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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

BYOD trend means BYOSP (bring your own service provider)... and will driveTelco-OTT services

One of the largest trends in enterprise IT right now is “BYOD” – standing for “bring your own device”. This is just a snappy acronym for what’s been happening for a while – employees using their own mobile phones, tablets or other products for work as well as in their personal life. Previously, it was given the less-cool name of “consumerisation of the enterprise”, although pedantically that also implies the use of consumer-grade services (eg Skype) as well as hardware.

BYOD is important for a whole host of reasons relevant to enterprise CIOs and their suppliers – security, management, fit with IT applications and so on. In the past, IT departments would have typically had a proscriptive “Thou shalt use company-approved Device X if thou wisheth to receive support”. Or in other words “Use your BlackBerry or E71 for business email, not your iPhone or Galaxy S”. But over time, the pushback has become more solid – often starting with C-level executives or top staff ignoring those edicts and demanding that IT support their favoured products. It’s a brave IT manager that will tell the CEO or top salesperson that they can’t use their iPad when they’re with clients.

But this post is not about those practical issues – it’s about how this impacts telcos.

The first point is that this potentially doesn’t just mean BYOD – it also implies BYOSP (bring your own service provider). Employees’ own devices, if used for business, are likely to be connected via a broad array of mobile network operators, or if WiFi-only, perhaps no SP at all. This is a completely different model to the idea of a corporate “fleet” of mobile devices all provided by the same company, with a bundled device+SIM deal. Instead, BYOD means that employees will have various SIMs, and various operator-customised versions of phones, plus some that are “vanilla” bought through retail.

This is a major problem for operators that have been trying to develop and sell enterprise mobility applications such as mobile PBX clients, or dedicated middleware for connection to back-end corporate applications. If a company’s IT department now has a mix of users with iOS, Android, Windows and other devices, connecting via Vodafone, O2, Orange and WiFi, it makes it much less likely that they will want (say) Vodafone OneNet or an Orange VPN client .

Instead, they will want applications that can work on any device (and OS/firmware build), running on any network. In other words, OTT-style functions using generic data connectivity – probably via the public Internet, but perhaps also via a dedicated connection like BlackBerry’s BES.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you can probably see what’s coming next:

If mobile operators seriously want to offer advanced mobile enterprise services, they are going to need to run them over their competitors’ networks, at least part of the time. Maybe they will be better when integrated with their own optimised device and network, but to reach the BYOD community they will need to push towards an OTT model themselves.

MNO services + BYOD + WiFi-only devices = mandatory Telco-OTT

That, needless to say, is easy neither for operators to accept, nor execute upon. Yet it will be essential, unless operators want to confine their enterprise exposure to the dwindling group of corporate-provided homogenous fleets of users.

This is one of the themes covered in Disruptive Analysis’ new report on Telco-OTT Strategies. If you're interested, contact information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com or click here

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Telco-OTT Strategies report now published

The report is now available.

  • 135 pages
  • 88 operator services mentioned
  • 4 service categories
    • Content, video & portals
    • Communications, social & identity
    • Corporate & cloud 
    • Connectivity
Comprehensive discussion of what "Telco-OTT" means, why it's inevitable, and key success factors for making it work. Covers everything from VoIP to femtocells to SaaS to IP-VPNs to portals to IPTV-anywhere.

For full details or to order via PO/invoice, please email:    
                                                                     information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com

**NEW! Contents are available here **

Or to purchase immediately by credit card or Paypal, please select licence option (1-3 users, or corporate) and click the links below. The report will be emailed as a PDF, wherever posssible within 24 hours.

Telco-OTT report (PDF) 1-3 users

Telco-OTT report (PDF) Corporate Licence

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Peak Telephony - why voice has to be about more than phone calls

This thread is from my Facebook page. The original poster is a 23yo friend, others range up to about 40-45yo. I thought it was worth a post as it highlights the reason why re-organising a trillion-dollar industry about something as near-obsolete as the 100-year old "phone call" is so dangerous.

[Note: I don't know "Samuel" who defends the phone call, but by an interesting coincidence there's someone on LinkedIn who's a "technology analyst" with the same age & academic background].

Ruth: Am I alone in really not liking talking on the phone? Or am I a bit weird? It's just that someone phoning you on a mobile is a bit like someone leaping into the middle of your room yelling "Talk to me! Drop everything you are doing and talk to me RIGHT NOW! Talk to me!"

Samuel:  No different to a Facebook update

Scott: I like voicemail. My phone is for me to talk to people when i want to. Not for them to bug me at their leisure.

Ruth: Totally is, and to a text message. Those I can ignore and deal with at my leisure.

Matt: ‎*nods* Asynchronous communication FTW!

Samuel:  You can ignore the phone call too. No-one is making you answer it, it's just that the alert is a little longer. You obtain and deal with the information at a later date, just like with a text, except that rather than opening, reading and replying to a text, you're calling, listening and replying to a contact. Or opening, listening to a voicemail, and then calling back.

Dan: I totally agree with your aversion to phone calls. I used to think it was all talking to someone and not being able to see their expression but now I realise it's the inherent guilt that I'm busy doing something else at the same time as talking. Somehow it's fine to chat to someone face to face but it's impossible to talk on the phone without needing something else to do. Which is why Skype is evil - they can see what you are doing!!

Ruth: Sam, on a day when I am clearly very irritable anyway, do you have to make everything an argument? I was clearly just asking for a little light moral support for my stance, not a serious debate.

Fleur: Totally agree. People should ask for permission by text or email before calling.

Alex: I HATE talking to people on the phone. I can't see their expressions, and my own voice sounds so droning, and my gesticulations are wasted, and I get distracted so easily and my eye wanders to a book or something and then I lose track of the conversation and get flustered, and the horrible nagging ring just breaks in on life demanding to be heard, usually when I'm busy. Aaargh. I can talk to close family (who I can read even without expressions) while walking at night when there's not a lot to see or in Camden where there's a lot I don't want to see, but beyond that, ugh. I usually leave my phone off, or 'forget' to charge it, or 'mislay' it. Currently, I'm not entirely sure where it is, and suspect that it may be out of charge.

Ruth: I wish I could do that with my phone but it's also my texting device and I'm a very happy and regular texter. Is there a way to just "accidentally" turn off the phone part of an iphone? But not leave it permanently unserviceable in case I need to phone utilities to yell at them or etcetera (which rules out just smashing the microphone unfortunately)


Saturday, January 21, 2012

800+ providers of telephony services in a shrinking market? Consolidation to Telco-OTT, not federation, is the answer

Every telco, fixed or mobile, operates its own telephony service. Some operate two or more - either with separate enterprise platforms, IMS (mostly fixed, but VoLTE for some in the future), or OTT-style VoIP.

This is ridiculous.

The conventional telephony market is peaking, and in various areas declining. Apart from emerging markets with new users, even mobile telephony is reducing in price and popularity, as people switch to messaging or in some cases Internet-based VoIP alternatives. Pricing regulation, and accounting changes, are also driving down the measured market size.

Yes, we see some consolidation in terms of networks for various reasons, but really, given that data use is growing and voice telephony is falling, it makes sense to decouple them. Telephony service consolidation is massively overdue, and has been hampered by legacy constraints about numbering, interconnect, roaming and so forth. Some of those constraints are regulatory, and some are about commercial inertia.

The advent of Skype and its peers is changing this. Skype is taking over a significant share of the most "open" part of the market, international direct-dial calls. That's a good and easy starting point, because pricing is egregiously-high, and most calls are from fixed locations, but there is much more to come.

The current "federation" model where each network owner runs its own voice service and they interconnect is a quirky legacy. The telecoms "establishment" would have you believe that on-net telephony will always be the highest quality. But the QoS argument is a red herring on at least two counts:
  • Customers pay the highest prices for the lowest QoS guarantee - when roaming, where your home operator has very little visibility or control over the quality of the visited network.
  • Continued insistence by operators and vendors that (if Net Neutrality laws were permitted) they could offer guaranteed QoS to third party providers such as Skype.
If you take the latter point to its logical conclusion, it suggests that, ironically, Net Neutrality is the only thing that allows operators' own telephony services to differentiate quality from third parties'. Today, the only voice service that most operators are allowed to optimise is their own.

If you stop to think about it, the economics are ridiculous. maybe 1000 global companies each offer the same simple service, locally, with expensive equipment, which could easily be centralised or redesigned with different architectures. That is 1000 providers of a flat or declining "electronic" service. They typically tie the "phone service" to other products like Internet access or  TV. Ten years ago, there were probably 1000 global mid-size retail chains of booksellers.

Even in banking and finance (a traditional national-oriented industry), we see cross-border acquisitions and centralised functions. We have centralised currency trading hubs, rather than each country having its own marketplace.

I recently flew between Singapore and London on Qantas, the Australian airline, quite literally "over the top" of both places. There's no mandate that anyone walking into (accessing) Changi Airport only uses Singapore Airlines.

In future, it will be ridiculous to suggest that anyone using AT&T or Vodafone's network can only use their telephony services. Obviously in fixed networks, various models of unbundling have been possible for years, and that will make similar logical sense in mobile as well. Either QoS mechanisms will be good enough to allow "managed" third-party access, or VoIP software will be good enough not to need it.

Looking ahead, I expect to see massive consolidation in the provision of basic commodity telephony services. The GSMA/ITU view that each network operator should have its own telephony service is an anachronistic, obsolete picture. We may well see innovative "non-telephony" voice services tailored to particular demographics, geographies or customer bases, but basic "Person A calls Person B for 5 minutes" will surely see aggregation.

We will also see some telephony move away from being a "service" altogether - speech will be a feature of the web, with spoken forms of words essentially little different to italic or bold. HTML5 and WebRTC are already starting that next phase of development. Some telephony will just become a mere feature or function of browsers or apps, rather than a third-party administered "service".

I predict that maybe 3-5 global players will dominate in "telephony services" by 2020, plus perhaps some regional or country-specific companies, for example if regulations are limiting factors in market evolution. There will also be some low-end vertically-integrated operators that just run 2G or 3G networks, for which 3rd-party telephony service is a more complex proposition - but even there, much of their back-end infrastructure is likely to be provided wholesale, by a company with more scale.

The obvious contenders from today's perspective are Microsoft/Skype, Google and maybe Facebook or Apple. Maybe also an infrastructure UTF player such as Ericsson or Huawei, offering their own direct-to-consumer voice services, hollowing out operators or just using them as a wholesale channel. Other newcomers like Viber or Vox.io might also spring from nowhere, with innovative approaches garnering massive support almost overnight.

But telcos could still have a role to play, if (and only if) some of them break free from the shackles of linking access and telephony service, ignore new "one-deployment-per-network-operator"  blind alleys like VoLTE, and emulate the new winners.

In my view, there is scope for a few telcos to become Tier-1 Global telephony players in 2020, after the market has consolidated massively. Those that win will be those that become proficient and successful at what I term "Telco-OTT" forms of voice service.

The current industry trajectory, of international operator groups sharing some core-network and application-layer infrastructure gives some scale benefits, but not enough. It lacks the "viral" nature of the best Internet-OTT players, which can capture users' minds, hearts and wallets, irrespective of their access providers.

The federation model can never win again - it is too slow-moving and bureaucratic, and cannot evolve services fast enough to keep up with the needs and whims of today's fickle communications users. The tired "ubiquity" argument is one which Facebook, with close to a billion users, and Google, with probably 2 billion+, have already won. There are close parallels between today's telephony and 2001's email market.

So, there will likely only be 1 or 2 telcos with major revenues from "vanilla" telephony in 2020.

And the real value will come from additional services, perhaps based around innovative voice and messaging concepts. Apple is showing the way here, with Siri. Microsoft may well do something clever with Skype and its other properties like Kinect or XBox. Google might do real-time translation in the cloud. Facebook might do some clever form of "social voice". None of those would work in "federated mode", based on the legacy telecom interconnect/standards worldview.

The Telco Telephony winners in 2020 will not only be those who can implement "Telco-OTT", but also those with a true vision of the "Future of Voice" that goes beyond just protecting the 100-year accident of linking phone service to network access.

Disruptive Analysis' new strategy report on Telco-OTT Services & Strategies is out next week. 

For details, email information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com, or see my pre-announcement blog post here.