Are National Broadband Networks Doomed?

Over the years, I’ve worked with national broadband projects in Australia, New Zealand, Qatar and Singapore. More recently in Australia, the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Their Retail Service Providers (RSPs) – who sell the NBN services to end customers, have been up in arms about NBN approaching large enterprise customers directly. Today, they announced that they would no longer do that – and that has the RSPs like Vocus, Mactel and Telstra very happy. Arguably, the decicion for NBN to sell direct was in breach of the founding principles that the Australian government put in place when it created NBNCo.

Such controversy is not why I think the NBN and the equivalents in other countries are doomed, although it’s not helping their case in the eyes of the public and end customers.

No, I think the proliferation of 5G networks and more recently global players like SpaceX’s Starlink constellation could be the harbinger of death for NBN.

Slow Rollouts

NBN has been copping a lot of flack lately in the media for taking too long to roll out. I get it, Australia is a HUGE country – even with most Australians living within an hour of the coast, it’s still a lot of physical ground that needs to be covered by the fibre and HFC networks that cover the bulk of the NBN end users. This has lead to a level of dissatisfaction with NBN as a whole.

Slow Network

Those end customers that do have a NBN connection are often complaining to the telecommunications ombudsman about the service they get – and while some of those faults are laid at the doorstep of the RSPs, some of it is due to physical breakages of modems and network termination devices and some are the fault of NBN – in all cases, because in Australia, we include NBN in the product offerings of the RSPs (ie – its customer facing), NBN cops the blame for ALL of the issues. As an example, my RSP (Optus) sold me a 100/40 HFC based NBN connection – which is usually fine. I often get 90-95 Mbps downstream and 30-37 Mbps upstream. However, so many HFC customers were seeing much slower than advertised speeds that Optus removed that speed combination from the market – the fastest they sell now is 50/20. (50 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up).

5G Networks

The 5G rollout in Australia is still pretty limited, but the 4G (LTE) rollout is pretty comprehensive and on 4G, I often see speeds approaching my home NBN based connection. Assuming 5G will bring a significant boost in speed (along with many other advantages including much great density of connections per cell) – which means that a 5G connections promises to deliver faster connections than NBN and without the need to tie the end customer down to their home boundaries.

If you add unlimited plans (in terms of Gb to be transferred up or down) to such as 5G (or even a 4G service) then you have a strong competitor to the NBN.

Some local mobile network providers and even MVNOs are already talking about selling fixed mobile services instead of selling a NBN based home (or office) connection.

Starlink

This morning, SpaceX launched another 60 satellites into orbit, bringing the total to 240 – that’s 120 new satellites within a month – well on the way to 12,000 satellites.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post (see https://telcotalk.online/index.php/2020/01/09/starlink-a-global-csp-disruptor/), SpaceX’s Starlink constellation of communications satellites promise to deliver broadband (up to 10 Gbps) AND low latency (good for gaming) to 100% of Australia (other than the Australian Antarctic Territory). If SpaceX can deliver reasonable plans (in terms of speed, capacity and price) then SpaceX will be a strong competitor for NBN. If the plans are right, it could kill NBN.

Two NBN alternatives – either could kill NBN

Sure, NBN in Australia is facing some significant challenges, but these are exactly the same challenges that all national broadband networks/project face… Customers have zero allegance to NBN – and if 5G or Starlink will provide faster speeds at a competitive price, NBN is doomed.

If you disagree, let me know what you think…

Telcos Capitalising on Social Networking Tools

Originally posted on 18Dec19 to IBM Developerworks where it got 8,218 Views

The announcement by Telstra* the other day of it’s social networking guidelines for employees (See Telstra’s 3Rs of Social Media Engagement and their online training class ) got me thinking about how Telcos should be using Social Networking tools and trends both internally and externally.  OK, Internally, a Telco is like any other big company when it comes to collaboration among it’s staff.  Social Networking tools help employees to  make contacts, learn and share more, find information more rapidly and maintain social networks beyond the physical boundaries of their own work location. If you’re curious about what I am talking about, I recommend you have a look at the great videos on YouTube from Jean Francois Chenier (An IBMer).  I have embedded the first of the series below:

 It’s pretty easy to see how within any large company, social networking software such as Lotus Connections makes sense provided you have enough people who actually use it – it seems to me to be something like groups calendaring – it is dependent on a significant proportion of the user population using the tool to make it effective. The way I see it, it is only a small step beyond the internal deployment of social networking tools to extend to a Telco’s trading partners.  That might include vendors, resellers (of Telco products – I was initially thinking retail, but that could include MNVOs), enterprise customers and others. Situations where employees of the Telco and employees of external companies need to work together and share information and collaborate – share idea, files, information – generally collaborate would seem to be a valid deployment of social networking tools. 

IBM already has an offering that uses social networking tools to build communities around the Ideation (Idea generation and growth) process, a kind of virtual brainstorming combined with idea and through sharing. The intent of the offering is to make it easier for companies to find and help to evolve idea for the next product to take to market.  In a Telco, this might be idea such applications like “Meet-on-click”** that a telco could take to market.  That offering is called the ‘Idea Factory’ and is not actually unique to the Telecom industry.  Kraft foods use the Idea Factory to come up with new ideas for product packaging.  When deployed in a Telco, we often combine the Idea Factory with IBM Mashup Center (recently V2.0 of Mashup Center was released by the way) – an offering I usually call the “Idea Factory for Telecom”.  The Mashup Center is used as a rapid prototyping environment for the ideas that are evolving within the Idea Factory.  In my view, this is a great way to build an active and dynamic developer community for the Telco.

China Telecom have demonstrated how effective the Idea Factory can be in a Telco environment – with a year on year improvement of 900% in a competition to find new applications  (3 to 27 new products).  Their Idea Factory deployment predated IBM Mashup Center, so they didn’t get the benefit of a rapid prototyping tool which I believe could increase the quality of the new product ideas even further.

While I am a big fan of the Idea Factory, I see that as just a starting point for social networking tools hosted by a Telco that extend beyond just their developer community and into their (much) larger subscriber base.  Think about building many local communities based around schools, churches, scout troops, national holidays, religious events, local football teams, mothers groups… anything really.  The community would have access to a shared virtual community on the web accessible from a PC or (more importantly for many developing nations) from a mobile phone, they would have microblogging, blogs, files sharing, discussion forums, profiles contacts AND be tied into more traditional Telco services such as calling circles.  The Telco could provide discounted call and text rate between community members.  Sound good?  I think so.  For the Telco I see a number of benefits:

  • Decreased likelihood to churn – increased ‘stickiness’
  • Stronger loyalty to the Telco brand
  • Increased revenue due to increase in call and text volumes and increased mobile data usage once a reasonable proportion of the community is using the tools
  • An additional weapon against the Internet based competitors (such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Instagram etc)

Telcos in my opinion have a significant advantage over the Internet companies when it comes to offerings like this. They have:

  • An existing relationship (post or pre paid) customer
  • More local footprint via people on the ground and reseller/franchisees
  • Existing monetary arrangements with the customers
  • Greater trust by customers (typically)

Telcos could easily become the local aggregation point for social networking within that community – for instance with a Facebook connection, subscribers could update their Facebook wall without the need to launch Facebook.  Microblogging entries could automatically update status in Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and sent a tweet out on twitter.

I think this is going to be big – web based social networking giants like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn have proved how popular web based social networking can be – add the local context to it and I think you have a winner for Telcos in many markets.

Now that I have started this thought, I think the next few posts could well be along similar vein – looking at the Idea Factory for Telecom, Telco focused Developer Ecosystems, User generated content and Public focused and Telco integrated social networking capabilities….

Here endith my thought (for now)

Telco System Evolution

Originally posted on 26Nov09 to IBM Developerworks where it got 11,308 Views

I had a request on the other week to create a number of topology diagrams that showed how a Telco might start small and grow their environment to add new capabilities and services. This was specifically for a telco in Vietnam, but I figured it would make sense to generalise the presentation and the images to make it usable for other opportunities. We’ve had a similar request from other telcos recently as well. The presentation step through 11 phases from a pilot/trial environment through to a full blown system. Each slide has speaker notes explaining what is being added at each phase in terms of products and capabilities. This presentation is not meant to make any recommendations on how to evolve form a small system to a more complex and capable one. What it is supposed to illustrate one possible evolution… Note that it focuses only on the IBM components and some other components would also be required for some phases (such as a transcoding engine in the media extension phase).

Below are three of the diagrams – Phase 1, Phase 6 and Phase 11 and the speaker notes that go along with that phase – to give you a feel for the flow…

Phase 1 – Test Environment

Phase 1 – Test Environment

At this first stage, an initial deployment might be considered a proof of concept or a trial – which could become the test and or ISV environment,  The functions that this could offer are:

  • Composite applications that bring together functions provided by the network.  For instance an application that consumes SMS messaging and integrates the location of the handset into an app. 
  • WSRR will get them down the path of SOA Governance – it is important to get this in early to ensure that the governance model is maintained and the Telco will now need to rework services that are created at this stage.
  • Complex workflows and business processes can be built which include human tasks (such as prototype processes for the production implementation )

Phase 6 – Developer Ecosystem including Web 2.0

Phase 6 introduces the Developer Ecosystem components such as :

  • Idea Factory for Telecom – which will help make a dispersed group of developers into a community.  It enable the sharing of ideas and a framework for the Telco to manage the evolution of the ideas that are generated within the community.  It also provides a rapid prototyping capability via…
  • IBM Mashup Canter which allows users to drag widgets onto a workspace and simply wire them together.  It is both the development and the runtime architecture.  This means that developers don’t need deep development skills in order to build new applications.
  • WebSphere sMash which provides a PHP and Groovy scripting environment (both development using the Dojo toolkit and the runtime environment)

This combined with the web services exposure deployed in phase 4 means that the developer ecosystem can now cater for all levels of developers – those with no skills can use the drag and drop mashup environment, script developers can use sMash and more advanced developers can use the web services interface.  In the backup slides there is an illustration of this.

For advanced developers the Telco can support developers across a range of IDEs ranging from Rational and Eclipse (where we have Telecom Toolkits available for free) to other IDEs (such as Microsoft Visual Studio or Sun Netbeans) where the IDE has tools to assist developers with consuming web services.  In all the IDEs, developers will consume the Web Services Description Language (WSDL) file from a UDDI directory in the DMZ.  The UDDI directory (part of WPS) is populated from the WSRR internal services repository.

Phase 11 – IMS integration and extension

When the Telco goes down the IP Mulitmedia Subsystem (IMS) path, the software deployed already has IMS enablement, but at this point we can also add WebSphere Presence Server (PS) and WebSphere XML document Management Server (XDMS – formerly WebSphere Grouplist Manager) which provides IMS services for the IMS services plane.  The core infrastructure that was deployed way back in phases 1 and 2 are critical to the IMS Services plane. 


It is important to understand that the phases I have split them down into are purely arbitrary and are not necessarily what would happen in a real telco. Which function occurs at what point and in combination with other functions is something that must be driven by the business requirements of the telco.  The intent is to illustrate how a telco could start small and add function incrementally building on the previous investments.

Telco leaders support IMS over LTE

Originally posted on 25Nov09 to IBM Developerworks where it got 7,721 Views

I noticed this article today at FierceWireless today:

Verizon, AT&T, others rally on IMS approach to voice over LTE

November 4, 2009 — 11:10am ET | By Phil Goldstein

Read more: Verizon, AT&T, others rally on IMS approach to voice over LTE – fiercewireless.com

Verizon Wireless, AT&T and several major international carriers and vendors threw their support behind an IMS-based approach to delivering voice and SMS services over LTE networks. The level of operator support–the approach also is supported by Orange, Telefonica, TeliaSonera and Vodafone–sits in sharp contrast to another approach, called Voice over LTE via Generic Access, or VoLGA, which is supported by T-Mobile International.

Vendors including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, Nokia, Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson also voiced their support for the initiative, dubbed One Voice. The companies said they concluded that an IMS-based approach “is the most applicable approach to meeting the consumers’ expectations for service quality, reliability and availability when moving from existing circuit-switched telephony services to IP-based LTE services. This approach will also open the path to service convergence, as IMS is able to simultaneously serve broadband wireline and LTE wireless networks.”

The companies said that the purpose of the initiative is to create the largest LTE ecosystem possible, and to avoid fragmentation of technical solutions.

Interestingly, both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson also support the VoLGA approach, and Nokia Siemens has supported its own solution, called Fast Track Voice, which proposes having mobile switching center servers handle VoIP traffic over LTE networks. VoLGA proponents argue that their approach should be used as an interim solution. All three vendors said they do not see a conflict in supporting the different approaches.

continues…

For more: See this release – SMS over LTE

See also this related article on UnStrung

Is it just me or when you read “VoLGA” do you think “Vulgar” – I think the ALu acronym police need to get out from behind their desks and make an arrest for that one!

I’ve drawn up a representation of the situation as I see it. NSN going it alone with Fast Track Voice, almost everyone else supporting VoLGA and planning to move to OneVoice.

The thing that I find really interesting is the inference by ALu that they will continue to stand by VoLGA as well as support it as an interim step to OneVoice while NSN seem to be saying that Fast Track Voice is only an interim step on the path to OneVoice. It’s also interesting to note that the VoLGA consortium seems to be mainly Network Equipment Providers (NEPS) while OneVoice is both NEPs and Telcos…. I suppose the most appropriate message is “watch this space”…


PS. On rereading this post, I imaging some of you are going ‘Huh?’ I apologise for the Telco jargon.  Let me take a moment to try and explain some of the terms that appear in this post.

  1. IMS – IP Multimedia Subsystem (not IBM’s mainframe database that helped put man on the moon).  This is a specification controlled by 3GPP (a Telco standards body) to describe a next generation IP based telephony environment.  Most telcos today still run a legacy switched environment based on very specialised protocols such as SS7 and Sigtran. These protocols are not IP based and as such require very specialised (read expensive) skills to work with them.  The other thing is that they are not really standardised – each NEP has their own version of the SS7 protocols.  IMS promises to bring much cheaper skills and shorter development cycles to the Telcos core platform – something they have not had before.  IBM has a number of products that are targeted at telco’s IMS infrastructure (WebSphere IMS Connector, WebSphere Presence Server and WebSphere XML Document Management Server)
  2. LTE – Long Term Evolution is seen by most NEPS as the next logical evolution step for carriers with GSM networks.  That evolutionaty path goes something like this: GSM->GPRS->EDGE->UMTS->HSDP->LTE.  LTE promises to deliver high bandwidth mobile connections.  The main rival to LTE is WiMax which you may have heard of before.
  3. ALu – Alcatel Lucent (a very common abbreviation for the joint company)

28Nov19

This post hasn’t really aged well. I’ve reposted it because it shows a historical perspective of the direction beck in 2009. These days, the acronym of choice is VOLTE – or Voice Over LTE. VOLTE has received a lot of traction in the past ten years with Apple, Google and others building support for VOLTE into their phones for a number of years now.