opinion


Life on quality street

Mobile Internet industry sees money being thrown about

Policy and standards mightn’t sit at the sexy end of the global telecoms market, but at this year’s TM Forum Management World in Dublin, they’re the hottest show in town. Working the stands in the exhibition area or chatting with vendors off-site, it’s pretty obvious that the convergence of several key challenges in the carrier space is kicking telcos down a road that leads inexorably towards a bid to vastly improve customer service and experience.

The over-riding message is that there’s a genuine opportunity for carriers to re-establish their relevance in a rapidly changing market if they focus on quality of service as a key differentiator between networks and the over-the-top players that have been running riot over them for the past couple of years.

That this is going to be driven by innovation in business processes, billing and service provision is hardly surprising coming from the mouths of vendors who trade in such solutions. But it’s only fair to acknowledge that, at a time when revenues are flattening in almost direct proportion to increased customer expectations, something had to give. As mobile data usage and customer expectations surge, carrier agility and flexibility are vital to tackling the over-the-top players head-on, challenging the dominance of the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google with the kind of superior service and tailor-made flexibility that requires a level of back-end organisation for which telcos aren’t traditionally noted.

With carriers beating a speedy retreat from all-you-can-eat mobile data plans and looking towards tiered offerings, the key to retaining and growing customer base will lie in quality of service – whether that’s in terms of networks, personalised application suites, or just the way traditionally uninterested contact centre agents deal with customer complaints and queries.

Organisations such as Oracle are pointing to carrier-grade as a differentiator that will allow telcos to leverage the unique assets of their customer databases to grow revenues as well as customer loyalty. VP for product marketing at Oracle, Dan Ford, said that telcos with streamlined, effective processes in place are in a unique position to use customer data to offer controlled exposure of that data to third party software developers who, in turn, can use that data to build tailor-made solutions structured on individual customer usage patterns.

It wouldn’t be telecoms if there wasn’t a difference of opinion, though, and in this instance, it comes from Openet’s VP for marketing and product management, Chris Hoover, who argues that the uniqueness of the data that carriers have access to is diluting. For Hoover, OTT is an important opportunity for carriers to take advantage of multiple points of access to end users, not least in the enterprise space, where telcos could bundle data connectivity with enterprise-specific applications, changing the value proposition completely. In common with others speaking at the Forum, Hoover believes that tiered networks will play a significant role in how carriers innovate in the service space.

With talk of tiered networks all the rage, network intelligence and policy vendor Tekelec’s director of product management Mike Heffner says that carrier ability to address different tiered service capabilities is a “question that’s never been answered.”  Pointing to the reality that not all customers are the same, Heffner says that some carriers will focus on driving low-cost pipelines while others look for “granularity on high-end customers.”

This latter position will put carriers under pressure to deliver – charging users more for high-end services will understandably raise expectations in terms of quality. This, says Heffner, is a driving force behind the surge in interest in policy control and performance management toolsets. “We’re receiving a lot more queries on these issues now than in the past,” he says. “Carriers are looking to technologies like deep packet inspection (DPI) because it gives them that granularity they need. When it comes to policy and billing/charging, DPI really improves visibility.”

Director of telecoms solution strategy at Convergys, Tony Jackson, points to the advent of 4G/LTE as “something of a catalyst” for the renewed vigour. “The opportunity for carriers to innovate today is massive,” he says, “4G isn’t necessarily making things different, but it brings something extra to the party that telcos can use to their advantage.”For Jackson, real-time capability for monitoring and intelligent management has been a game-changer in allowing carriers to offer customers the kinds of services and tariff plans that “make them want to sign contracts.” On a different tack, Jackson sees the explosion in M2M offerings alongside 4G networks as another area ripe for innovation in terms of pricing structures. “Historically, M2M has been a low-usage domain. It’s going to be interesting to see how carriers address the growth – pricing really needs to be re-visited there, it should be charged on a per service basis.”

So it’s innovation all-round, then. What’s been interesting about this event is the palpable buzz that, far from doom-and-gloom for the carriers, what we’re actually sitting in is the eye of a storm of opportunity, if only carriers shake off their reputation for being built for love rather than speed and start injecting a little agility into their processes. They way people are talking at the TM Forum, it looks like that’s well under way already.


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