Darwin at C5
The IEC’s C5 (Customer-Centric Converged Communication and Content) industry event was born as the 21st Century Communications World Forum and took place in London. This year, under the sponsorship of Telecom Italia, it moved to Milan and was renamed to highlight forces that are driving change in the telecom industry in general, operators and service providers in specific – customer focussed, personalised services, convergence of every type – but especially between networks, and the content-based services, IPTV for example, that most operators have great hopes will be driving future revenue streams.
This was a professional event, built around the concerns – a long list – that operating companies are facing. It struck me at the event, that Darwin would have loved watching today’s ICT sector. If he had grown up in the age of the PC and travelled around the world via the Internet for a few years observing the strange behaviour of the ICT sector he might have written an Origin of the Telecom Species about merged and converged companies, systems, networks, devices and services. Mr Darwin, though, would be hard pressed to explain some of the hybrid beasts that converged corporations, technologies, and systems have bred – high-tech basilisks, hippogriffs, centaurs, chimaeras and medusas – in their entrepreneurial quest for survival.
Darwin’s book would make compelling reading – rivalling the DaVinci Code; he might even have called it the Morse Code.
The conference programme covered a wide variety of issues critically important to operators and service providers. Convergence of everything with everything – in all its forms and guises – to beat the competition and stay ahead of the market was at the forefront of concern. What is the best strategy for network convergence? What are the best technical, business and market strategies for fixed-mobile convergence? The rapidly accelerating need for bandwidth and ways to deliver it, mainly fibre and broadband wireless, was another hot topic. What are the most cost effective last mile access strategies for every conceivable circumstance? What is the best way to provision services? What sort of strategy do carriers need for their corporate customers – does Ethernet measure up? How can quality of service be guaranteed given the rush to enter new markets?
IMS, the IP Multimedia Subsystem, is a general-purpose, open industry standard for voice and multimedia communications using Internet Protocol-based packet networks. It is at the heart of the network evolution strategies of a great number of companies. IMS aims to simplify, to unify, access to network services for just about any type or mixture of networks. It is considered to be a key enabling technology on the road to next generation fully converged networks.
True believers speak of IMS with something approaching religious awe. Nevertheless, there was a good deal of talk at the show about the failure – so far – of IMS to be put to good use in more than a few places. However, Stéphane Téral from Infonetics Research threw a bit of cold water on the fire and sparked a lot of comment and talk by presenting evidence that there is a snake in the Garden of Eden. People that had been loath to speak of their negative experience, began to open up and admit their own experience with IMS could be a good deal better. As I walked through the show, the subject came up, quite spontaneously and without prompting, several times. I have never had anyone speak spontaneously of their concerns about IMS before. It seems that after the Plenary Panel – Lessons Learned from IMS Deployments – where the problems were discussed people felt more at ease discussing their own problems. It seems that implementing IMS is a lot more complicated than most expected. IMS is the great hope of most service providers to reduce the complexity and cost of network and service convergence. Although it might be simpler than the alternatives it still isn’t simple enough and the vendors are making the situation worse. Each vendor is offering its own witches brew of IMS features and this has left service providers confused and nervous – it’s been hard, in practice to find the promised level of benefits.
Service providers have been looking toward IMS as a standards-based way to ease the creation of new multimedia services, to tie together their diverse networks and generally reduce their operating expenses. Enhancing the user’s experience was low, almost at the bottom, of the service provider’s list. All agree, IMS has a great future, but many will agree as well that the future will not arrive as soon as most would like.
Matt Bross, the BT Group’s CTO, is one of the ICT sector’s most interesting thinkers and one of my favourite speakers. As a C5 keynote speaker he stalked bear-like around the stage swotting industry myths especially about convergence. According to Matt, we’ve got convergence today, but not a converged subscriber experience; it’s hard not to agree. We still have to chase messages around for example, they aren’t automatically available on your cell phone if someone called the voice mail at your home or office and vice versa.
Matt’s talk was devoted primarily to leveraging the investment needed to drive the innovation needed to survive in a global marketplace, but he pinpointed the chief concern of all the show’s participants: “How do we make money on our networks”.
A phrase heard over and over again, whenever ICT executives meet, is ‘business model’. Everybody is changing theirs, developing new ones, or seriously searching for today’s holy grail – a sure-fire business model that deals with all the contradictions, disruptive technologies and uncertainties of the market. Business model, of course, is just a fancy way to say, what Matt Bross meant – how do we make money on our investments?
José Costa e Silva, who will head the new Nokia Siemens Network’s services division, neatly answered my string of questions about IMS and other standard service related issues, but then he helped me see more clearly where the industry might be heading in the future. He pointed to the growing, almost unmanageable, complexity of the converged environment and the difficulty in mastering and maintaining the know-how within all but the biggest organisations. He expects that service providers will tend increasingly to outsource the operation of all their complex systems including their networks.
It makes sense. There already is a growing tendency to outsource parts of the operation, so, perhaps, one day just about everything but the customer will be outsourced, so service providers can concentrate on their core business, providing service to the subscriber. The systems provider has the greatest knowledge and depth of talent to deal with the operation of their systems, so instead of going to a third party, there will be a growing tendency to choose a ‘second party’, the system or equipment providers to run the shop.
Darwin spoke of species developing to fill unoccupied niches in the ecosystem. Is this the niche that the equipment manufacturers are destined soon to fill?
Our next Connect-World Europe Issue will be published later this month. This edition of Connect-World will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows where we are one of the main media sponsors such as: Sviaz / Expo Comm (14-18 May, Moscow), Wimax World Europe (29-31 May, Vienna), and Von Europe (11-14 June, Stockholm).
The theme for this issue will be, The network business – strategies for tomorrow.
When speaking of networks, conventional wisdom and traditional business models no longer work as they did. The lines are blurring in the fixed, mobile and even broadcasting markets. Wired networks now handle traffic once thought suitable only for wireless and wireless is substituting wired in a broad range of applications. Seamless handoffs between wired and wireless networks and, indeed, mergers, partnerships and consolidations bringing together networks and players of all sorts ñ further confuse the once prettily organised networking landscape.
This issue will examine what these changes in technologies and the market mean for the sector. How can the residential and business consumer best be served? What does the future hold for network operators of all types?