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Updated: June 14, 2010 14:46 IST

‘No amount of spectrum will be enough’

D. Murali
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Avi Basu, CEO, Connectiva Systems, Inc., New York
Avi Basu, CEO, Connectiva Systems, Inc., New York

With increasing churn levels in the industry, should telecom CEOs hold CTOs accountable for customer experience on consumption of network services? Do they measure subscriber satisfaction on metrics such as SMS / MMS delivery, bandwidth availability, latency etc.? These are some of the important questions that matter not only to CTOs but also to the increasing number of telecom subscribers.

Till even a couple of years ago, most CTOs were measured on traditional network / service assurance KPIs, concedes Avi Basu, CEO, Connectiva Systems, Inc., New York (http://bit.ly/F4TAviBasu). However, given the vast disconnect between network metrics and actual customer experience, CEOs have been expanding the CTO mandate to include subscriber experience metrics on the network, he adds, during the course of a recent interaction with Business Line.

Succeeding in understanding the quality of service at an individual subscriber is critical if service providers are to view networks and service performance as the customers do, Avi avers. “The CTO can also act as a provider of insight to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Customer Officer (CCO) by helping customer service agents get an up-to-date view of a customer’s experience while fielding calls in the service centre. Thus, for a CTO, customer orientation is becoming increasingly important as compared to technology orientation.”

Excerpts from the interview.

In an IP-dominated network, are the CIO and CTO roles merging? Who does what in this new landscape?

Yes, with the move to an all-IP network, the boundaries between CIO and CTO role definitions are getting blurred. Service delivery platforms are a classic example of this, where next generation telecom services are designed and delivered on IT-based systems.

Some leading telcos are starting to merge the two positions but some others are redefining the traditional boundaries of each role, letting the CIO being a productivity enabler while the CTO takes ownership of core service delivery to external constituents.

Would the future be about a small number of network operators providing dumb pipes to a large number of retail service providers who offer connectivity, content and community services? What models do you see evolving over the long term?

It is very hard to predict, but in broad terms, we see telcos morphing into three layers:

a) The service provider who owns the network as well as the consumer. This is the most prevalent telco model.

b) The network infrastructure providers who sell capacity in wholesale to retail and content service providers. Here the primary role of the telco is that of a distribution channel while the content and the service is owned by a myriad of third-party vendors.

c) The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) who owns only the customer. The infrastructure and in some cases the business support systems are leased out from infrastructure providers.

Innovation that drives differentiation will move from the back-end of the network to new services, applications and content. Advertising is set to evolve as a key business model, especially in a world where connectivity and bandwidth are increasingly commoditised and the knowledge of customer interests, behaviour and experience are your most strategic asset.

We may also see a change in stance of the network operators who increasingly metamorphose into information infrastructure backbone providers with an n-sided business model.

Telco 2.0 is an example of multi-sided business model where the consumers of the service play a participatory role. As more and more industries target to reach out to a broader customer base over any available channel, network operators and their infrastructure may just be the means to that end.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in the roll out of 4G and LTE? What are your predictions on mobile bandwidth in 5 years?

LTE (Long Term Evolution) is revolutionary in terms of what it can provide, as it dramatically improves latency, and throughput, and increases plug and play. The targets for LTE indicate bandwidth increases as high as 100 Mbps on the downlink, and up to 50 Mbps on the uplink but we have to see how actual bandwidth capabilities match up to the promise.

This can be hugely revolutionary in terms of bringing computing, collaboration and next generation service and application consumption to the masses. The trick is to ensure that these advancements are not limited and made exclusive to an elite band of high-end users but are made affordable to users at all price points.

The key challenges for rolling out these next generation services would include limited network visibility, quality of service, contract and SLA management, revenue and charging models, and of course cost and margin management.

Networks will become increasingly complex; because of the hybrid nature of existing networks, the migration to a converged all IP network will take years. Carriers will have to support a variety of networks and interconnections between the networks well into the future. Each new technology requires new interfaces and protocols. The delivery of mixed services introduces another layer of complexity.

One of the major challenges operators face as they evolve their networks to support Internet, VoIP and multimedia services is their inability to trace transactions end-to-end across the networks. Complete, real-time visibility of the transactional data is essential for effective network management as well as service and revenue assurance.

Many carriers have deployed monitoring tools for each technology, but this approach provides just a limited, fragmented view of the network. Effective management of such networks necessitates a single vantage point for collecting and analysing real-time, network-wide data.

Thus, the mix of challenges versus opportunities in different geographies would be an interesting phenomenon which would determine the success of operators in such markets.

Though spectrum insufficiency is not a plaguing factor for an emerging market like India at the moment, but given the exponential rate of growth of data usage, no amount of spectrum will be enough. The demands on bandwidth will be proportional to the rate of growth of new and innovative services that service providers will bring to the market.

Global revenues from mobile data service usage (including music, gaming, video and such) are well over $35 billion today, close to 5 times from what it was less than 5 years ago. Also, managing infrastructural deployments to cater to 4G services and expansion of the available bandwidth would easily cost in the order of $10 billion.

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