Sunday, 30 October 2011

Future communications networks and services

Like most professional's inbox, mine fills with news, messages and sales pitches. Amongst this ever present background noise, every once in a while the title of an email or news item catches my attention. This week two items caught my eye:

  • [Special Report] Towards the New Intelligent Network, from V2M, sponsored by Cisco
  • TechRepublic: Microsoft conjures up the future of mobile productivity.
Below is direct extract from the overview of the Special Report.
An intelligent network can be a platform for new business models and differentiators, by enabling network segmentation, partnerships with content partners and the creation of personalized services. This is especially important in a landscape that has seen the rise of content, applications and devices as having the primary relationship with the customer from a brand perspective. Driving intelligence in the network isthe primary strategy for mobile operators looking to architect for the next-generation business model.

This report includes:
  • The Intelligent Mobile Broadband Imperative: Why Intelligence Matters
  • The Network as Profitability Engine
  • New Approach to Analytics
The special report as you can see from the description above showed promise, and service design and "intelligent" services is a bit of a pet interest of mine, started when we tried in the early nineties to crowbar  out the control logic from the stored program controller functions of the TDM switches in to a centralised execution engine (called a service control point - SCP). We've moved on from this with IP networks now dominating over traditional TDM and even a short life for ATM (I know its lasted in the mobile space - and oh yes its still heavily present in ADSL networks).

Alas I was disappointed by the content, admittedly I should have spotted the Cisco sponsorship of the paper, but the focus of the paper was on network traffic flows, rather than the actual services and how to make the best use of infrastructure to support these.

This is the comment I emailed to the editor at V2M:

I've just picked my way through the "Special Report", and I have to say I found very little new material or real content of value. It could have been written 10 years ago, in fact I think there was better material around 10 years ago about the challenges facing both fixed and mobile operators by the Internet's growth and the Telco's challenge of not being just a bit pipe provider.

Having worked in the telecoms industry for over 20 years now and seen the analogue exchanges replaced with TDM switching and the usurping of the traditional telco model by open source VoIP, I feel the challenges telcos face are far greater than the material you have put out.

Traditional telecoms operators are having to face the challenges of services which no longer rely on centralised telco controlled (walled garden) network architectures.  IMS, EPC and LTE architecture just prolong the pain for operators who cling to this centralised control model. If telco's don't adopt a decentralised collaborative approach to services, rather than build their castles on an old and frankly out-dated model for services, they will fail and become what they're most afraid of stove-piped carries of traffic with no share in valuable content and services it contains.

Discussions of traffic shaping and understanding customer trends and usage and traffic flows will not make network operators "rich" look at the richness embodied in modern applications, the report mentions facebook, but misses the point of what the APIs to services like facebook offer by discussing traffic patterns. Facebook's value to organisations looking to increase revenue is about the relationships and activities the "friends" on facebook are engaged in. Glue-ing the richness of the applications with the network operators "crown jewels" - ubiquitous access is where the gold mine lies.

The tech republic blog entry was actually slightly more enlighting and the video from Microsoft, if a little "Minority Report" (as pointed out by one of commenters on the tech republic blog) was actually quite refreshing and potentially close to a future communications and office environment. It was yes full of gloss, but looking beyond this at some of the underly technical considerations for this future view of communications and it's all pretty plausible from flexible OLED 3D display technologies, with the Xbox motion detection (Kinect) built in to interactive displays augmenting touch gestures. For near and remote comms between devices we have ZigBee and bluetooth and LTE and HSPA.

If you view the Microsoft video whilst thinking about my views on intelligent networks. Whilst I fully support the views in the V2M paper on capacity and flow management (this is really important since this addresses the scarce resources of the service provider), if you view the video, think about the value to the customers of the network providers, its in the content and services they're using. The key single element that mobile operators in particular have the advantage - Ubiquitous access. Mobile operators by offering access and taking note of the services their customers are using, can use this to personalise each customer's experience - both of the underlying network, but also the services themselves.

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