Custodian of the ecosystem
During our conversations with many operator CTOs recently, certain topics rose to the top time and time again. The threat posed by the Over The Top players was one of those topics, one that is often accompanied by the neologism ‘co-opetition’, a word that defines a delicately balanced, and sometimes rather uneasy state of compromise. Rather than seeing these new entrants purely as a direct competitive threat, mobile operators are coming to understand that there is a wealth of opportunity to be had through partnerships. The key is to offer connectivity, without giving away control of the network assets.
“Look at the mobile space in particular, the operators are being challenged from OTT players. These are generally internet companies looking at the phenomenal mobile environment where they can go and engage subscribers with compelling new services. The whole competitive landscape has really changed for the operators and they have to readjust to deal with that,” says John Sims, President of Sybase 365, (a subsidiary of Sybase, Inc., an SAP Company) a specialist in interconnectivity between these different players, while protecting the operators’ ecosystem.
“In order to combat this challenge, operators now need to embrace IP and the incredible, breathtaking pace of internet innovation. In fact, one of the main reasons operators are looking to migrate themselves to this all IP environment is really to develop a much richer set of services that they can offer to their subscribers to keep the customer engaged as opposed to losing the customers’ mind share and share of wallet to these OTT players,” Sims says. Sims positions Sybase 365 as a custodian of the operator ecosystem, helping mobile operators protect their long history of developing and investing in the mobile ecosystem.
“The operators have spent an enormous amount of money just acquiring spectrum, which in many countries has been a very substantial investment. They then have to make that spectrum active by deploying the infrastructure necessary for their respective countries. That’s an incredible amount of investment,” he says. Naturally, the first instinct of anyone perceiving an external threat is to look for ways to protect themselves. But Sims notes that this is a phenomenon we’ve seen at various stages over the evolution of technology, not just in telecoms. When new players come in to a space, the existing players have to put up barriers to try and slow them down, while they figure out how to respond.
“But what we’ve also seen in the long run, over many of these technological shifts, is that an open model allows all players to win. It’s the tide that raises all the boats. Now operators have come to an understanding that they compete with these players but they also have to co-operate with them,” says Sims. “And what’s important for everyone is to make sure there are a set of rules and guidelines to protect the integrity of the whole ecosystem and provide for the end user a quality service. So they don’t have problems like getting inundated with unwanted offers, text messages, etc.” In this respect, setting guidelines that everybody works to is a healthy thing for the ecosystem—and the operators play their part in that just as companies like Sybase 365 do as one of the interconnect providers in the overall scheme.
Sybase 365 has traditionally played a role in interconnecting operators for messaging traffic, and as a result claims a deep understanding and ability to connect service providers together which themselves are actually competitors. Sims suggests his company has “a reputation for being Switzerland,” a specialist that allows everybody to be able to play by the rules. “And as you get more new players coming along it’s one of our responsibilities on behalf of the ecosystem to help these new players understand and play by the rules.
Most of the time these companies want to play nicely, they just need to know what the rules are. Every now and again you get a bad actor that comes along and has to be educated that they can’t do certain things like spam and pushing services for which subscribers haven’t opted in. These things have to be controlled because they’re potentially destructive to the whole ecosystem.
“Of course we fundamentally believe that having more connected companies in the ecosystem is good for everybody because it creates more traffic and value for individual users. We allow these companies to connect in such a way that will ensure they play by the rules. Sybase 365 also plays the role of the educator and, when needed, enforcer,” Sims says.
Yet the world is changing. The mobile industry is on the cusp of a new generation of technology and solutions, while at least two generations of legacy technology are still in place. How can operators manage their services across multiple technology platforms, and how do they facilitate interoperability between them? Sybase 365 says it is tailoring its offerings to meet these demands.
“We will continue to provide interconnect across boundaries in the traditional SMS and MMS sense but increasingly in the IP world through our IP Exchange (IPX). In the IP ecosystem the services we’re providing interconnect for, are more than just messaging, it’s voice itself and data roaming and video. Any IP service that needs geographic interconnect, we play a role there,” Sims says. So if there is a new internet player that provides an IP based messaging service that wants to connect to SMS then Sybase 365 provides the technology bridge between IP on their side and SMS on the operator’s side and makes that bridge as seamless as possible.
Naturally, LTE, as the all IP next generation technology, is a big part of this mix. Over 300 operators have committed to LTE deployments around the world and many of them are in some stage of deployment already, so there is a push to IP taking place and many operators are very focused on getting their network up and running in their own country. “When that is done they will look up and see that they have to connect to other operators around the world as well,” Sims notes. “That’s where IPX comes in. IPX acts as the hub. They don’t want to have to switch between IP and traditional telephony because QoS will degrade, and using our IPX maintains the end-to-end connection on IP and ensures the QoS. It’s also much less costly.”
Simply by providing the IPX, Sims explains that Sybase 365 is providing an end to end uninterrupted IP connection from someone who’s data roaming or calling on one network to someone on another network, with no disruption in the middle. “IPX needs to be provided by someone other than the operator,” he says. “You need to be someone independent of all the players”.
“Firstly you need to have a very high quality transport network, then we apply our solution suite for the monitoring of those connections and checking the dynamic scalability of the bandwidth that must be applied to those connections to ensure it is of the highest quality.”
We’ve looked at reach across geographic boundaries, and across different ecosystems, but what about reach across the broad mobile user base? Most subscribers globally are on older generations of technology and they are doing two things: voice and SMS. This is Sybase 365’s traditional domain, where it has been providing connectivity to allow SMS to be delivered seamlessly across networks; networks that may well run for a long time yet. But, there’s also an evolution taking place.
“You will see a migration of services that varies in different countries depending on the operator’s motivation for the move to 4G. In some countries there just isn’t enough spectrum available in the 2G or 3G bands to support the kind of data traffic operators want, so the main impetus for going to 4G will be data. Some countries will need to support more voice traffic which is another reason for moving to 4G. In other countries the big emphasis is on data and a lot of voice will remain on 2G and 2.5G. So you’ll get a shift of services. It won’t be like the subscribers exist on one network but not on another,” Sims says. “There will be varying permutations of how subscribers lay out on different network infrastructure.”
In some part of the world, Sims also sees limitations where the industry is being held back a bit–specifically with regards to spectrum– where operators in different countries have bought spectrum but, the spectrum allocated by the regulators in many cases is on different frequency bands. Given that it’s not feasible to build a phone that supports 25 different frequency bands, this is an impediment to geographic roaming. Sims believes we still have to see some work done in this area to give some level of harmonisation in spectrum bands, so the industry still needs to think about how to enable roaming and geographic interconnect on a level we have already achieved with voice and SMS.
“We’re still in the early stages and we’ve seen a lot of good foundational work done,” he says. ”IP technologies exist and people have seen they work, so now it’s down to the operators for more hard work and money spent getting them rolled out. Even when all the technologies are there you still have the behavioural cycle of the subscriber. They are used to voice and SMS and in developed countries, cameras and touch screens. There’s a lot of opportunity ahead. Now it’s just a question of continuing the rollouts and getting subscribers to realise what the possibilities are and what the offers are in the IP world to draw them to use mobile more.”
Sybase 365 will work with operators in any dimension, and Sims would like to see a migration in operators to different technologies because it makes a lot more possible for the subscriber. On the one hand there are traditional networks with SMS which can be reconnected to a new generation of offerings. Through IPX, connectivity can be provided for anything, from voice to video, data to messaging. SMS has been around for a long time and it’s not going away, but in a packetised world it can find its niche among a plethora of richer and more engaging services.