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Ten Times Faster Time-to-Market for Telco Innovations

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Google has changed very little to its basic architecture building blocks over the years. Everything runs on top of the Google File System and Bigtable. Except for Google Instant which is reversing Map-Reduce usage, new services have been reusing their existing architecture.

Similar observations can be made for the rest of the main players. So why is it that Telecom operators have not invested in one architecture to launch multiple services? No idea.

One architecture for VAS

The concept is simple. Create one common architecture. This architecture should have multiple components:

  • A high-available real-time data store – stores all application and user data
  • A right-time data analytics service – allows collective intelligence and data mining
  • An asset exposure layer – applications can re-use network assets and get isolated from internal complexities
  • Presentation layer – facilitate mobile GUI and Web 2.0 development
  • Application Engine – allows applications to run and focus on business logic instead of scaling and integration
  • Continuous Deployment – instead of monthly big-bang deployments, incremental daily or weekly releases are possible, even hourly like some dotcoms.
  • Unified Administration – one place to know what is happening both technically and business-wise with the applications.
  • Long-Tail Business Link – all business and accounting transactions for customers, partners, providers, etc. are centralized.
  • etc.

Having such an architecture in place would allow telco innovations to be brought to market at least ten times faster. Application and service designers would have to focus on business logic and not on the rest. Administrators would have one platform to manage and not a puzzle of systems. Integrations would have to be done ones to a common integration layer.

Building such an architecture should be done in the dotcom style and not a telco RFQ. Only by doing iterative projects which bring together the components can you build an architecture that is really used and not a side project that starts to have its own life.

It even makes sense to open source the architecture. Telco’s business is not about building architectures hence having a common platform that was started by one would benefit the whole industry. It even would give a competitive advantage to the one that started the architecture for knowing it better than any competitor. Of course for this to happen, a telco has to recognize that their future major competitors are not the neighboring telco but a global dotcom…

Micro and Nano MVNO’s

September 21, 2010 2 comments

A mobile virtual network operator, a.k.a. MVNO, is a telecom operator that does not have its own network. However what would happen if companies or even groups of friends could create their own MVNO.

These micro and nano MVNO’s would need tools that are directed at the size of their “customers”. A micro MVNO would span all employees of a company. Why would you want a micro MVNO? Enterprise contracts exist that have virtual numbering plans and a lot of more features. However you could extend the number of business and enterprise features a lot more and with a micro MVNO you would be able to provide a personalized experience to every company:

  • Companies would be able to centrally define the pricing plans that best suite them. Even make custom pricing plans. Calling cheaper during working hours, even if those working hours are different from the “normal” data plans. Cheap pricing to call to customers and partners. Calling from the network cells around the office, would be equal to fixed line prices. As a perk, each employee can provide a list of five phone numbers that can be called for free after business hours. Roaming between employees in different countries could have very low tariffs…
  • A common address book with all employees, customers, suppliers and partners.  Common virtual phone numbers to send group SMS to a department, to all customers, to all partners, etc.
  • Pre-loaded mobile apps and auto-provisioning of applications to all employees.

Nano MVNO´s would be focused on groups of friends, associations or family. Except for virtual numbering plans, custom pricing plans, a common address book, group messaging, auto-provisioning, etc. there are other services that could be of interest:

  • Joint reward points, so the group decides what to do with them.
  • Know one another’s location so you can easily do friend-finder type of applications.
  • One-click group conferencing
  • Group ringtones, operator logos, etc.
  • etc.

These lists of services would be just the beginning, especially if you add mobile applications, social networks and cloud computing offerings to the mix. However there is one base principle for these micro and nano MVNO’s: “More customized services, combined with group pressure, will make churning harder and group spending higher”.  It will be harder for an individual to churn. Also the “alpha” member of the group will push others towards using new services.

Complex telecom net apps made easy

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Too many people in the telecom industry are still discussing which API is the best: Parlay, JAIN SLEE, Sip Servlets, GSMA OpenAPI, etc.

The Web 2.0 world is moving away from all these APIs to create telecom network applications a.k.a. Net Apps. If you want to see easy APIs to create Net Apps then look at Twilio or Tropo.

However even these APIs are too complex for some people. In this case you can use graphical drag-and-drop environments like for instance QuickFuseApps. You can also opt for flash modules that give you all the functionality you need. Ribbit has some nice ones.

Also on the phone side, drag-and-drop is coming on strong. Google´s App Inventor for Android is a good example.

What does this mean? More and more developers and end-users will be able to create Net Apps themselves. These Net Apps will quickly become complex applications that will often bridge the gap between mobile devices and server & cloud solutions. They will very likely also span every aspect of daily life, e.g. social networking, business, entertainment, etc.

What does this mean for an operator? All the effort that is now put into creating attractive services will no longer be useful. A one-hundred person marketing team can not launch more and better services than a one-million net app creators community.  So instead of focusing on finding and developing the next killer app, operators should focus on two aspects:

  1. Making sure all the building blocks are in place for the net app creators community to be productive.
  2. Connecting end-users with the proceedings of the net app creators community. In other words: make sure people find the right net apps.

 The stakes are high because this is a winner takes-it-all game. Speed, easy of use, direct community feedback will be key. What are you waiting for?

Are you exposing assets the wrong way?

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The standards API myth

In the perfect API we talked about how to expose assets. Simplicity is key. The general telecom thinking is to go for standards. However in the dotcom era standards are set by the one that innovates quicker and better then the rest.

The iPhone does not support Java or Flash [yet]. Skype did not build a SIP-compatible service. Facebook does not expose a standard Opensocial API.

Many operators are focusing on the GSMA OpenAPI and other API standardization efforts. However all these standards often are designed by “experts” that have not programmed in the last years. Startups focus on making it simple. Launching something quickly and making incremental changes and extensions on a weekly basis. The only way to create a successful API is to constantly listen to the community of programmers that are using it.

Dotcoms are bitpipe creators

Many operators still consider their most fearsome competitor the other operator that shares the same country borders. Unfortunately it is not this competitor that will potentially render them into a bitpipe.

If you are exposing assets, it should be because of two reasons:

  1. You want to make some extra money.
  2. You are afraid that if you don´t expose your assets, then some dotcom will find a way around them, e.g. Google Latitude and location assets.

What are you exposing?

Ok, we finally got the agreement from management to expose APIs so let´s start with SMS and MMS… Wrong! There is absolutely no shortage on the Internet for ways to send an SMS. Additionally MMS is becoming less important with all the email enabled phones.

What should be exposed are those assets dotcoms are not offering yet! Why? Selling something that others already offer cheap is not a guarantee for business success. Selling access to assets that only are available through you, makes for a great differentiator.

Offering assets as-is will not be very successful either. One example: If I can only generate standard numbers which follow the official numbering plan, why would I need an API. Any VoIP DID provider can get me a phone number. It would be different if I could generate “un-official” numbers that don´t cost me €5/month but instead can even generate revenue. Send an email to maarten at telruptive dot com if you want to know more!

One-stop shop

Developers of telecom services want one thing. Fortunately this one thing is not new. A developer wants to make an application that they can easily sell to as many people as possible. Several startups exist that allow developers to create very advanced call-control, conferencing, etc. applications. However this is only one side of the story. Even if I can build the best voice conferencing bridge, that does not make me a millionaire. Developers need the channels to market their applications and make money with them. They need a “Net App” store.

Open versus Closed

If we are not competing against another operator but against dotcoms, why can´t we work together? American Airlines build their reservation system and afterwards allowed other airlines to use it. It quickly became the standard.

An open platform in which developers can write ones and sell everywhere, will prevail over closed platforms. Facebook allows companies to extend its platform. By being the market leader, it attracts a disproportionate number of partners to its platform.  The iPod has probably more extensions and add-ons then the next five competing products together. If you are not willing to open your platform then you are probably not going to be the market leader.

Google Voice 2012 – Free Mobile Broadband?

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

March 2012

Google Voice has changed the mobile broadband industry in just three months. Who would have thought that Google would start offering free mobile broadband and even give away 10.000 free mobile phones and access points?

It all started with a small governmental change in the summer of 2011. After years of lobbying, the New American Foundation convinced the US government to open some of the previously military spectrum to free wireless communication. The New American Foundation chairman, Eric Schmidt, declared the act a step towards universal broadband access.

Two days before the new spectrum was opened on January 2012, Google surprised the world with the announcement that they would give 10.000 free Nexus Goomax phones if people installed a new sort of device at home called the GooPoint.

The Goopoint turned out to be a new generation of a femtocell network device that was on one side connected to fixed broadband and on the other side was a Goomax antenna.

Goomax, the next generation of wireless connectivity improves on the WiFi and WiMAX standards by allowing Google´s servers to remotely and dynamically control the network and the different Goopoints, a.k.a. Cloud-based network management.

The end result is that the US in two months time had an extra mobile network provider. However this network provider did not install any antennas. Neither did they pay expensive spectrum licenses. The new network was formed by home devices that allowed people within 5 kilometers to connect to mobile broadband for free. Goopoint owners that contributed fixed broadband capacity could earn points and exchange them afterwards for Android Apps among others.

Disclaimer: This is an invented story but could one day become reality.

Scaling to 500 million users

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

In the telecom domain a scalable real-time architecture means paying a lot of money in hardware and licenses. You buy the Oracle RAC solution, build a Weblogic cluster, set-up a storage area network, etc.

In the dotcom world things look differently. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Amazon, etc. have more active users then any telecom system. However they have build their architecture on top of open source solutions and average servers. Some even build their own software and sometimes open-sourced it.

Some of this software has very exotic names: Hadoop, Bigtable, Cassandra, Pig, Elephant-Bird, Dremel, Pregel, Dynamo, etc. Additionally design decisions are taken that would surprise every IT teacher: “do not normalize”, “do not expect immediate consistency”, “no transaction support”, “store in memory instead of on disk”, etc.

However if you can support 500 million users, 100 million daily hits, 130TB of logs, 20 billion tweet messages, 1 million servers, etc. then something you should be doing right.

The telecom software industry seems to have been isolated from the Internet during the last five years. With the shift to IP it is expected that more IT companies will be able to provide telecom solutions. Is this the solution? Not sure! Also IT companies are still playing catch-up in the cloud computing domain. Few IT solutions providers are demonstrating, they now think Map-Reduce instead of Middleware.

Google Voice is coming and most operators seem to be still more worried about churning subscribers. Google Latitude and Maps demonstrated that with new technology and innovation you can destroy the telecom monopoly  on location-based services overnight…

If you are a telecom operator and you are worried, perhaps it is time we talk.

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