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Triple Challenge of Network Transformation

Following my comments about the iPhone VoLTE announcement I had an interesting conversation with Andy Huckridge from Gigamon, a company that provides intelligent traffic visibility networking solutions for enterprises, datacentres and service providers around the globe.

An interesting concept that we discussed was the ‘triple challenge of network transformation’. The three elements of this challenge are:

  • The emergence of network pipes with a capacity of 100 Gb/s
  • The increase in network virtualisation (cloud, OTT)
  • The unstoppable push of VoLTE by companies such as Apple and Samsung.

All of this is creating a perfect storm for network operators.

Rather than being proactive in these developments many network operators are maintaining a reactive position. In general they are trying to push back on these developments—as was, for example, clear from the announcement by AT&T and Verizon claiming that American customers don’t need more than 10Mb/s for their broadband access.

Rather than accepting the market realities (e.g. 80% of Americans already have broadband packages of 25Mb/s+) they are downplaying them. With such a mindset they are, in general, unprepared to face the above-mentioned challenges or to develop and advocate new opportunities and new innovations. To further highlight the poor strategy of the telcos, they are at the same time scrambling over each other in order to be the first to have the latest iPhone or Samsung phone on their network—simply aimed at maintaining subscriber numbers—basically ‘inviting the enemy within’.

Bigger pipes such as LTE mean more capacity and the opportunity for more and more virtualised services which will mainly be supplied by providers other than the network operators themselves. Yet most operators do not at this stage have the sophisticated monitoring tools in place to actually manage the enormous variety of applications and their specific network needs; furthermore these huge transport systems will enable hundreds if not thousands of new applications, which in one way or another all need to be managed and monitored.

A case in point is VoLTE. We see Samsung and Apple bringing out their VoLTE capable smartphones—soon there will be hundreds of millions of these devices on the various mobile networks. However, do we know if a VoLTE call from a Samsung phone will properly reach an Apple phone, and if it will offer good quality? And what about new phones and applications from the other six major global smartphone manufacturers, all of which will soon have their own VoLTE phones?

After nearly 20 years of VoIP services we know that the large assortment of flavours in these services result in rather unpredictable and poor customer experiences. Only an end-to-end service such as Skype works properly. So how will these different VoLTE flavours be handled over the various mobile networks? Has there been the usual rigorous telco testing? I don’t think so. Are the network operators able to properly prioritise certain traffic and certain applications over their networks? Indications are that this is not the case. What will this mean for SLAs that are in place, both in relation to large customers and in relation to regulatory obligations?

Guess who will be saddled with these problems? It will be the network operators, who are largely unprepared, having been far too busy fighting rear-guard battles to protect their traditional telco services. While companies such as AT&T and Verizon are saying people don’t need better networks—and even the Minister for Communications in Australia is claiming that most Australians don’t need more than 15Mb/s services by 2023—they are already being proved wrong by the market developments that are taking place right now.

Rather than trying to downplay these developments it should be accepted that these networks are being developed and will be used, as is already very clear, both on the current fixed and mobile broadband networks. Denying that there is a need for increased capacity, and then seeing their networks being overloaded and, panic-stricken, adding more network capacity is not a strategic way of managing the telecoms infrastructure requirements.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication

Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

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