. Unemployment and income squeeze will accelerate households' decisions to give up fixed voice services for good.
Enterprise telecoms revenues will decline as the economic downturn continues, although the report anticipates that, unlike in the main consumer areas, this will pick up again with an economic upturn.

The report forecasts a CAGR of -5.8 per cent for the retail fixed/broadband sector as a whole between 2008 and 2014, compared with -3.3 per cent for 2007-2008. In the traditional voice sector the report forecasts that retail revenue will decline by more than 50 per cent over the period.

"There aren't many bright spots," says Wood. "But having said that, paradoxically, more wireless services mean some very good network and wholesale service opportunities for fixed operators. Ultimately, though, fixed operators need to adapt to their gradually changing role in the converged telecoms value-chain, and focus their growth plans on monetising those non-substitutable areas of their assets: core and metro networks, IT and managed service provision. So as convergence kicks in, we should be hearing less of separate fixed-line operators, and more of integrated fixed-line operations."

Recycle for charity
The British Red Cross is appealing for people to recycle their old or unused mobile phones and support the work of the charity.

For every mobile phone recycled through the British Red Cross, regardless of brand, model or age, the organisation will receive three pounds sterling to help vulnerable people. "With three pounds we can provide one-week supply of rehydration salts for over 80 children in Africa," said Mark Astarita, Head of Fundraising at the British Red Cross.

Last Christmas, British households were inundated with an estimate 11 million new mobiles and as many ended up in cupboards and bins. "If they had been sent to a charity like the British Red Cross, they would have been turned into £33 million destined to help people in need. This would really make a difference," said Astarita.  To send in an old handset and battery free of charge contact the British Red Cross for Mobile Phone Recycling freepost envelopes at: recycle@redcross.org.uk
Mobile marketing
The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has published the fifth edition of its MMA International Journal of Mobile Marketing (IJMM). The issue touches on a number of important mobile marketing themes including engaging consumers through the mobile phone; exploring consumer perceptions, attitudes and behaviour, mobile search and advertising, technology and services, and network provider business strategy.
Specific articles include:

  • Mobile advertising: does location-based advertising work?
  • Mobile social networking: the brand at play in the circle of friends with mobile communities representing a strong opportunity for brands
  • University students' attitudes toward mobile political communication
  • Making search work for the mobile ecosystem: implications for operators, portals, advertisers and brands
  • Mobile phone users' behaviours: the motivation factors of the mobile phone
  • Sold on mobile advertising: effective wireless carrier mobile advertising and how to make it even more so
Published by the MMA's Academic Outreach Committee (AOC) twice annually, in June and December, the journal provides a medium for academics, students, and industry professionals from around the world to share their insights and research on how the mobile channel can be effectively used for marketing.

Content losses
TM Forum and the Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF) have launched of a joint initiative to address the estimated $5 billion in annual losses experienced by content suppliers across the mobile content value chain. These losses are attributable to incorrect reporting of revenue, and according to MEF calculations, comprise as much as 25 per cent of the $18 billion mobile content services market.

A combined team of TM Forum and MEF member companies will develop and publish work focused on sales reporting metrics.  These metrics will enable service providers, content aggregators and providers to build a common understanding of the quality and quantity of services delivered, which in turn will improve the measure of revenue flows for these services across the value chain. This effort will build on existing MEF work designed to improve trust and profits across the value chain, and on TM Forum work related to business process and revenue leakage issues that reflect service provider perspectives.
 Keith Willetts, chairman and CEO, TM Forum comments: "We believe this partnership will bring major benefits to both TM Forum and MEF members as well as accelerating cooperation between the content and service provider communities.  The end goal is a win-win where the market for these sorts of services grows, losses are stemmed and profitability increases.  It is critical that all the players in the value chain understand how to work together to tackle these challenges."

Creating, delivering and monetising content and digital media services are creating new demands on business models and operations. Together, the Forums will address these demands and work with their respective members to address real, bottom-line-affecting issues. The collaboration of these two organizations will ensure the solutions span the entire value chain. Over the longer term, the TM Forum and MEF will look at the bigger picture of lowering the cost of rolling out content and media services across mobile networks. The aim of this long-term view will be to stimulate the ability of different players to effectively trade together in an automated fashion and grow the overall market by enabling new joint market approaches.

SMS still king
A new report from Portio Research focused on mobile messaging suggests that SMS will continue to be the cash cow of mobile data revenues for some time to come. Traffic volumes and revenues continue to confound predictions and are expected to keep growing throughout the global economic downturn. Indeed the whole mobile messaging industry worth USD 130 billion in 2008 is predicted to be worth USD 224 billion by 2013, 60 per cent of non-voice service revenues. The report, Mobile Messaging Futures 2008 - 2013, ventures that there is nothing likely to stop continued growth of mobile messaging in the short term, driven by a cocktail of ubiquitous SMS, media rich MMS, enterprise based mobile email and youth conscious mobile IM. 

SMS remains ‘king' because there is no cheap, easy to use alternative that will work with all phones and across all networks, it is loved the world over. Indeed in the US market, where SMS was a comparative slow starter, use per subscriber per month is now almost double the European average.  In China average users send over 100 messages each month whereas the Filipinos continue to be the leading exponents with 755 messages each month.
Portio also predict a bright future for mobile email even though Japan is the only market where consumer mobile email has surpassed the use of SMS. Email is still the most popular form of business communication and the report suggests that mobile email users worldwide will quadruple from approximately a quarter of a billion users in 2008 to over a billion users by the end of 2013.

The rising star in the mobile messaging constellation is mobile instant messaging (MIM), which is still beset by the technical problems of interoperability. Portio however predict exponential growth in mobile IM users, surging from a worldwide total of 111 million users in 2008 to hit a massive 867 million users by the close of 2013. This massive growth in users will be accompanied by an equally impressive 5-fold increase in revenues from approximately USD 2.5 billion in 2008 to approximately USD 12.4 billion in 2013. 

All eyes are on Barcelona, says Michael O'Hara, as the communications industry gathers for the 2009 Mobile World Congress

In February, the mobile communications industry will again converge on Barcelona for the GSMA Mobile World Congress.  Under the banner "Think Forward", the 2009 Mobile World Congress will draw executives from the world's largest and most influential mobile operators, software companies, equipment providers, internet companies and media and entertainment organizations.

By bringing together the leaders of companies across the broad communications sector, we'll be able to gain further insight into the significant challenges presently facing our industry, and focus on how we can leverage mobility to create new opportunities, and drive productivity and prosperity going forward. To that end, the GSMA is active in a number of initiatives across the industry, centering on the three key areas of Mobile Broadband, Mobile Lifestyle and the Mobile Planet. For example, our Mobile Broadband initiatives focus on the development of a ubiquitous Mobile Broadband infrastructure that will connect the world's population to the internet. Our Mobile Lifestyle initiatives concentrate on the creation of innovative services and experiences that will get delivered on this infrastructure. And through our Mobile Planet initiatives, we'll leverage the benefits of mobile communications to help enrich and improve the lives of individuals across the developing world. 

These themes and initiatives will be reflected throughout the 2009 Mobile World Congress conference programme and exhibition. The programme will focus on issues critical to the development of the mobile communications industry and will address topical areas including the adoption of advanced mobile broadband technologies, such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE), the shift to an open mobile ecosystem, and the proliferation of mobile entertainment and advertising services.

As always, the Mobile World Congress features a "who's who" of the communications industry.  This year's keynote speakers will address the challenges presented by the global economic slowdown, and outline strategies for sustaining growth not only in the core mobile arena, but across the rapidly expanding mobile ecosystem.   Keynote speakers include Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets; Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft; Chris DeWolfe, CEO and co-founder of MySpace; Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, President and CEO of Nokia; Simon Beresford Wylie, CEO of Nokia Siemens Networks; Paul Jacobs, President and CEO of Qualcomm; Josh Silverman, CEO of Skype; César Alierta, Executive Chairman of Telefónica;  Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President and CEO of Telenor Group; Dick Lynch, EVP and CTO of Verizon Communications; and Vittorio Colao, Chief Executive, Vodafone.

Mobile entertainment services and content are seen as key areas of growth for operators, handset and device vendors and traditional content providers.  To address these critical areas, the 2009 Mobile Backstage event will combine keynotes, sessions and discussions exploring the promise of film, music, advertising and gaming on the mobile medium. Additionally, Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey will deliver a keynote speech and host the MOFILM Mobile Short Film Festival.  The MOFILM Festival is the first of its kind and highlights the increasing influence of the mobile medium on the entertainment industry, bringing together art, commerce and technology. The 2009 initiative comes on a wave of a new generation of sophisticated multimedia-enabled mobile handsets and value-added operator services, providing new opportunities to enjoy short form video.

In addition to the conference sessions, the Mobile World Congress features the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry, showcasing mobile products and services from approximately 1,300 companies.  We'll also celebrate the innovation and achievements of the mobile industry; on Tuesday, 17 February, we'll host the Global Mobile Awards at Barcelona's National Palace overlooking the Fira, home of the Congress since 2006.
2009 is set to be a milestone year for the mobile communications industry.  While not immune to the global economic slowdown, the mobile industry will continue to grow.  Indeed, mobile services will help both small businesses and enterprises to weather the recession by helping them increase productivity and efficiency. Thanks primarily to strong demand in developing countries for voice, text and mobile internet access, and in developed countries for mobile broadband services, our industry is likely to pass the four billion connections mark in February and reach six billion by the end of 2012. The Mobile World Congress is where the decisions will be made to enable our industry to meet the demands of the future.

Michael O'Hara is the chief marketing officer for the GSM Association.

It's 8 am and Lucy's mobile email has stopped working.  She's nervous, out of time, and out of patience.  Arriving at the office, she manages to reach a live person after what seemed like an eternity on hold, only to be then led through a confusing set of menus and email settings. A half-hour later, the problem is solved, but is she really happy?  What was the impact on her loyalty, and the mobile operator's operational expenses?  How could this have played out differently? David Ginsburg looks at one type of technology that provides the mobile operator-for the first time-with direct over-the-air access to the phone when the subscriber calls for help, thus avoiding the error-prone and inefficient interplay between the frustrated subscriber and the frontline CSR that has been the norm since the birth of the industry

Everyone agrees.... mobile network operators are facing challenges in delivering quality customer care, especially in light of the explosive growth of smartphones. Indeed, in the next few years, smartphones are expected to account for more than 75 per cent of new devices shipped.  These phones, now entering the mass market, are often difficult or counterintuitive to use and expensive to support. And operators, in a rush to deliver the latest and greatest device in a brutal and unforgiving market, have less control over the stability of the software on these phones.  They face a sea change from a simple world where the handset either worked or was physically broken, to a more sophisticated, more complex world where it is easy to misconfigure advanced services and settings.  These factors all add up to additional support costs, service abandonment and subscriber churn.  Operators have two options: either hire more frontline help, at considerable cost, or hold the line on expenses, and risk reducing customer satisfaction and loyalty.  So how does MDM offer a way out?  If we look at the factors contributing to the customer care dilemma, they fall into three areas - handset recalls, handset returns due to usability, and configuration calls.  Mobile Device Management (MDM) can address all three areas.

Handset recalls
Handset recalls occur when the operator, working with the handset vendor, realizes that the handset, due to a hardware or software bug, is broken in some significant way.  Traditionally, the operator would issue a recall, forcing subscribers to bring their phones in to the store to be replaced or re-flashed.  This results in high per-device costs and does nothing to engender subscriber satisfaction.  Annual exposure amongst Tier-1 operators is upwards of $1.4 billion.  With FOTA (firmware over the air), MDM can address more than $500 million of that $1.4 billion, with this figure growing over time based on increasing FOTA client penetration and MDM server rollouts.  By 2013, MDM will be able to address a projected 75 per cent+ of expected handset recall exposure of $1.9 billion.  These savings, along with the positive impact on the subscriber experience, are compelling arguments in favor of FOTA. Add to them time-to-market advantages that the ability to update devices after they have left the factory provide operators with, and the FOTA value proposition becomes fairly clear.

Handset returns
Handset returns occur when a subscriber just can't seem to properly configure the phone. In fact, one in seven phones in North America, for example, are returned for this very reason. And of these returned phones, there is usually no fault found.  The global exposure for mobile operators from returns in 2009 will be $2.5 billion. MDM can initially address almost $400 million of this, growing to more than $1 billion in potential savings by 2013 through better control of configurations resulting in subscribers actually being able to use their phones and the shiny new billable features they have.

Configuration issues
The biggest support challenge mobile network operators face is configuration, with more than 30 per cent of all calls being configuration related. Tier-1 operators field tens of millions of these calls every year.  Typical reasons for calls include "My phone doesn't ring anymore," or "I cannot receive SMS messages." The subscriber may leap to the conclusion that the device is broken or the issue resides on the network but in most cases the phone not ringing any more is due to it being set to vibrate or not ring. Text messages not coming in or going out are often due to things like the SMS inbox being full.

In addition to problems like these, new device and service launches create their own problems. For example, navigation services result in an entirely new set of questions, including "Does it work with my phone?" or "I've loaded it, but it is not working."  And of course, the care organization must be trained in addressing these complaints.
The ability to significantly reduce configuration call times is perhaps the greatest benefit MDM brings to the table.  In fact, configuration issues alone present mobile operators with a staggering $21 billion bill each year, a figure forecast to grow rapidly with the adoption of the smartphone. But there is a light and the end of the tunnel.  As mentioned earlier, device management opens a real-time channel to the device, allowing the CSR to see into the device and when needed reach out and fix the phone. Gone are the days of walking confused and frustrated subscribers through a twisty little maze of menu choices, all alike. Instead, that frustration and wasted time can be replaced with a "wow" experience where the subscriber is surprised and delighted by how quickly and how completely his or her problem has been addressed.  The figure below illustrates just how dramatic an impact MDM can have on a typical call.

The bottom line
Ultimately, MDM may save operators globally a total of $3 billion in 2009 across the three areas described above - recalls, returns and configuration calls.  This will grow to $23 billion in 2013 due to increasing OMA-DM device penetration and operator familiarity with the technology.  Mapping this to the typical Tier-1, an operator with 50 million subscribers will enjoy $80 million in potential savings in 2009, providing more than enough validation for their MDM investment.  These numbers have been recently validated by the analyst firm Stratecast, providing the first third-party analysis of the positive impact of MDM on frontline care and customer satisfaction.

The call revisited
It's 8 a.m. when Lucy's mobile email stopped working.  She's nervous, out of time, and out of patience.  Arriving at the office, she manages to reach a live person, and is greeted with a very different dialogue.  While on-hold, the system had already polled the phone for its hardware and software status, and has determined if an update is recommended.  The agent then asks if she'd like her email settings checked against the operator's reference settings.  Of course, Lucy says yes.  The settings are retrieved, compared, and corrected in a matter of minutes, and Lucy is on her way.  Mobile Device Management, or MDM, is one technology that makes this all possible.

David Ginsburg is Vice President of Marketing and Product Management at InnoPath Software. He can be reached at dginsburg@innopath.com

The most credible revenue opportunities are focused around the metro rather than the core: residential multiplay, business managed services, next generation mobile, software as a service, etc. Service providers should now take a deep look at the metro networks they build, say David Noguer Bau and Jean-Marc Uzé, and evaluate the level of optimisation and the potential to evolve in step with the demand of new services

In the recent years a large portion of the SP infrastructure budget has gone to access and metro networks. These investments have been driven by the convergence of services to all-IP but unfortunately this has frequently translated to multiple networks, purpose-built for each service and application; paradoxically it was during convergence that multiple new networks have been built, converting it to a network divergent world.

It's now time for the transformation of networks into true convergence, driven by cost and simplification and, more importantly, driven by the potential of its future monetization.
A few years back, the architects of core networks were facing a similar situation; with the declining demand of TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) services and the emergence of Ethernet as the standard interface, the core required a major transformation for a true convergence. The issue here was to build a simplified network without unnecessary layers to enable the efficient coexistence of packets and circuits. The idea of layering, and of separating "services" and "infrastructure", was justified in order to allow for a very stable network, over which each service could be managed on its own. So a particular service failure would typically affect just that service. However today, with the success of a foundation multi-services layer based on IP/MPLS and deployed by the IP Services department, there are very few services directly built on top of the transport layer.

With the majority of revenues coming from the higher layers of the network most of the service providers have decided to go for a more pragmatic solution in the core: the integration of the transport and IP departments into a single group, to achieve better visibility of the layers required to build an efficient network and so simplify operations. New technologies such as PBB-TE or MPLS-TP emerged promising a future integration with the transmission elements, and ultimately providing an optimised model to the L0 to L2 services. However the transformed core networks are built with IP-MPLS over DWDM, leveraging the advantages of the two worlds and providing the flexibility and efficiency required by revenue-generating services, and avoiding the limitations of circuits-only or basic packet functionality. Moreover this allows the use of the same model, architecture and operational processes in the metro Ethernet as has been deployed in the backbones over the last 10 years.

Today's metro networks are already Ethernet centric, most of them with IP capabilities, but a large number of service providers still keep separated networks for business, residential and mobile operations. By keeping them separate, service providers are losing a valuable opportunity to capitalise on the synergies between them.

The main goals for convergence are: simplification, lower operating costs, flexibility. To achieve true convergence the service provider must look at the specific requirements of each service and application to integrate all of them successfully. Equally important is to integrate a greater resiliency and scalability across all services and applications. MPLS seems to provide all the ingredients for this mix.

The deployment of MPLS metro networks is not new, however due to the lack of scalability of some early implementations, many service providers decided to split the metro into the multiple networks they have today. MPLS now offers service providers the required scalability and tools for converged metro, and Juniper Networks can provide them in a cost effective way: LDP/BGP MPLS interworking, Point to Multipoint LSPs, unparalleled MAC address tables, L2 and L3 integration.

Purpose-built networks have resulted in faster service deployments in line with the required SLAs, but also in expensive, monolithic and rigid infrastructures unable to evolve with the services and the new demands. With the converged metro there's the risk of recreating again dedicated service delivery points in the edge of the network - bringing back most of the issues experienced in the past. A service-specific edge element can't evolve with new applications, and imposes a one-size-fits-all model not applicable to every service.
Service providers are seeing increasing value in deploying services in a more distributed fashion, such as: location-based services, local advertisement insertion, distributed caching of high-demanding services (video, P2P). But still, some services should remain centralised. As services evolve, the most efficient placement of their delivery points may change in order to scale according to user demand while optimising operational expenses.

The solution here should be based on adding an intelligent service plane so the metro nodes can run a variety of services. The service provider has to be able to decide which services he wants to deliver and where the services have to be enabled in order to match the required architecture for each individual service. This model virtually converts each metro node into a truly "Intelligent Services Edge". Also, with this model the service delivery point for each service can be anywhere, providing the required flexibility and ultimately translating to the expected service velocity and agility to innovate with creative services, retain existing and obtain new subscribers.

A converged MPLS metro network with built-in flexible service deployment brings to the service provider a significant competitive advantage with the richest available set of tools: L2 VPNs, IP VPNs, Intrusion Detection and Prevention (IDP), broadband Subscriber Management, Session Border Control (SBC).

We've seen how a uniform MPLS infrastructure provides seamless service continuity between core and metro so the services can be placed wherever they are most effective.
If the access, metro and core were all based on different technologies, moving a service around would be considerably harder, and may involve shifting boundaries or re-architecting the entire network.

Service providers look for service ubiquity across access technologies (xDSL, FTTx, 2G, 3G, 4G) and this requires a scalable resilient network. The Broadband Forum (BBF) is already debating  "MPLS to the Access Node" for such applications.

With end-to-end MPLS, from the moment that a customer packet enters the network until it exits the network, it will experience no breaks, no discontinuities, whether the customer is residential or business, fixed or mobile, commodity bit-pipe or deeply service- oriented, Layer 2 or Layer 3 or even Layer 7. The implementation of MPLS to the access node obviously provides convergence since the network is uniform. Furthermore, it provides true service flexibility to deploy the services when and where needed, as typically the access LSP becomes the access virtual link of any given service instance, hosted in the appropriate intelligent services edge. It also brings up new services quickly and easily, and moves them as their requirements evolve.

Building a single MPLS network as described, entails very large scaling requirements: from < 1000 nodes today to 10 to 100 thousand nodes in a single MPLS network all-encompassing: access, metro, core. It also requires robust protocols, devices and OAM; a low latency and resiliency levels to provide 50 millisecond service restoration. The network architecture required to achieve the above requirements must not constrain services in any way.
MPLS technology inherits from a hierarchical approach and inter-domain signalling (BGP) that makes possible a scalable end-to-end model. The architecture to achieve the above requirements will divide the network into "regions" and establish the demanded connectivity within them. The simplicity will be achieved by single IP connectivity for control plane and MPLS connectivity for all customer packets.

The network exists to enable services but unfortunately too often, the network architecture dictates which services can be offered. The services should determine connectivity paradigms, quality of experience and resiliency requirements.

Building a converged metro network and adding service delivery flexibility creates a significant competitive advantage to service providers who are focused on high-performance network infrastructure. Extending MPLS from the core to the metro and perhaps to the access nodes, provides a seamless service continuity with a better control of the subscriber experience and ultimately will bring the wanted monetisation of the network.

Intelligent service edge, coupled with MPLS in the access, provide the ultimate flexibility for service providers to offer any service, with appropriate scale while minimising the cost of managing them. Moreover, it allows the service providers to innovate by creating new services, ultimately allowing a non disruptive trial-and-error approach that, so far, generated the most profitable applications we can access to with internet.

Services are the reason subscribers will stay in your network.

David Noguer Bau and Jean-Marc Uzé, Juniper Networks

With peak data rates of 100Mbps+ downlink and 50Mbps+ uplink already being promoted by operators - a seven-fold increase from today's 3G High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) services - Long Term Evolution (LTE) will evolve wireless networks for the first time to an all-IP domain. Mike Coward and Manish Singh look at the role that emerging technologies like femtocells and deep packet inspection (DPI) will play as voice and data networks converge

Most of the industry is united in the common demand for mobile broadband, and there are certainly enough applications and content types to use up the 100Mbps downlink data rates of LTE. But the fact remains that subscribers will always demand more for less. Even if LTE delivers a seven-fold increase in data speeds, end users certainly won't pay any more for it, let alone seven times more for that privilege. Thankfully, LTE's spectral efficiency - four times that of 3G - can deliver some cost savings, but there needs to be a great deal more optimization before operators can make significant cuts to the cost per bit.

Before signing off on their LTE strategies, carriers need to answer some fundamental questions. How should capacity be increased to meet end-user demand? Where should this capacity be built into the network? How can operators slash the cost/bit without massive capital expenditure? These are questions that require an appreciation of subscriber behaviour. For example, one insight into today's subscribers is that nearly 60 per cent of today's voice calls start and finish inside a building. So what does this mean for data usage?
We submit that operators should consider the lessons learned from 3G roll-outs; recall that widespread 3G adoption took five years longer than the industry initially predicted. This fact, combined with the sky-high cost of obtaining 3G wireless spectrum, meant that return on investment (ROI) for 3G services was also delayed by five years. Meanwhile, the 2.1GHz spectrum wasn't effective for delivering on indoor coverage, causing a real customer satisfaction issue. And let's not forget the big upfront capital outlays required to build these national 3G networks, which didn't provide material cash flow until there was widespread adoption. Learning from these 3G lessons, it's clear that wireless operators need to find ways to ease into LTE deployment in a cost-effective, scalable manner that minimizes upfront investment and risk.
Fortunately, there is already a technology solution to address these basic yet important issues of increased coverage, more capacity, and reduced churn. Femtocells are small wireless base stations which sit in consumers' homes to provide a 3G air interface, thereby enabling 3G handsets to work much better indoors. By utilizing the consumer's IP broadband connection - such as DSL or cable modem - a femtocell is able to connect to the operator's 3G core network.
We believe mobile operators must leverage LTE femtocells, also known as Home eNodeBs (HeNBs), as part of their LTE network rollout strategy. By enabling carriers to build their LTE networks one household at a time, one femtocell at a time, operators can avoid huge upfront capital expenditure in building citywide and nationwide LTE networks. In other words, femtocells empower operators to augment capacity where it is needed the most - inside homes, offices, airports, etc. - while leveraging their existing 3G networks to provide widespread coverage.
Indeed, there will come a time when it will make economic sense for operators to build citywide macrocell LTE networks. Until that day, LTE femtocells offer operators the ability to expand networks in line with market demand and investment plans.
Thanks to minimal costs related to site acquisition, power, cooling, and backhaul, femtocells are the cheapest type of cell site an operator can deploy, all the while increasing capacity and driving down the cost/bit significantly. Because femtocell devices reside in consumers' homes, utilizing their existing electrical and broadband IP connections, most of the cost is passed to consumers.

It is important to remember that the 100Mbps+ downlink data rates, which LTE femtocells will deliver, cannot be supported by existing DSL or cable modems which currently achieve a maximum of 7-10Mbps. However, by 2010 when we expect LTE networks to begin roll-out, FTTx is likely to provide the baseline residential backhaul infrastructure, and early FTTx adopters are likely to also be the early LTE adopters.

LTE also faces other challenges as it reaches broader market rollout. For example, the proliferation of increasingly intelligent handsets and high wireless bandwidth - giving subscribers network connections equal or superior to personal computers on wireline broadband - mean LTE networks are likely to quickly become swamped with peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic and susceptible to the same type of aggressive network security attacks that afflict wireline networks.

Deep packet inspection (DPI) is one technology that is likely to take centre stage in ensuring LTE networks deliver the high-speed data rates that have been promised. DPI broadly refers to services that inspect the contents of packets, normally for the purposes of identifying the application, which are creating the traffic, such as Voice over IP (VoIP), P2P, e-mail, or Web page downloads. DPI systems take this information and trigger appropriate actions such as traffic shaping, traffic management, lawful intercept, caching, and blocking. DPI has already emerged as a key technology in managing the growth of data traffic in wireline networks.
P2P blocking and traffic shaping are typical of the highest profile DPI deployments in the wireline market to date. While U.S. cable provider Comcast's blocking policy received much criticism at the time, today the industry is coming to realize that some shaping of subscriber traffic is required. Furthermore, delivery of premium services (such as prioritized bandwidth) and the fulfilment of service level agreements (SLAs) can both be implemented with DPI. While initial DPI deployments have been focused in the fixed broadband arena, mobile DPI deployments are on the increase as wireless data traffic explodes, and analyst predictions suggest that mobile DPI revenues will exceed fixed DPI revenues by 2011.

In fact, DPI is arguably the most effective tool to re-take control of the network. When used to implement network-based security and prevent attacks from even reaching subscriber handsets, DPI makes it infinitely easier by blocking an attack in the network - closer to the source - to protect thousands or even millions of subscribers. DPI can also control P2P traffic by throttling it back in order to protect more valuable (and revenue-generating) web, e-mail, or mobile video traffic.

Another interesting perspective to consider is that consumers have come to expect flat-rate plans for their home broadband connection, and this paradigm now being replicated in the mobile broadband arena - the opposite of what wireless carriers had hoped for. Most major US carriers have already moved to a monthly flat rate for calling, short message service (SMS), and wireless data. Such a flat-rate pricing model leaves carriers searching for new and advanced services with a premium price tag, thereby empowering operators to recoup their investment in LTE technology.

DPI systems can provide the basis for delivering such innovative new services and thereby differentiate and generate additional revenue. For instance, operators might want to offer different bandwidth levels for different price plans, or speed boosts when connecting to affiliated network sites, or application-optimized packages that prioritize gaming, VoIP, and video conferencing traffic. DPI platforms also have a market intelligence benefit in helping carriers gather information on where data is used to help plan new service packages or create targeted mobile advertising.

When it comes to deciding where the DPI technology should sit in a wireless network, there is some debate. We believe the optimum approach is to include DPI functionality in the LTE network nodes themselves, particularly if those nodes are based on standards-based, bladed architectures like ATCA. Combining the functionality in this way reduces the number of separate "boxes" in the network and therefore removes some of the complexity and administration required. Packet latency through the system is also improved by reducing the number of hops, which is critical in maintaining good voice call performance in an all-IP network. A bladed environment where DPI and other functions can be mixed and matched also reduces rack footprint and lowers system cooling and management costs while giving carriers the option to upgrade DPI functionality as new threats and defences emerge.
While these are still very early days for LTE, femtocells provide a compelling alternative for how operators can build out their networks; operators can launch new services and higher data rates more quickly without the front-loaded capital expenditures normally required for building citywide and nationwide networks. Likewise, DPI provides solutions to the technical and security challenges posed by high-bandwidth LTE or 3G connections to increasingly open, intelligent, and sometimes vulnerable handsets. Together, Femtocells and DPI provides carriers with a new set of business tools to increase average revenue per user (ARPU) while delivering flexibility, customer satisfaction, and return on investment.

Mike Coward is CTO, Continuous Computing, and can be contacted via: mikec@ccpu.com
Manish Singh is VP Product Line Management, Continuous Computing, and can be contacted via: manish@ccpu.com

As financial turmoil rampages across the worlds' markets, Professor Janusz Filipiak, founder and chief executive of OSS/BSS provider Comarch, tells George Malim that he sees great opportunity as carriers seek to streamline their operations and get to grips with new business models, services and the complex new telecoms value chain

Comarch, the Polish IT solutions provider has been developing OSS/BSS systems for telecoms since 1993 and now provides a portfolio of systems and managed services to incumbent, broadband, triple play operators as well as MVNOs/MVNEs and start-ups. With a turnover of €170m, more than 3,000 employees and a customer roster that includes T-Mobile Germany and Austria, Bouygues Telecom France, O2 Germany and Polkomtel and PTC in Poland, the company has enjoyed a 33 per cent increase in turnover during the last five years. As the general economic crisis deepens, founder and chief executive, Professor Janusz Filipiak, thinks vendors will have to chase harder and act more cleverly to win deployments.
"Now all companies have to be mean and lean in the recession" he says. "We are very cost minded and every bit that is not needed is removed. You can't come to carriers with a higher price than your competitors. IT engineers are now a global resource and want the same payment in China or the UK, for example, so we are in the same position as all vendors. We can't compete on price so we can only be more intelligent and more effective than others. In spite of the recession we must now continue to invest in developing new products."
Current financial market woes aside, Comarch is heavily focused on the mobile market and recognises the challenges faced by operators. "In today's world of telecommunications, mobile operators are faced with the challenges resulting from market saturation in the majority of countries" adds Filipiak. "Innovative product offerings and enhanced service levels are indispensable in order to gain new customers and prevent churn. Operators are searching for the Holy Grail of telco that will prevent ARPU from decreasing. As voice is still the ‘killer application', we see data and value added services as a fast growing market. Other trends are still ahead of us such as seeing strong market competition from global corporate customers seeking the best deals from global mobile groups."

Filipiak also sees great potential in currently non-mobile operators. "Keeping in mind that everything eventually goes mobile, we haven't forgotten the great potential of fixed broadband operators, cable TV providers and triple and quad play operators" he says. "We target different segments of the market while not focusing exclusively on a single one."
Pre-paid billing has been one of the major functions carriers have sought during the life of Comarch but, as bundled and flat-rate packages become more popular, Filipiak sees it's emphasis waning. "Today there are not too many content services available but they will come" he says. "Video streaming will put new requirements on bandwidth and devices. It will be very resource consuming and will be charged via pay-per-use. The experience won't be very different to paying for bandwidth or connection time with voice. Pre-paid is a method of payment which is still the most popular for the youngest segments of users, but pre-paid is becoming less related to cheap prices - because those are achievable in post-paid models as well - than to a philosophy of ‘no contract, no obligation'."

Flat-rate offers will be harder to make business sense of. "Flat rate is only viable in a world with unlimited capacity" adds Filipiak. "Flat-rate packages make a difference in the final price of services but the introduction of real flat-rate, where everything is included and mobile access is a commodity like internet or electricity or gas, will lead to a weakening of pre-paid which will favour post-paid."

Filipiak sees the market moving in this direction. "We can see that many players are moving towards a mix of post-paid with a significant amount of free minutes, SMS and MMS in a bundle," he adds. "This offer is really close to an actual flat rate and assures stable revenue for providers as well as strong customer loyalty and a resulting decrease in churn. My mantra in telecoms is that customers now expect everything to be easy."

The emergence of mobile content and the move to data services put obvious pressure on carriers' systems and the telecoms revenue chain has become much more complex. Comarch has long been prepared for this shift, as Filipiak attests: "The revenue chain is more complex and an operator is now not the only one that provides the services delivered. Service ‘sponsoring', third-party service providers, resellers and service dealers introduce the need for multi-party billing and put more pressure on monitoring quality of offerings," he says. "Our solutions also address and deal with the complexity that content and data services bring in wholesale, next generation TV, content distribution, service creation and control. We address these needs through our InterPartner Billing solution. On the OSS side, we provide service level management and service level inventory, our flagship OSS products, which enable service modelling of resources and services provided by different parties along with pro-active quality monitoring and management."

Comarch has grown from its eastern European roots and now has operations in 30 countries and addresses operators of all sizes and types, as Filipiak explains: "The Comarch brand is recognised in the telecoms world," he says. "We've been in the industry for 15 years and time is now working for us. Our biggest customers for specialised OSS solutions are Tier 1 operators. Large operators with 10 million subscribers are customers for our InterPartner Billing and, when it comes to independent operators, we have about 30 per cent of the local market as clients for integrated BSS and OSS/BSS solutions. We also target the largest CATV and broadband operators offering convergent services. Our strategy also addresses global players where we can offer the best value, give good prices, still be flexible and deliver enterprise level services."

In spite of the general economic downturn, Filipiak still sees great opportunities emerging. One area is that of next generation mobile networks and self-optimising networks. "Such concepts will invite carriers to look for solutions outside the long established segments of OSS, such as Inventory Management, configuration Management and Network planning," he says. "It will not be sufficient to cover one area in the future; instead co-operation of the planning and operations areas will be needed where we see an opportunity for us. In addition, carriers are now more oriented towards a loose coupling of functional modules and standard interfaces that make it easier for smaller players, like us."

New means of delivering solutions are also critical. "With our future proof architecture of solutions, we can address modern modularity concepts and tendencies that now exist in the market," adds Filipiak. "The openness and standard interfaces in high level OSS products is the key and customers can choose the best modules for their operations. This provides a possibility to reduce opex by utilising new business models for our customers, network virtualisation, distribution and outsourcing of operations and hosting solutions."

Regardless of the current economic gloom, Filipiak believes a new investment wave must come to the telecoms market. "Investment must happen because there will be greater demand" he says. "Physical travel will be a high cost so there will be more load on existing networks."

Carriers face massive challenges in spite of the increased demand for their network capacity and services. "In the international mobile groups, unification and co-operation issues are still of key importance in order to gain competitive advantage on the global market" he says. "Outsourcing of operations has become very popular but unsurprisingly it has turned out not to be a remedy for everything. Carriers still need to adapt their business processes and way of thinking to this new model. On the other hand, the need to reduce capex is forcing carriers to introduce scenarios of sharing physical resources, such as radio masts."
Filipiak also identifies additional challenges such as churn prevention, automatic client profiling and concentrated web-based marketing campaigns, as issues carriers will need to address.

Winning business from the large carrier groups against this backdrop is, without doubt difficult.

"International groups are certainly challenging customers" admits Filipiak. "National companies differ in software environments, processes and levels of maturity as well as corporate and national culture. They therefore require a flexible approach in implementation strategy and software functionality and look for a common architecture for their network as well as their IT systems. Such carriers pay a lot of attention to building up corporate standards at the services level and business process levels in order to achieve a common view."

Good products, knowledge and proven experience are the ways to win this type of business. "No power point slide solutions can be sold anymore," adds Filipiak. "It takes a lot of time and money but these are the only ways to win contracts with groups."

However, winning such business is never achieved on a static battlefield. Carrier consolidation continues and that can be both a threat and an opportunity for solutions vendors. "On one had, it is difficult because some groups will enforce product choices at the global level, and it may be more difficult for Comarch to gain a global recommendation in a large group since we have to fight for our portion of the market with much stronger players" says Filipiak. "On the other hand, consolidation forces carriers to unify their OSS/BSS landscapes and this is a good opportunity to change long-established solutions for something new and fresh. Heterogeneous environments of global groups with plenty of flavours in different countries require a great level of flexibility that Comarch can provide. We already have positive experience with such projects, for example our experience with T-Mobile, that enables us to be optimistic for the future."

"Ultimately, we must live with the situation" adds Filipiak. "We're a service company and it's not our job to comment or expect specific customers to behave in any particular way. The level of consolidation is already very high so we may not see much more, in any case."
It's not only carrier consolidation that presents challenges to vendors, though. Carriers are at different stage of their business and that places a development burden on all vendors as they seek to develop systems applicable to individual carrier needs.

"Comarch builds its solutions for different segments of the telco market," says Filipiak. "We offer both pre-integrated solutions for small business, such as an integrated BSS/OSS solutions for an MVNO, and complex solutions tailored specifically for the needs of large players. We have frameworks and modules of software but we've never sold it without adaptation. In the end, it is always a construction job. You have modules but ultimately you must put them together in different ways."

Comarch has grown organically since its inception in 1993 and has shunned much of the mergers and acquisition activity that has occurred in the OSS/BSS sector in recent years. "Our product portfolio follows unified design principles and is not the result of an acquisition of missing parts," explains Filipiak. "This gives us the possibility to offer seamlessly integrated solutions and products that complete while at the same time not redundant in functionality."

Inevitably, for all rules there are exceptions, and Comarch has recently announced an agreement to acquire 50.15 per cent of Frankfurt listed company SoftM und Beratung AG for a transaction that could exceed €22m. The German software producer and systems integrator employs 420 personnel and supplies more than 4,000 customers.

Filipiak is open to further moves although they will be well considered. "Acquisition, yes but only in a way that we can handle along with continued organic growth. There will be no miracle from us, just steady organic growth."

Filipiak also rejects any notion of selling the company. "The company isn't for sale. My family has a controlling stake and I'm not going to sell now. The company's value is increasing and the scope of the business grows every day."

George Malim is a freelance communications journalist

Keith Willetts uses his considerable experience of the communications industry to fuel a journey into the future and finds a comparatively optimistic landscape - provided regulators and governments recognise their vital role in encouraging investment

So the holiday is over; it's snowing; the power just went off; another retailer just went bankrupt and the media are keeping up their unrelenting glee at how awful the coming year is going to be. So not a great backdrop to an article on what the future might have in store for the communications industry!

But looking at life through such a gloomy lens clouds the reality that the communications industry has fantastic prospects. Recessions are like forest fires - sure, they do a lot of damage, but they also help foster renewal and new plants to thrive. There isn't a business on the planet right now that isn't looking at how to work more efficiently and market more effectively - and that's an incredible opportunity for our industry that enables both these things to occur. Economies could save themselves trillions by much more widespread net-enabled home working, swapping the ever burgeoning physical transport of commuting for communications. TV stations are falling over themselves to launch online replay services to catch those programs you missed while out partying, to play on the record numbers of large screen TV's sold this Christmas; Nokia launches phones with ‘all you can eat' music included; Nintendo is launching an online TV service to exploit the millions of net connected Wii's out there.... The list goes on and on - all drivers for growth of the communications industry.
But not the industry we've known in the past. The high cost base, slow moving and weak innovation communications industry of the past will be consigned to history by this recession. Those companies that have not embarked on moving to a lean, agile and innovative business model, or those companies that have but are deciding they can't afford the costs of change will suffer badly in the coming months. Trying to compete in the second decade of the 21st century with business models, processes and systems suited to the 1990's will simply not wash. In the past, service growth masked the need for fundamental and serious change but that growth runs out of steam with market saturation or recession.

So the old adage of ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going' could not be truer in today's communications markets. Winners will be those companies who spot opportunities that the recession creates and transform their business delivery to an ultra low cost; highly automated and integrated approach. Losers will be those players who batten down the hatches, cut investment and hope for better times - they simply won't come.

At its core, the communications business is a transport business. Instead of physical goods, our transport business shifts digital information in ever increasing quantities but at prices that aren't going to keep pace with that growth. So what's new?  PC processors, memory, in fact most consumer goods, survive in a market where the capability goes up continuously while the price comes down. Companies like Intel and Dell have built business models that can thrive on that approach and communications providers can too. Out with multiple networks, one for each service; out with hundreds or even thousands of disjointed and fragmented back office systems that are replicated for each service yet can't communicate with each other or provide even a consolidated bill to a customer. Out with months of battling with different barons who own resources to get a new service launched. In with one, multi-service network infrastructure; in with one highly integrated and automated suite of business processes designed around the customer, not the network.

Market change has been happening gradually for a number of years but the recession will sharply accelerate the need for change and new investment, not slow it down. At the TM Forum, we work with over 700 member companies from 75 countries to develop and deliver industry roadmaps, guidebooks, best practices, training, conferences, benchmarks and industry research on how to make that investment journey as painless and as low risk as possible. The question for CEOs and Boards to consider right now is this: "What is worse - the costs and risks of changing to meet the coming challenges or not changing gears and not being able to compete in a transformed marketplace?"

But service providers can't do this alone. Their markets are not unfettered models of capitalism where investment can flow to fuel opportunities - they are distorted by regulation. Regulators must play their part by making some fundamental changes in how they govern the industry, if we are going to get the kind of innovative, high quality and low cost services that we need. For too long regulators have been preoccupied with stopping rather than enabling - curbing rather than liberating. And while we undoubtedly have a much more open marketplace, we also have an industry that is not investing enough to meet growing market needs because of business uncertainties created by regulation. 

Take, for example, access networks. The growth of demand for access network bandwidth is growing along Moore's law lines - yet regulators and governments continue to bleed the industry dry though spectrum auctions or creating major uncertainties over investment returns for upgrades to fibre.  Despite marketing hype, there isn't a fixed line player in the world investing in fibre access at a rate that is likely to keep up with demand. Innovations like the TV merging with the PC, innovations like HD and 3D TV coming on stream; bandwidth demand will grow at a much faster rate than fibre can be installed.

ADSL has a theoretical maximum speed of about 25M but in practice 8M is much more realistic and many users (like me) have to put up with 0.5M if they are lucky. Just like the early days of mobile, we were prepared to put up with poor service because the gain outweighed the pain. Even if network operators started to invest in major fibre rollouts tomorrow, we are talking five to ten years to complete the task for many countries. What do we think the average home will be using online services for by 2015?  But of course almost no access fibre is rolling out because regulators have been so exercised about opening up access networks they have forgotten that people only invest if there is a return at the end of it.

Nicholas Negroponte once described high priced 3G bandwidth auctions as ‘condemning our children to an information poor society'. I'd include the lack of action by regulators to create a sensible investment climate for infrastructure change as part of that condemnation. Fibre technology has been around for a couple of decades and in the beginning, service providers could not get excited about replacing copper phone lines with fibre ones. But the ability of today's information society to fill networks as exponentially as we fill hard disks, means that there will be no shortage of applications to use that capability (I just saw interactive 3D TV in Japan!).  But where will the networks be to fuel that growth - still on the drawing board unless governments stop using the rear-view mirror as a navigation aid.

The recession raises the stakes for the communications industry - there will be winners but also many losers. Service providers must take huge gambles and invest in renewing their infrastructure, their processes and their systems. Many won't take that risk and in five years' time probably won't be around, but regulators and legislators owe it to the people who pay their wages to do everything they can to encourage that investment and in turn benefit their economies.

Let's look back five years from now and see this recession as the turning point that delivered us a 21st century communication infrastructure and a set of lean and agile 21st century providers and not as the period that set us back a decade by not making the transformational leap we have to perform.

Keith Willetts is Chairman and CEO, TM Forum www.tmforum.org

Lynd Morley searches for light in the economic gloom

As we begin the new year, the term ‘economy', presented in any word association game, would undoubtedly elicit such well-worn  (some might say overworked) responses as ‘credit-crunch', ‘downturn', ‘recession', even ‘depression' - reflections of the continued deeply negative mood in the financial capitals of the world, the various industrial heartlands, and the international media.

Yet there are some positive lights flickering in the almost impenetrable gloom - not just at the end of the tunnel, but  fairly and squarely at the very point of the tunnel we now find ourselves at.  One of those lights is the information and communications technology industry, and while the telecoms market is not immune to present economic tribulation, opportunities do loom, as real time communication becomes more imperative in business, and remains an essential part of our social existence. Certainly, according to Frost & Sullivan's principal analyst, Sharifah Amirah, telecoms is one of the few industries which has a "strong leg to stand on and is likely to gain from the downturn" in the economy.

Amirah is not alone in injecting a slightly more positive note to the discussion - specifically where telecoms is concerned (see also Keith Willetts' comments in this issue of European Communications, on pages 14-16).  He notes that in the face of economic adversity, enterprises will be looking to minimise risk and improve operational efficiency, and this focus on core competencies and reducing operational costs will open doors for IT and telecommunication service providers.

At the same time, rising unemployment rates and falling GDP growth are forcing end users to spend less money on entertainment and digital communication.  In light of this reduced consumer spending, Amirah sees pricing as a short term priority for service providers. In the mid-term, he says, value added services and innovative distribution models will be key to growth.  And while the focus will be very much on surviving the next couple of years, a clear sight of further horizons should still be retained.  

In the longer term three key themes will prevail - mobility, content and bandwidth.
Amirah sees the industry moving towards divestment, consolidation, collaboration and greater investments in research and development. Service providers with strong fundamentals will survive the storm and transform into more streamlined entities. Sharing business risk and securing more immediate returns on investments will offer a basis for both vendors and service providers to capitalise on new opportunities.

In term of the public sector, several governments have already channelled resources towards digital infrastructure as a reboot mechanism for the economy. This would provide a stimulus not only for the ICT industry but will potentially see an improvement of digital public services such as e-health and e-procurement.  

On the whole, for telecoms at least, the outlook is far from gloomy.  Indeed the flickering lights threaten to illuminate the much vaunted but almost universally ignored need to resurrect confidence in the economy in order to begin some return to financial health.

The MPLS & Ethernet World Congress 2009 conference agenda will pay particular attention to Ethernet and MPLS transport standards and mechanisms.  Video transport, services and mobile backhaul will also be covered in detail.

Meanwhile, the traditional debate, will, this year, address access and transport, two of the main issues for both MPLS and Carrier Ethernet infrastructures.  As each year, the panel will propose what the organisers describe as "a fruitful confrontation" between equipment vendors and service providers.

During the event, the third edition of the Carrier Ethernet Workshop will discuss technological and implementation issues in parallel with the traditional MPLS tutorial addressed by the MFA.  The workshop will be addressed by the MEF ambassadors for the standardisation process review.  Other sessions will welcome vendors for business models and solutions descriptions and carriers for deployment reports.

The Congress, organisers Upper Side are happy to point out, owes much of its success to the interoperability platform.  The major manufacturers all participate in this platform showcasing service and product interoperability. 

The European Advanced Networking Test Centre in collaboration with Upper Side will invite industrialists to a multi-vendor MPLS & Ethernet interoperability in January 2009.
The EANTC will evaluate state-of-the-art MPLS & Ethernet architectures and applications in a detailed technical hot-staging.

The test results will be demonstrated in a public showcase during the event.  Service providers will support the preparation of the test plan and participate in the hot-staging and public event.

Participation is open to all vendors of MPLS routers and switches, traffic emulators and analysers, provisioning and fault-management vendors.

During the 2008 event, EANTC and the participating vendors showcased a complete mobile backhaul transport network supporting MEF and IP/MPLS Forum defined services.
The interop platform demonstrated devices' capabilities in constructing mobile backhaul networks and the ability to interoperate with other leading vendors in the industry.
Mobile application vendors (3GPP, 4G, WiMax) attached their equipment to the backhaul network to demonstrate service interoperability and to enable mobile application demonstrations at the public showcases.

MPLS & Ethernet World Congress 2009, 10-13 February, Marriott Rive Gauche, Paris.

With the development of new Carrier Ethernet technology and service definitions - including E-Tree, E-Line and E-Lan - and the growing awareness among business customers of the availability of L2VPN services offering comparatively low-cost P2P and multipoint connectivity, data/Ethernet product managers are in a good position to generate increasing revenues from this attractive suite of new services.

At the same time, however, competition in the Metro Ethernet P2P service marketplace is driving down prices, and there is a question mark over the sustainability of a business focussing purely on business customers and offering only basic interface limited, P2P services.  A new generation of Ethernet Services, provided by ambitious, lean alternative carriers threatens to seriously undermine existing customer relationships. 

The organiser of Ethernet Services Product Evolution, IIR, points out, therefore, that this is hardly the time for hesitation, stressing that the event will enable attendees to gather information and make contacts that will help them develop a strategy to compete in the increasingly competitive market for business and wholesale Ethernet services. 
Whether attendees are targeting business customers looking for data centre connectivity/managed services, internal customers looking for converged access solutions or wholesale customers looking for Ethernet access solutions, IIR claims the event will help them make the right choices in this rapidly evolving business area.
The event is intended to help in a number of areas, including

  • Finding out how Product Managers from service providers in similar and competitive positions are developing Ethernet service portfolios
  • Developing a clear understanding of the dynamics of the legacy, L2 and IPVPN markets and understanding how to maximise the value of each within their portfolios
  • Gaining a detailed understanding of the options for differentiation against competitors' services
  • Developing a comprehensive understanding of the evolution options from simple P2P Ethernet services with dedicated bandwidth to a full range of QoS enabled Ethernet services
Ethernet Service Product Evolution, 2-4 February, Brussels Marriott Hotel, Brussels.

Taking a highly targeted, strategic approach to market entry and operation is the key to success in emerging markets says Simon Vye

For service providers considering entering an emerging market, there are far more challenges than may be first realised; cultural differences and idiosyncrasies are important and need to be taken into account, but it's the political hurdles that may present the biggest challenge.

Before considering the point further, we must establish exactly what we mean by the term "emerging markets". Officially, an emerging market is one with a relatively low per capita income, which, more importantly, has a high potential for economic growth. However, there are different stages of emergence to consider. Economies will start as "developing", offering little in the way of infrastructural, regulatory or political support for foreign investors. As these economies evolve, communications infrastructure is one of the first critical foundations laid which allow business to thrive and the economy to grow.

Hot spots such as China, Vietnam and India are popular emerging markets in Asia, while areas of the Middle East such as United Arab Emirates, and Eastern Europe, such as Hungary or Poland, are also rising in popularity. Analyst house IDC, highlighted Pakistan as the biggest spender on telecommunications services in early 2008 but also predicted that Vietnam would have overtaken that market by the end of the year. However, as a whole, the Asia-Pacific telecommunications market was set to grow 11 per cent in 2008, providing a wealth of opportunity for telecommunications providers around the world.

The global economic landscape is constantly changing. In spite of recent economic turmoil, the opportunities offered by emerging economies provide new avenues for savvy telecoms strategists. The old cliché of the ‘global village' is now firmly established as the status quo and we are living in a truly connected world. Multinational organisations must constantly seek new ways to mitigate the risks, whilst drawing maximum benefits, from entering new markets. Businesses serious about competing on the global stage expect to be able to communicate instantaneously, efficiently and cost-effectively no matter where in the world they, or their customers, may be.

These expectations in turn create opportunities for the telecommunications industry to provide consistent quality and depth of service across geographically dispersed sites. Core services such as Ethernet private lines (EPL), IP-VPN and MPLS networks offer international companies peace of mind that their communications infrastructure is robust, allowing them to concentrate on their core objective of growing the bottom line. New communications capabilities are also allowing organisations to cut business travel costs through video or web conferencing and unified communications strategies, providing new avenues for cost reduction as well as revenue growth.

In order to attract increased foreign investment, governments in many emerging markets have reviewed their protectionist policies, setting up special economic zones (SEZs) and other incentives to attract the multinational leaders to their shores. In May 2008, the Chinese government announced a plan to restructure its telecommunications industry in order to make it more competitive. This move, which aims particularly to create more competition for China Mobile, the world's largest carrier by subscriber base, has received a mixed reaction from both Chinese and global industry players. In general, it should be considered a positive move for a traditionally sheltered market.

In addition, emerging markets often turn to the developed western economies for best practice in industries such as professional and financial services. However, unlike their western counterparts who have to take account of legacy hardware, infrastructure or technique, emerging markets often adopt a big bang approach to their telecommunications and IT infrastructure, leapfrogging the benchmark to set a new global standard.
A perfect example of this is the deployment of fibre to the home (FTTH) in South Korea, providing South Korean consumers with ultra-fast broadband internet access for a fraction of the price of the slower copper-based UK network.

While the benefits of entering new markets are clear; access to workforce, expanded customer base, new business opportunities; companies must be aware of the potential pitfalls which stand in the way of success.

The first issue which organisations are increasingly looking to address, by investing serious capital, is the often gaping cultural divide between the new host market and that of the organisation's home. This challenge is nothing new but it can cause serious problems when ignored or handled clumsily. With Japanese etiquette for example, the observation of hierarchy and relationship-centric business communication is the stuff of international management legend, a host of embarrassing anecdotes and libraries full of guides to ‘doing business in Asia'. However, should organisations apply the same rules and approaches to all Asian markets, such as Vietnam for instance? And what about other emerging markets in Europe or even Africa?

In spite of emerging markets' increasingly proactive approaches to attract foreign investment, from a telecommunications point of view, many markets remain highly restricted. Deregulated markets such as Japan, Hong Kong and Australia are open to new market entrants who are able to compete effectively to the benefit of customers. However, markets such as China and Cambodia are much more restricted, preventing telecoms service providers from acquiring or controlling national operators.

Red tape is often the cause of unexpected frustration for companies new to a market, and can act as a disincentive for doing business. The World Bank estimates that Indian senior managers, for example, spend 15 per cent of their time dealing with regulatory issues, far more than the Chinese. Without extensive research, companies moving into these markets can find their progress blocked by confusing regulations and compliance demands. Compliance is also an issue that can complicate matters significantly. For customers in the banking and financial services industry for example, service providers must be aware of the compliance requirements of the host market, as well as those of the home market. Often, global organisations are governed and regulated according to the standards of more developed markets. In the case of companies operating from the US for example, failure of an overseas branch of an international bank to comply with US legislation can cause legal ramifications and damage to its brand value and reputation.

So, how can a service provider in an emerging market drive top-line growth and improve profitability quickly? The key to success lies in taking a highly targeted, strategic approach to market entry and operation. The growth potential for emerging economies is such that they are often highly competitive environments with companies trying to secure first mover advantage without truly understanding the individual challenges of the market. They may also not fully understand the needs of the potential customer base either within that market, or wishing to enter that market.

As these markets consolidate through competition, the organisations that have developed strong and lasting relationships, as well as a deep understanding of the local market forces, will be the ones to thrive. There are a number of ways to ensure success in emerging markets.

The first is to take the time to really understand your target audience. Many international companies based in Europe are now turning to emerging markets in the Middle East as well as Asia to expand their market presence and develop new revenue streams. These organisations need the same quality network security and performance that they expect in their home markets. They may also wish to take advantage of similar products such as managed hosting and IT services, which may not necessarily be as advanced in certain markets.

Secondly, service providers should implement a simple, flexible network architecture that allows customers to accelerate the roll-out of new services.  Partnership is a crucial element of this approach as laying your own cable may simply not be an option in heavily regulated markets. Telstra International lays approximately one kilometre of new cable each week but also partners extensively with tier 1 carriers in emerging markets to ensure maximum coverage.

When choosing a partner for emerging markets, service providers should look to the local providers that have a strong network footprint in the key growth regions. Their networks should also be based on an advanced MPLS-IP backbone and they should have the capability to offer managed IP services. Often, as the markets slowly open up to deregulation, new carriers created within the country have greater opportunity to take on the previous national incumbents, well before foreign carriers are allowed to enter the market. These providers tend to be more agile than the larger market leaders, allowing them to bring new services to market much faster on behalf of its customers.

In essence, moving into emerging markets is a long term process which requires both careful planning and rapid deployment of services in order to capitalise on the growing economies. In the current economic climate, it is more important than ever to choose partners carefully in order to offer multinational customers a tier 1 carrier service across the board, no matter where in the world they may operate.

Simon Vye is CEO Telstra International EMEA.

The New Regulatory Framework (NRF) for the telecoms sector that was proposed in November 2007 by the Commission is now entering the last phase of what have been tedious and sometimes acrimonious negotiations. The Council of Ministers examined a number of key regulatory proposals at the end of November and a consensus is now emerging. The EC is expected to adopt the framework in early 2009.

The backdrop of this process has of course been the current financial crisis and, more recently, talks of recession in Europe. So what regulatory measures are likely to emerge from these negotiations and will the new framework be appropriate for recession times?
The Commission's proposals have been significantly watered down by both the Council of Ministers and the EU Parliament. As a result the current ‘consensus' version of the NRF, that will shape regulation in Europe over the next five years, is less ambitious than the initial draft on a number of key points.

As far as spectrum regulation is concerned the ambitious market centric plans initially proposed by the Commission have largely been rejected. The resulting status quo caters for the political and social concerns of member states and will probably be easier to manage in a difficult economic climate but may need to be revisited in a few years time.

The idea of a "super EU regulator", originally proposed by the Commission, is being replaced by the a new entity (tentatively called Group of European Regulators in Telecoms or GERT) that will be an independent body as opposed to a new EU agency. This means less power than envisaged to the Commission and more power to national regulators.

The controversial proposals aimed at giving the power to mandate functional separation of dominant operators to the national regulatory authorities have been kept but are now considered a "last resort" measure to be applied in "extraordinary" circumstances. As a result the burden of proof required for national regulators to select and implement separation is likely to be very high. The economic climate is not conductive to separation plans in the short term as these often involve important one off costs and can trigger in some cases the need for the renegotiation of the operators' debt. The new text is however only a partial victory for a number of incumbent operators as separation could still be mandated in the future.

Access to fibre based new generation networks is likely to be mandated in most cases but the prices charged by incumbents to new entrants will have to reflect the appropriate investment risk in order to preserve investment incentives. The exact methodologies to assess the returns allowed on these new investments have yet to be agreed though so the regulatory visibility is only partial. The explicit recognition of the need to incentivise investment is however good news for operators in a difficult economic environment.
Meanwhile market evidence suggests that many operators and equipment manufacturers in Europe are suffering from the current economic climate. First, the share price of most telecoms firms has tumbled and this has raised fears of aggressive takeovers and further consolidation. Second, both business and residential markets are softening with anecdotal evidence of reduced call volumes and shifts from expensive price plans/packages to cheaper ones when existing contract terms expire. Third, the switch to VoIP based solutions seems to be accelerating and while a number of players will benefit from this trend, the net result will be an overall decline in call revenues for the industry. Fourth, some of the investment intensive strategies that were under consideration are being reviewed and postponed.  For example, a number of investment plans in New Generation Networks are likely to be impacted.

The telecoms sector however went through a significant wave of structural rationalisation and consolidation following the dot com burst and is likely to be more resilient as a result. Also communications services are not as cyclical as some other industries such as luxury goods or retail. Lastly many customers are still under "fixed fee" contracts (fixed or mobile) and revenues will only be impacted when these expire.

While it would be wrong to design a regulatory framework with short term economic considerations in mind (the text will only be made into national laws in 2010/2011 after all) it is clear that some of the concerns of key market players have influenced the text of the current draft New Regulatory Framework.

Benoit Reillier is a Director and European head of the telecommunications and media practice of global economics advisory firm LECG.  The views expressed in this column are his own.



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