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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

WiFi: Seamless is useless, but wide seams are horrible

In the last week I’ve attended and spoken at two WiFi conferences (both in Amsterdam, oddly). WiFi has also been a regular topic at other events recently, both in terms of access (eg SoftBank’s offload strategy) and applications (eg WiFi-calling and also more interesting/innovative telco VoWiFi apps like Orange Libon).

In the past, I’ve criticised the cellular industry for trying to subvert WiFi, as well as attempting massive over-reach in trying to create converged WiFi/cellular services, diminishing users’ choice and control over WiFi (see here).

But my recent learning has been that the mobile operators are not the only “bad actors” trying to undermine the utility of WiFi. A wide range of other companies are pitching ever-more-intrusive approaches to the “monetisation” of WiFi.

Both groups are pushing the boundaries of acceptability, from the point of view of users or other stakeholders. The former are attempting to create “seamless” networks, ignoring the importance and value of “seams” (aka boundaries) to many participants (link: such as venue owners). And some of the latter group are trying to create heavy, ugly, unnecessary seams – often with duplicitous words like “engagement”, when a more accurate term would be “grudgingly-accepted interruption & privacy invasion”.

Let’s try a thought experiment first. Next time you use the bathroom in a hotel or restaurant, consider two options:

1)     Imagine that before using the bathroom, you had to watch a 30-second video, download an app, or navigate various advertising and promotion menus. Various intrusive data would be collected about you to help better-target the adverts in future, and you might be asked to log in and like the bathroom on Facebook.
2)     Imagine instead that you could instantly access the bathroom, but only because you pre-identified yourself with your home water company’s customer number. For now, it’s free – but you’ve heard that some water companies are now starting to charge “roaming” fees for public bathrooms even if they’re free to other visitors, or include the volumes of water used in your normal quota. You’re also a bit concerned that residential drought restrictions & policies on water use might be applied for roaming use too.

In other words, where WiFi is provided as an amenity (not a service), it is important to just offer it with a simple mechanism (but not without the user being unaware) and then get out of the way. For instance, I’m writing this in Amsterdam Airport, where there’s a simple splash page offering 4hrs connection with a single click and no registration/password requirement. Contrast this with my awful recent experience at JFK, where I was exhorted to download an app for a measly 30mins access. (Hilariously, the app wasn’t available for people using non-US Apple AppStores – utter cluelessness at an international airport).

Now in other situations, putting simple ads or useful services on a splash page is useful – maybe a hotel offering other services, or an airline lounge WiFi showing departure gate information. Sometimes I’ve seen “WiFi sponsored by Brand X”, and it’s OK to get a quick screen of their logo before connecting. Quid pro quo is fine, in moderation. But lengthy video ads, intrusive registration (except where local laws insist) and 2-factor authentication via SMS/PIN-code seem like overkill.

On the telco side, I’ve written before why so-called seamless WiFi-to-cellular integration is often bad for users, app developers, enterprises and venue owners. Fortunately, the market has wisely overseen the failure of pointless ANDSF standard, and very limited rollout of HotSpot 2.0. These are arrogant standards, based on the flawed assumption that mobile operators are able to determine “always best connected” options. Given the number of stakeholders involved – users, fixed operators, mobile operator, OS providers, venues, employers, app developers and more – it is mathematically impossible to define “best” from all perspectives, with all criteria.

The concept of “always best connected” is a lie (OK, I’ll be generous a euphemism). There is no one “best” which all involved can agree upon.

We can also now see the usual engines of cellular Machiavellianism revving up in anticipation of 5G. Once again there is the rhetoric of WiFi being “part of future 5G standards” – the assertion being that it will be "brought under the umbrella".  While some WiFi may become integrated into the pseudo-mythical “HetNets”, most will not. The issue is that venue owners, enterprise LAN managers, end-users, and network-aware app developers don’t have loud voices to protect their interests.

Regulators should keep close watch too, especially given the consolidation being seen in many mobile telecom industries. Public/venue/amenity WiFi provides an arbitrage path for consumers, to play off against their cellular provider’s data plans as and when they can. This is important – even if 3rd party WiFi can be slightly cumbersome to access, it essentially provides partial competition to the mobile industry. It is therefore critical for regulators to ensure that WiFi is kept as independent as possible, and that users have to make an explicit choice between telco-offered WiFi and that available from the venue itself or another service provider. As some operators are trying to bundle WiFi data use (in GB terms) with LTE, it becomes even more important that users can see and choose alternative sources of WiFi easily. It is also important for application developers to have visibility (and sometimes control) of network access – and not be subjected to the whim of the operator’s core network and policy servers.

To sum up – the battle for the soul of WiFi continues. On one hand the mobile industry is hoping to subsume (or, though LTE-U interference, subvert) public WiFi access. But at the other end, over-aggressive “monetisation” is likely to reduce its utility and convenience too. There needs to be concerted effort to keep WiFi implementations user-friendly and open to easy choice.

The seams need to be finely tailored and elegant, not removed entirely, nor bulked-up and intrusive.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Decoding T-Mobile's WiFi-Calling and VoLTE stats

A quick analytical post. I'm currently re-doing my WebRTC model for service provider use-cases, and as part of that I'm looking at data on adoption of VoLTE, WiFi-calling and other services/applications.

T-Mobile US is interesting as it's revealed various data-points over the past couple of years:
  • 2007 - original launch of UMA-based WiFi calling, notably on BlackBerry
  • May 2014 (link) - VoLTE launch, although the acquired MetroPCS had had a limited deployment since 2012
  • June 2014 (link) - 17m WiFi-calling enabled devices, with "almost 5m" WiFi calling users (including older UMA/GAN). The user base quoted is monthly average users (MAU)
  • July 2014 (link) - total of 52m VoLTE calls made
  • December 2014 (link) - 19.2m VoLTE calls per day & 6.6m WiFi calls per day
  • March 2015 (links here & here) -  7m WiFi calling users per month, 7.6m WiFi calls per day, 10% of calls on VoLTE
  • October 2015 (link) c12m WiFi calls per day
  • November 2015 (link) - a third of calls on VoLTE
Now, consider a few other data points. According to various surveys, a typical US mobile user makes/receives 6-7 calls per day. And T-Mobile had 61.2m subscribers at end-Q3.

That implies that T-Mobile US carries around 400m calls per day, assuming its users are fairly similar in usage pattern to AT&T & Verizon. (Note that the US quotes statistics including both inbound and outbound calls, in contrast to most other operators/countries which just count outbound)

In other words, only about 3% of T-Mobile's calls use WiFi calling. Put another way, VoLTE is 10x larger, despite being launched much more recently. And T-Mobile US has been by far the longest, largest proponent of WiFi calling, for more than 8 years, in both IMS and pre-IMS variants. The number is growing, as new devices support WiFi calling, but it's still a relatively small part of the total.

Also, looking at the user numbers, it seems probable that T-Mo is now on perhaps 10-11m MAUs for WiFi calling. But that's monthly - and those people collectively make more than 2 billion calls per month. So even among those users, only around 17% of calls are on WiFi - which makes sense as many will be using their phones outside their homes/offices.

To reconcile the numbers, it's probably better to think of perhaps 2m regular daily users, accounting for perhaps 8m calls per day, plus maybe another 8-9m per month whose phones switch to WiFi calling occasionally - perhaps in poor-coverage areas, or while travelling. The regular users will likely be those with poor coverage at home.

What does all this mean? In a nutshell, it suggests that WiFi calling is less of a big deal than many think - and is primarily a customer-retention tool for operators with in-building network limitations. It's not (currently) a meaningful source of voice traffic offload. 

3% of calls and 3% of subscribers as regular users, for the most-aggressive operator pushing the technology, is not hugely impressive. By contrast, the adoption of VoLTE has been surprisingly rapid, although the stats are possibly skewed a bit by high-end/telephony-heavy users.

It also implies that many operators may well not bother with full IMS-powered WiFi calling, instead taking a path towards using separate VoIP (or video) apps such as Orange Libon or Telefonica Tuenti Mobile. In particular, these "secondary" apps can offer a different experience to ordinary phone-calls from the native dialler, especially with WebRTC as a more flexible enabler/platform than IMS.

It's also worth noting that T-Mobile is starting to push its new 3G/4G small cell ("CellSpot") for people with poor coverage, which may mean that some users actually reduce their reliance on WiFi for calls at home or in small offices. (link)

Some of the comments I heard at yesterday's WiFi Now conference in Amsterdam seem over-hyped. I'm yet to be convinced that many enterprises will open up their private WiFi networks for carrier VoWiFi in large numbers, in particular.

So overall, I expect IMS-based WiFi calling to continue growing, especially in markets that have high numbers of calls-per-subscriber, plus variable-quality coverage indoors, or for operators with limited sub-1GHz coverage. Maybe, with Herculean and very expensive efforts, a few operators might reach the 10% mark for calls carried over WiFi. And that's only if they get all phones auto-provisioned, they work with enterprises and venues to integrate WiFi calling with in-house WiFi, and don't push hard on small cells or LTE-U.

Meanwhile, the overall market for "boring old phone calls" will continue to drop regardless. Yes, if WiFi-calling can be added cheaply and easily then it's a useful "maintenance" enhancement of legacy telephony. But it's not a substitute for (or component of) proper innovation around voice, video, WebRTC and contextual communiations. That needs to be the strategic priority, not window-dressing for a few percentage points on a decades-old service.

Disruptive Analysis publishes research & does private consulting/workshops, as well as conference speeches, on areas such as WiFi calling, VoLTE, WebRTC and next-generation voice/video/messaging applications. It has covered the convergence between WiFi and VoIP since 2003. Please contact information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com for more information.

Monday, November 16, 2015

App-aware networks? Or network-aware apps? Free White Paper

In conjunction with Chris Lewis (Lewis Insight), I've written a fairly provocative white paper for Amdocs, looking at whether the hype about "app-aware networks" and policy management is realistic. It's one of a series aimed at telco CTOs & CMOs, done by different analysts - see here for a link to all of them. A quick intro video is below.

Much current discussion in the network industry concerns topics such as virtualisation, new approaches to monetising data traffic, or the shifting balance-of-power between application providers and infrastructure owners. Despite the furore around Net Neutrality, there continues to be a desire to treat Internet traffic differentially, as well as creating other new non-Internet capabilities in the network, perhaps specific to IoT connectivity or on-net content services. 

Although innovations like SDN (software-defined networks) and NFV (network function virtualisation) are being associated with “network slicing” and “application-awareness”, those general concepts have already existed in similar form for some years. Both fixed and mobile networks have sought to offer so-called “value-added” functions, typically through boxes in the data path that discriminate between different flows, alter certain traffic’s paths or content, or add in additional data in some fashion.

Yet there is a growing tension here between stakeholders – and also a disconnect in terms of mutual understanding and terminology. Often, the network attempts to act directly on data and applications transiting it – whether that is in terms of QoS management, assurance and priority (where legally permitted), or more mundane actions such as content-optimisation and filtering. Yet at the same time, the nature of applications is itself evolving fast.

Apps are increasingly-complex amalgams of multiple web and native components; they are able to adapt their behaviour to the network conditions, avoid scrutiny by encryption or obfuscation, and change their nature overnight by merging – or splitting into separate services. The way that an application is perceived by the network may be very different to how it is perceived by a user. Network architects and operations staff do not always look at the situation “through a developer’s eyes”.

These differences do not suggest the hoped-for utopia is realistic, with telecom operators obtaining significant incremental revenues from content or application providers, arising from extra value from network-awareness. Neither does it signify that traffic-management will be able to moderate congestion or balance network loads as much as desired. If anything, it perhaps suggests the opposite, as developers look to circumvent network restrictions or unwanted intervention – for example by ever-greater use of encryption, pushing traffic over 3rd-party WiFi, or by alerting users and regulators to unwanted policy-management actions. Against that backdrop, some of the rhetoric from the telecom industry about so-called “OTT” providers is unhelpful and antagonistic. 

Disruptive Analysis is even aware of an incident in which a network operator accidentally degraded one of its own VoIP applications - the app development team and network policy-management team didn't realise what each other were doing.

A new white paper published by Amdocs, and written by Disruptive Analysis and Lewis Insight hopes to shed more light on this dichotomy, and suggests ways to bring together the network operators and their peers in the application space. There certainly are ways to link networks and applications, but they will need much tighter collaboration and a focus on “mutual consent” as a primary goal, rather than monetisation.

In particular, it is important that CTOs and network architects gain a deeper understanding of how applications are evolving, and the tools at developers’ disposal to help create higher-quality experiences. While the network is important, so are devices – and so also are any business processes involved in optimising performance. The average software developer is dis-incentivised to work more closely with network operators if they face sizeable practical hurdles or costs, for little extra provable benefit.

One important priority should be for networks to focus on providing some sort of information and status feed to applications. If developers can see that there is current or possible congestion or other problems, they can tune applications so that they mitigate the issues, rather than exacerbate them. It may be easier for the network to offer a “weather forecast” to application and content providers, rather than trying to control the rain and sun.

The App-Aware Networks & Network-Savvy Apps white paper is one of a series published by Amdocs + Lewis Insight on network-related thought leadership, written by a range of independent analysts & specialists. The paper can be downloaded here, along with video clips and summaries of the other papers in the series.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cisco and Ericsson: Will the Enterprise move to Private IMS & Cellular?

A lot has been written already about the ramifications of the wide-ranging Cisco / Ericsson deal. Most industry analysts and other observers have already come up with assessments of areas of impact, effects on other vendors (eg Juniper), and the implications for various telco-network technologies such as SDN / NFV.

A fair amount of output has been interpreting the “official line” from the two vendors’ press releases and briefings, which have been a little thin on exact details of how the collaboration will evolve. Light Reading has collated a good set of opinions here, for example.

So I'm going to speculate a little - and consider what is not being mentioned so far. This is a blog post about "what might happen" - there's a lot of variables, complexity and execution risk. Caveat lector.

The story so far: Selling & integrating IP gear & cloud platforms for telcos

Looking around the web, it seems that there’s a roughly 80/20 split between analysis of telco-area implications vs. enterprise. This is unsurprising, given the early focus areas announced - the Ericsson CEO says “Initially the partnership will focus on SPs” in the release. Also, the bulk of observers who cover both companies are strongly focused on SP networks.

But my sense is that a few angles have been overlooked, especially about enterprise. I'll highlight a line in the slide-deck the companies used: "Creating leadership to address converging telco and enterprise domains".

The assumption among most people seems to be that "convergence" here is viewed only in one direction. It's assumed to mean an increasing role for telcos in managing enterprise networks and communications functions. And yes, a lot is about combined sales to/through telcos. Cisco gets to sell IP gear via Ericsson's huge SP-focused services and integration teams, and better integrate its products with the OSS/BSS domain. Going forward, the partnership can allow better network/service coverage in corporate offices, or enable assorted business cloud and IoT offers to be provided by telecom operators.

Yet "convergence" occurs when two trends meet in the middle. There's another side here: enterprises starting to adopt or manage telco-type networks and capabilities. 

But what's in it for the enterprise?

So what does Ericsson have, that Cisco can sell / add value to via its enterprise channels? And what new combined products might come from both firms' R&D labs that could be of interest beyond the reach of telcos, sold directly into the corporate domain?

I have sensed for a while that Ericsson wanted more direct business with enterprises and governments - it recognises that its addressable market for telco capex/opex (whether hardware or managed services) is limited by telcos' own growth difficulties, as well as competition from Huawei, wariness of IT players like Oracle, and the move to software-based (and sometimes open-source) infrastructure. 

It was no coincidence that last year's analyst conference in Stockholm was held partly in Volvo's premises. Or in another area I watch closely, that its WebRTC activities have involved things like online banking (see here) without a mention of telcos at all.

It's not just Ericsson. We've also seen other telecom vendors pitch to goverments, city authorities, utilities, transportation companies and so forth. There are private cellular networks intended for railways and mining operations, to e-commerce and cloud propositions, or re-use of billing/charging for utilities and smart city initiatives. Quite a few vendors also sell to "non-telco SPs", ranging from call-centre providers to (ssshhhhh!!!) big Internet firms, as well as amenity-type public WiFi implementors.

So - the question is what the joint Cisco/Ericsson initiatives might be for enterprise. The briefing deck gives some rather vague lines like "comprehensive systems integration, managed services and technical support for enterprises" as well as "cloud and data-centres" which potentially cover a multitude of sins.

Another interesting line is "Networks of the future require new design principles to ensure agility, autonomy, and security". The interesting word there is "autonomy" which means "the right or condition of self-government." For whom, exactly? For telcos, it could mean the freedom to choose between multiple vendors' platform ad 3rd-party VNFs - but I'm not convinced that's a story that Cisco and Ericsson really buy into.

My sense is that actually - and this is probably a medium-term thing rather than immediate - there are three aspects:
  • Distributed enterprise cloud platforms. This should be unsurprising given both references in the announcement, and Cisco's data-centre expertise. Ericsson SDN/NFV work could fit in here, although it's not the main focus of this post.
  • Private wireless. This includes both WiFi and potentially private cellular networks, indoor, on campuses, and perhaps for large areas or governmental applications.
  • Comms, Collaboration & Private IMS. Both partners have a lot of history in voice, messaging and video communications, not just in telcos but also deployed by businesses. Ericsson used to make PBXs but sold to Aastra in 2008. While UC, cloud and collaboration is impacting the traditional PBX/IP-PBX market, that doesn't mean that enterprises want everything delivered "as a service". Cisco & Ericsson can help both telcos' UCaaS propositions - but also help corporations take back control in-house.
It should be noted that the last two points are unlikely to be especially popular with the telecom service provider community, and would thus not be the focus of the initial SP-friendly announcement.

Private Wireless

Together, Cisco and Ericsson have a decent chance of “fixing” indoor mobile coverage, capacity and control for large enterprises. Both have WiFi assets and also small-cell exposure (Cisco especially via its SpiderCloud partnership), but the kicker here is Cisco’s footprint and understanding of the enterprise fixed LAN and security domain. 

There are two angles here:
  • Helping mobile operators "reach" deeper into enterprises to allow better in-building cellular coverage, WiFi offload/voice and (in the GSMA's dreams) run corporate wireless data connectivity as a fully-managed service. Print-over-4G....
  • Allow enterprises to better manage and run their own mobile infrastructure, most obviously in unlicenced spectrum. This could extend beyond traditional WiFi towards allowing private management of LPWAN (low power networks) for IoT, rather than using Opex-centric services like SigFox's.
Historically, one of the main problems for enterprise pico/femtocells, or use of corporate WiFi for offload and carrier VoIP, has been how these coexist with the corporate-run firewalls and in-house network management and prioritisation. Normally, telco visibility/control ends “outside” a demarcation point. Most enterprises will view outbound VPN tunnels from small cells, or external control of devices on the LAN, as a security risk. Telcos, in turn, are hesitant to offer service guarantees where they have limited ability to measure or manage performance – and will also see security issues. 

There are also various issues with security, privacy and legal liability when using a 3rd-party cloud platform for identity, data processing or storage.

There is a chance here for Cisco and Ericsson to create solutions to all these areas. The short-term headlines will probably be around better in-building cellular (competing with DAS and, implicitly, SpiderCloud) and IMS WiFi-voice support, but the longer-term vision will perhaps include:
  • Carrier-managed enterprise WiFi, perhaps in neutral-host mode to support multiple cellular operators' subscribers on the same network
  • Private corporate-run LTE-U networks, maybe using Qualcomm's MuLTEfire or something similar, for indoor or campus usage
  • Private IoT networks using both unlicenced and licenced spectrum, linked into corporate IT and communications systems directly, rather than via a service provider
  • Licenced-band cellular for non-telco organisations with access to cellular spectrum (eg public safety networks, rail/transport systems, maybe smart cities or big oil/mining companies in remote areas)
  • (Perhaps, depending on regulation) ways to enable "corporate MVNOs" 

This is all pretty speculative - and it may be that some of these concepts are a long way off, and perhaps not even fully-considered by Ericsson and Cisco themselves. (Get in touch if you'd like me to run a brainstorm workshop, guys!)
Comms, Collaboration & Private IMS

Absent from the announcement was any clear reference to communications: UC/UCaaS, IMS, VoLTE, WebEx, Spark, WebRTC and so forth are, to me, elephants in the room.
Predictable things we'll likely see include various Cisco-to-Ericsson moves, around UCaaS and WebEX linked to Ericsson's IMS. But I think that's only part of the story that will emerge.
Let's go back to that term "autonomy" from above. 
It's easier to get seduced by the idea that enterprises (and small businesses) want to get rid of their old on-premise phone systems, recognise their employees are mobile-first and BYOD-minded, and shift to some form of UCaaS platform linked to a telco network and number. Yet on the ground, plenty of enterprises either want to keep control of their own communications system, or are using 3rd-party Internet-based tools like Slack, rather than an SP's integrated proposition. 
I don't think that's going to change - many businesses prefer to keep hold of their own "phone" system, especially as it becomes part of their messaging or contact-centre or contextual-comms platform. That doesn't mean it has to be a lump of tin, or a proprietary IP-PBX platform for call control - it could be in the cloud, or using standardised software elements. It just doesn't have to be a "per-seat per-month" cost model. 
A rather surprising term I’ve heard a few times recently – mostly from folk in the IT/cloud industry – is “enterprise IMS”. It’s not an industry-standard term, but basically, it means that some large businesses want to deploy their own internal IMS-type infrastructures as communications/service platforms. These might be owned outright, managed on-site by third parties, or delivered from multi-tenant clouds in the same fashion as UCaaS today. But I think this area is one of the likely mid-term outcomes of the Ericsson / Cisco deal, if the concept comes to fruition.

Remember - PBX stood for Private Branch Exchange. We should not be surprised if the IP and Mobile equivalent turns out to be the enterprise-owned PIMS, not a "mobile PBX" run as a service in a telco network. 
It’s being catalysed by a few things:
  • Mobile and BYOD: many employees are using mobile devices for most of their business communications. But most UC/smartphone implementations are still a bit clunky, with varying UIs depending on device and especially iOS vs. Android. Having an enterprise-run IMS (and voice application) would potentially allow the CIO to regain control of the “native dialler” on a phone, especially when connected in-building. There are open questions about numbering, but they may be tractable.
  • Cloud / Open-Source IMS: A few years ago, the idea of an enterprise owning an IMS would have been ludicrous, given the costs involved. But now, with virtualisation, cost pressures by telcos wanting cheap VoLTE, the emergence of open-source options like Metaswitch Clearwater, it is becoming much more downward-scalable. PIMS is starting to look like a cost-effective option.
  • Applications: Currently pretty much the only useful IMS application is straightforward VoIP/VoLTE phone calls. That isn't enterprise-optimised - it lacks the typical PBX-type functions that are needed. There aren't really telco-IMS contact centre apps, and nonsense like RCS certainly doesn't address enterprise messaging. Having a PIMS/WebEx/Spark combination would be much more interesting. Potentially it could also be run as an operator-hosted service, but I think the real value is where it is owned outright.
  • Middleware & APIs: Where this starts getting really interesting is in the creation of integrated apps blending a corporate comms platform, with corporate IT systems. Hooking into existing software platforms for sales or field automation, line of business and so forth. Potentially this is where a combination of a Cisco/Ericsson PIMS + Tropo starts looking interest. (Sidenote: unlike GenBand with Kandy, Ericsson lacks a WebRTC PaaS)

There’s a few other angles that play in here too. Most notably Cisco's earlier partnership with Apple, which I think many have underestimated. It is likely to optimise iPhones & iPads for use with Cisco's security, WiFi and collaboration tools. I can envisage a situation where companies ditch their old desk-phones for Apple i-Devices, either BYOD or company-issued, linked to Cisco communications apps running via an Ericsson PIMS, with outbound SIP/IMS trunks if needed. Potentially this could work with virtual numbers as well - not just for the US where fixed/mobile numbers are indistinguishable, but the rest of the world where mobile numbers are from separate defined ranges. 

Having a corporate-issued mobile number, anchored in a PIMS, would make a lot of difference - ability to use SMS, better fit with assorted apps that use mobile numbers for identity or authentication, porting in/out, maybe even assigning mobile numbers to IoT objects. There's a lot of variables here, and the rules will likely vary by country.

And for a long-range view, consider Apple’s work on virtual / eSIMs added in to this. Telcos might not like the idea of virtual SIMs in phones – but an enterprise, running its own IMS, its own WiFi network, and perhaps having access to LTE-U and maybe even its own mobile network code – may not be so squeamish. There are various types and styles of enterprise MNO and MVNO that can be envisaged here, depending on local regulation, willingness of local operators to wholesale or allow roaming, or even share spectrum. I can even imagine an “enterprise MNO” being run as a managed service by Ericsson.

Who would be impacted by this? Microsoft is at the top of the list, and also the traditional mobile operators’ enterprise units which still make good margins on corporate mobile subscriptions. It also sits against the emerging Google/Android/Telcos/BroadSoft/Switch enterprise ecosystem. Avaya is left looking a bit lonely here (although it also works with Google), as are the smaller UC players like Shoretel. It possibly even makes the bizarre Mitel/Mavenir acquisition look more sensible in hindsight, although that’s still pretty baffling.

The interesting question is whether Cisco and Ericsson have actually looked closely at what they might be catalysing – or whether they are themselves likely to be as surprised by the direction of travel. Obviously there are lots of questions about execution that come first, but if things go well, there could be a game-changer afoot.

(None of this is entirely new as a concept. About 10 years ago, I did consulting for a company called Zynetix (later bought by Sonus Networks) that sold enterprise-grade cellular-core MSCs that linked to PBXs. They could allow businesses to run private mobile networks, especially when linked to pico/femtocells running in “guard band” spectrum in the UK. However it was perhaps ahead of its time, hampered by some of the practicalities such as spectrum/radio limitations, needing clunky user-experience hacks like manually selecting different networks).


The bottom line is this: the notion that ALL enterprises will outsource the bulk of their internal networking or communications functions, especially to telecoms service providers, is a comforting myth. Yes, some will - hence the rise of UCaaS for mid-market businesses, and telco-managed WiFi in places like airports or sports stadia.

But that is only part of the story.  

Some enterprises will want to continue managing networks and communications in-house (whether on-premise or in a private cloud). This will ideally expand to include aspects of mobile networks/services where possible. Expect PIMS, better WiFi, PLWPAN and maybe PLTE and PMVNO models. Others will want to outsource these functions to IT-type service providers like IBM, rather than telcos.

Potentially, Cisco+Ericsson (with a side-order of Apple) can facilitate all these different paths to the user. This might not be popular among traditional telcos, but in my view the trend is inevitable. Enterprises will re-assert their control (and sometimes ownership) of wireless/mobile networks and communications platforms, especially as they become more-integrated with business processes and applications. 

There's a lot of reasons why this partnership might fail to bear fruit. But a lack of potential exciting and disruptive opportunities in enterprise isn't one of them.