Nº 10 2012 > ITU Telecom World 2012 | Special report
Over-the-top (OTT) players are challenging the 800-strong GSMA mobile operator community, according to analysts Dean Bubley, founder of Disruptive Analysis and Martin Geddes, founder of Martin Geddes Consulting, who suggested that mobile operators had not moved quickly enough on Internet Protocol (IP)-based services.
“The traditional market for calling is starting to sink. While the supply of calling alternatives is going up, this shows prices will go down,” said Mr Bubley. Mr Geddes concurred, “There has been an explosion of new services and the role of carriers is changing at this turning point. As we move from the supply to demand side, carriers must embrace the change — if you can’t beat them, join them.”
Speaking on behalf of its mobile carrier members, Dan Warren, GSMA’s Director of Technology, agreed that service providers had been slow to move, but contended that his organization’s recommendations on voice over LTE made sense in terms of providing the ubiquity that true mobility required. “We’ve built a successful business for 25 years on a model, and it is very difficult to change the model. You need a big change to happen and that change is happening now. Maybe we should have seen this five years ago when people started launching IP services”, he said.
The ICT industry is built on standards, but it is fast moving, highly fragmented and fiercely competitive. The convergence of the telecommunication industry with the Internet world has added new layers of complexity that are creating a bottleneck in innovation.
“The growth in ICT is largely thanks to international standards”, said Houlin Zhao, Deputy Secretary-General of ITU. “ITU’s primary function is to facilitate cross-border communications between countries. Today it is still essential that systems in different countries speak the same language. Standards are required by all segments of the industry to provide a common platform for young markets to find their feet”, he said.
Unsurprisingly, finding areas of collaboration, coordination and cooperation is the key challenge. “The ITU, 3GPP, CCSA, the Broadband Forum, OMA, IEEE, ISO, ETSI, GSMA, W3C, TCC, these are just a few of the standards bodies involved”, pointed out Bruce Gracie, Chairman of the Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group. “What is needed in the standardization landscape includes convergence and linkages between these organizations. This would foster faster standards for the benefit of industry and consumers”.
“I would like to set the aims of standards organizations a little lower”, said Luis Jorge Romero Saro, Director General of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). “We are here to help our members. We are enablers. It is true that some standards are competing, but we must know how to cooperate. ICT is at the core of almost everything. We need to work out how to embed ICT in other sectors.”
Unfortunately, bringing standards bodies to the table takes time. An example was provided by Mr Saro, who cited an M2M standard where it took 18 months to get initial participants together — “In that amount of time, it is possible to start an ICT company, make it rich, then kill it off”, he noted.
Networks with a human face
Designing the networks of the future is a task that must be started now —and a more human-centric approach is needed for sustainability, not only of networks, but also of business models. Moderator Luis M. Correia, Associate Professor at IST/IT-Technical University of Lisbon, asked panellists to comment on that idea.
Alojz Hudobivnik, Product Marketing Manager at Iskratel, saw information and communication technologies as a key enabler for improving the quality of life for all humanity. He urged industry to move faster in adapting to its new role in subsidizing other functions in society, supporting other industry sectors such as health and education in driving socio-economic development. “The requirement comes directly from society, to improve on the past”, he said, “With M2M, this means connecting machines and devices to one another in the Internet of Things. But the machine level must be at a different level from the human one, clearly allowing us to live out our ideas and supply the needs of our daily life. The machines, devices and networks are simply facets of technology as an enabler. And to ensure sustainable ecosystems, we must avoid any kind of limitation, whether on network coverage or on human knowledge.”
Huawei CTO, Sangi Li, pointed out that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what smart networks in a connected world can achieve. Carrier networks are, and will continue to be, just one part of the global network of the future. Carrier networks are facing challenges that include dealing successfully with the over-the-top challenge, either by differentiating, competing or cooperating with the new market players. He underlined the importance of overlay models to enable seamless migration from multivendor, multi-generation legacy networks to new networks supporting converged services, saying that “empowering the whole ecosystem through the carrier is a fundamental part of ICT convergence, using the openness of the network and the intelligence at its edge.”
Personalization is critical, claimed Steve Alexander, CTO and Senior Vice-President at Ciena, pointing out that if human faces were network connections we would all look identical and be unidentifiable. He called for a fundamental change from thinking of networks as a collection of static pipes to viewing them as a flexible, dynamic, fluid and highly-programmable platform model. “The network from the viewpoint of human interaction and actual user experience has never been more important than today”, he said. “Carriers are competing on quantity and quality of connections, and must now bring together three basic functions — connect, compute and store — to provide a model for future carrier services.”
Atsushi Takahara, Director of NTT Network Innovation Laboratories, called for a greater focus on how individuals or subscribers view the Internet, and how different services carried by networks could be integrated into a single platform or “my network” for the benefit of end users, increasing both resilience and personal security. ”