4G Wireless: An Opportunity for Operational Change
Simon Worrall 2700024JW6 firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  ibmontwitter assetmgmt asset-management ibmsoftware software service-management tivoli eam maximo
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If you were in involved in 3G rollouts in the early 2000’s, it’s probably a painful memory. European mobile operators alone spent 100 billion euros on spectrum licenses, equipment manufacturers touted the benefits, and everyone was excited. Then, the dot.com and telecom bubbles burst, and 3G adoption slowed to a crawl.
But, even when 3G enthusiasm was at its height, there was still that dark, unspoken question: “What’s the killer app?”
The 2G killer apps were voice and text messaging, but it just wasn’t clear what would drive adoption of mobile data services. In fact, the question itself was telling; it was an artefact of the industry’s history of delivering a few high-volume services in a walled-garden environment.
Ten years on, and we have an answer. There isn’t a killer app. Instead, there are 425,000 apps for the iPhone and iPad, and a growing number for Android. It’s not about a single killer app, but about unleashing the creativity of independent software and content providers to deliver highly targeted micro-services to the consumer market. Mass customisation has hit the radio waves.
Here’s the problem: who now owns the customer? While mobile operators sell apps directly and promote the latest “exclusive” smartphones, you have to wonder whether this is going to provide a sustainable competitive advantage, or if it can compete at all against Apple and Google
Mobile operators are clever people; they know this and are focusing other areas to drive growth:
The second area – APIs – is an obvious value-added play:
The second – ubiquitous, high quality bandwidth – has its own challenges:
This all leads to the core issue. Mobile bandwidth will become a commodity – this has already started – and yet the cost of building and running this infrastructure is high. The differentiators will be price, quality and coverage, all of which take money. I would argue that the true source of competitive differentiation will be operational excellence and the ability to minimize the cost of consumables – including energy, which represents a significant proportion of the cost of operating cell site infrastructure.
What was a back-office function, albeit an incredibly important one, is now thrust into the limelight of top-line revenues and bottom-line profitability. Operators are already responding to this in several ways:
Whatever the approach, what is needed is an overhaul of the processes and systems used to manage this infrastructure. Every network operations executive I talk to has a roadmap to do this, but getting there isn’t easy:
At the same time, operators are very wary of investing in monolithic systems that cover many functions, and are not modular and or easy to integrate. Early telco management systems were monolithic, and the long battle to break free from these has left a nasty taste in many a seasoned veteran’s mouth. Instead, they want the following:
A number of years ago, the magic bullet for this was best-of-breed software for each function, supported by standardized integration points that made “plug-and-play” deployment quick and inexpensive. The TMF lead the charge in defining standard frameworks such as eTOM, TAM and SID to support this, and software vendors worked to deliver aligned products.
The TMF frameworks are still a fine model for telecom operations, although there are efforts underway to connect this with ITIL, particularly in support of IT/network convergence. However, the reality of a pure best-of-breed approach has been heavy integration costs and the slowing of rationalization roadmaps. More and more, operators are looking for modular, open, and integrated suites, which can be deployed in a single function, and then expanded over time to replace other systems or integrate with them – that choice is crucial, as it offers the ability to consolidate without having to bite off insurmountable amounts of change at one time.
The good news is that the upcoming investments in 4G infrastructure offer an opportunity to drive this change, and to look anew at existing systems, processes and consolidation roadmaps. New cell sites builds, new equipment and new services all mean new revenues streams and new operational and capital costs, and saving money during rollout can fund the cost of system and process change.
The trick is to start now though, before the 4G rollouts begin in volume. Operators need to plan for this change in order to reap the benefits; it’s no good trying to select and implement new systems once the roll-out is underway.
Maximo offers communications service providers the opportunity to consolidate trouble ticketing, work management, asset tracking, maintenance and change management into a single, open and modular platform that integrates easily with existing systems. Maximo manages networks, cells sites, central offices, corporate real estate, and fleets, and can be implemented as a complement to existing platforms or as a complete end-to-end solution.
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