Bob Drummond discusses how operators can benefit from an agile, flexible and open platform to proactively deliver dynamic services to their customer base
What do the Glastonbury music festival, the Rugby World Cup and the Oscars have in common? They are all high profile, internationally broadcast events that draw attention from millions of fans and dominate the agendas of society, newspapers and television for the short period of their duration.
These are all events that operators could capitalise on if they had the flexibility and agility to rapidly and economically deploy innovative services on their networks, even for a short period of time. For operators on the lookout for new revenue streams or the next ‘sticky’ application, this is a golden opportunity to engage new and existing mobile subscribers by riding the wave of highly popular live events with the offer of exciting applications.
Over the recent Cricket World Cup, what cricket fan would not enjoy winning a game involving the same team and opponents on his or her mobile phone? If your team didn’t win, replay the game on your mobile and see if you could have done better! Next time you’re on your way to watch your favourite football team play, what if you could play the match on your mobile – complete with the same starting team on the pitch and on the bench, correct strip, same opponent players and the same conditions…even down to the weather conditions?
With higher return visits to the application promised through this dynamic, always-fresh approach, and premium revenues on offer, what is holding operators back from introducing services, applications or games aligned to such headline-making events? Beyond understanding the opportunities presented by such events, how do operators meet the technological challenges that ensure that customers are happy with the new services they receive?
The telecoms industry is challenged to achieve a business model that keeps costs down, maintains innovation and responds to competition from within and outside of its own marketplace. All of this whilst still creating profit and new revenue streams to stay in the game. The most difficult aspect of this challenge, however, has been created over the years by the operators themselves. It is the legacy of a history of growth that has seen additional, proprietary infrastructure systems installed for each wave of evolution and has resulted in vertically-oriented and proprietary systems’ infrastructures.
Proprietary Intelligent Network (IN) systems are typically monolithic in structure, with hardware, software and applications tightly integrated and designed to operate well as a unit. As a consequence they are expensive to maintain and enhance because operators are restricted to using the services of the vendor even for minor enhancements to the system. This creates a ‘lock-in’ environment where operators become increasingly reliant on the vendor for its ability to innovate. A new service capability can take years and millions of dollars to deploy in this environment, vastly affecting the feasibility, cost and timescale of bringing new services to market.
Furthermore, the telecoms industry has typically invested in applications and platforms as and when needed, resulting in a mix of incompatible development, deployment and operational environments. Typically, the switching and services layers of the IN will be organised vertically – rather than with integration across the rest of the infrastructure in mind – producing a complex series of silo-based architectures where the cost to develop, deploy and maintain exciting new services for all subscribers is too high. The obstruction to innovation in new multi-media, multi-access, multi-network services means that operators face difficulties in delivering the rich, converged services that their customers want and that differentiate them in a crowded marketplace.
The ability to offer new services that piggyback high profile events such as a World Cup or the Live8 music festival requires a degree of agility and flexibility that silo design and proprietary lock-in of legacy infrastructures obstructs. So, without heavy investment in a new convergent architecture, what can operators do?
The answer lies in open standards. Compared to the world of Internet and enterprise applications, developing telecoms services on the traditional proprietary IN platforms is an outdated approach that is time-consuming and expensive. Proprietary, vertically-integrated systems need to make way for openness, modularity and portability to create an environment for cost-effective service development.
Operators have spent a decade demanding open platforms from their suppliers, even introducing a series of open standards initiatives, such as Parlay and JAIN, to drive this agenda.
JAIN SLEE is the open Java standard that is tailored to the large-scale execution of communications services across existing and Next Generation Networks. With JAIN SLEE-compliant application servers providing an open, flexible and carrier-grade service execution platform, operators can achieve agility in service development and deployment, and also capitalise on cost leadership. Application development is no longer controlled by the proprietary vendors, but open to input from operator’s own in-house development and a competitive market of off-the-shelf application developers.
In this dynamic environment, a range of application developers can quickly and cost-effectively address market opportunities and roll out services in conjunction with events that hit their audience’s agenda. As JAIN SLEE addresses the need for a horizontal platform across the entire operator infrastructure, services can converge voice, data and video silos to provide truly innovative and compelling offerings that drive revenues and grow customer loyalty.
A live multi-media service for the Glastonbury music festival, for example, can be designed to appeal to operator’s high spending audience of young adults. The open platform makes it flexible enough to update daily with news, weather, alerts and programme changes, as well as offer live downloads of artist tracks, in order to provide a compelling service for users.
With the move away from inflexible legacy telecoms networks to an open environment, operators can now benefit from a wide pool of third party developers for innovative and cost effective new applications. For the type of applications discussed at the outset of this article, an agile and flexible platform also supports the modification or reconfiguration of an application during the lifetime of the related real-world event to continue providing a compelling service for repeat users based on service take-up, user behaviour and feedback received during the event.
Operators need to fully embrace the opportunity of such dynamic service delivery, or risk being left behind by users that come to expect more from their network. For operators such as Vodafone and O2 that sponsor high-profile events around the world, the opportunities are endless for increasing sponsorship returns, explore new revenues and generate new levels of customer loyalty using dynamic service innovation.
Bob Drummond is VP of Marketing and Professional Services at OpenCloud