Is there any chance for telcos to win the IoT battle against web giants… Is that a do or die?

Talking to worldwide Communication Service Provider (CSP) 20 years ago was fun. It was a great innovative market to be in as a young engineer. We had constantly new technologies. IP just started to dominate the world. BGP was enabling islands of smaller networks to get connected. As a result we started to see the world wide web, along with a lot of hype and a lot of startups which just transferred the traditional way of doing business into internet.

Fast forward in 2018, CSP are now constantly on the search for new buzzwords, to get their shareholder value pumped up. SD-WAN, SDN, NFV, Kubernetes, OpenStack, ONAP, Slicing, everything and anything which is related to Open Source. CSP have been under massive attacks by OTT (Over The Top), that is Netflix, WhatsApp, Skype, Telco Cloud Provider, Amazon. OTT provider have focused on profitable areas and sometimes leading technology forums such as Facebook in Telecom Infra Projects (TIP). Understanding that data, that is customer/access data is the new oil for CSP, some are questioning the true motives of Facebook to lead TIP´s OpenRAN initiave. After all Facebook has a track history of selling customer data. While CSP are under pressure to provide a digital experience equivalent to Amazon, they have to spend a lot of money to lead the 5G war on spectrum. The future deployment of edge computing will probably add to the upcoming challenges. Over 2,000,000 sites have to be managed in USA only.

On the other hand the web scale giants are building sub-marine networks, which are typically easier to build but provide enough pipe of bandwidth hungry content such as video.

As far as operation and maintenance goes, the newly published study from OVUM suggests that “Telecom operators depend much more heavily on the experience and skills of their staff than OTT players do in network operations and maintenance (O&M). Only three engineers are needed for an OTT player to perform O&M on 10,000 devices. But for a telecom operator, the number needed is 300.” If the predictions are right, we will be dealing with 50–100 Billions of devices in IoT environment by 2024. CSP or future digital service provider (DSP) are trying to position themselves for this market.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is: how can CSP win the battle or even the war to gain momentum again? Is there any hope? The DNA of most CSP is after all not SW development. Companies like Netflix spent years to introduce Micro Services architecture with the respective reliability. Even though most CSP are in the “do-it-youself” mode of SW. OpenSource is neither cheap nor free as we know. So who know if “do-it-yourself” will pay off in the long term.

This sounds like catch 22. Spending more money, letting your infrastructure to be used by your competitors, letting go of your most valuable assets (data) and yet trying to make more money. How is that possible?

Network Automation and IT Automation (RPA) across hybrid IT/networks

Running a network is probably one of the toughest jobs in the world. You need to introduce new services as per customer request and you have make sure the services are available 5 x 9. If you have entered a NOC (Network Operation Center) in any CSP, you would understand the stressful job. Many SW companies talk about agile and DevOps but one needs to find one NOC manage who would allow you to upgrade SW in DevOps approach. If something goes wrong, his job is on the line.

So the question remains, how to stay competitive in a highly regulated market, with heavily manual, dispersed processes across multiple platforms and run by different department.

There are certainly geographical differences between NA, Europe, AsiaPAC.. ATT has become a content creater with their acquisitions. Many CSP in AsiaPAC are still doing ok. Understanding that OTT provider have in average only 10% of their respective market could be however a ringing bell. Europe in particular has to focus on a much better regulation of data (after all data cannot be treated the same way as voice).

CSP are fully aware of their key strengths. They know they can deliver secure worldwide services which are highly reliable. They still want to protect their customer data. The technologies available today, that is blockchain, network automation, RPA (Robotics Process Automation) can help them to gain momentum. Those technologies, wisely used could be a good recipe to stop the bleeding for now. As for many technologies, they could be several iterations of automation. Autonomous cars have been tested for a long time. There is no question that autonomous cars can hurt lives, hence have to be introduced carefuly. In telecom networks we are less worried about human lives, as networks can be built resilienty. Automation comes with a price, that is jobs. If CSP act wisely and train their valuable staff into new roles, they could remain competitive, socially responsible and focus on large IoT deployment.

#IoT, #collaboration, #blockchain, #DLT, #RPA, #automation