A Digital Future for Everyone

Baroness Martha lane Fox, Internet pioneer and co-founder of lastminute.com,  has recently launched a campaign to try raise public and government awareness as to how the internet can benefit everyone, rather than just being a corporate billboard for advertising.   It is entitled DOT EVERYONE, a play on the .com extension used by commercial websites.

As a business women in the late 90’s Baroness Fox realised the potential of the internet to provide an economical channel through which services could be delivered directly to the public.  Lastminute.com thrived on scooping up the unsold seats for holidays and west end shows and making them immediately available to the public with an easy to use search engine.  It was a business model that was uniquely suited to the internet, since it dealt with a data product that would become obsolete very quickly and targeted a geographically disparate market.  The internet provided the perfect channel through which such a product could be made available to a huge market in the minimum of time.  It is now Europe’s largest travel and leisure website.

Today she is working to enlighten the British government and public as to how those characteristics of the internet that lastminute.com exploited could also serve the public good.  Her DOT EVERYONE campaign has three key strands

  1. To help educate all of us, from all walks of life, about the internet. The internet is the organising principle of our age, touching all our lives, every day. As the late activist Aaron Swartz put it, “It’s not OK not to understand the Internet anymore”.
  2. To put women at the heart of the technology sector. Currently there are fewer women in the digital sector than there are in Parliament.
  3. We (the British government) should aim for a much more ambitious global role in unpicking the complex moral and ethical issues that the internet presents.

While these messages were aimed primarily at UK government, they are really aspirations that should apply equally to governments everywhere. In this blog I am looking at the first of those messages.  In order to “educate all of us”, it is essential that good internet services are made available to all of us.  Baroness Fox goes on to say

“We need to make sure that those in power understand how the internet can help us redefine public services, improve the lives of the most vulnerable, bolster our economy.” 

Key to this redefinition of public services is the usability of government websites.  By improving the usability of websites it is hoped many more interactions with government will happen as self-service transactions, resulting in substantial cost savings.  A good user experience can result in improved quality of service for much lower cost.   In a letter written to the government in 2010 Fox states

It seems to me that the time is now to use the Internet to shift the lead in the design of services from the policy and legal teams to the end users.”

In other words, governments must cut through red tape and design services around user needs.

Along with improving the quality of transactions on government websites it is also recommended that services should be made available through API’s such that external organisations can directly utilise government services, as well as making them more widely available to re-sellers.

“We should put government transactional services and content where people spend their time on the web, rather than always expecting them to go to Directgov.” (government website)

By exposing API’s to third party vendors then not only are external companies able to directly interface to those services, but they also able to offer them on to other consumers, thereby extending the reach of the service providers.  For example, Ebay and Facebook often carry ads for third party organisations that post their content via the Ebay and Facebook API’s.

A third recommendation is that services should be centralised through a single portal.  This will improve ease of access, but will also result in removing duplication.

The recommendations that Baroness Fox has made are already making a substantial difference to how consumers interact with government, and will continue to drive government to improve services and embrace the digital age.  In the words of Baroness Fox

What digital is about, what the internet allows, is a radical redesign of services. Cheaper, better, faster.”

It’s a revolution that affects everyone.

Mark Jenkins
Mark Jenkins has worked in the IT industry for over 15 years as a BI and Analytics consultant, and more recently as ROC Product Manager for Subex Ltd. He has designed and deployed solutions for global companies in many sectors including Insurance, utilities and telecommunications. Mark holds a BSc Hons in Computer Science from Manchester University (UK).

Making the Connection

It’s 7AM and I can’t put off getting up any longer, so I look out the window and see there’s a light frost on the grass, which the weather channel warned me about 3 days ago.   An hour later I’m at the train station waiting for the 7:42 which is delayed because the frost has caused the points to seize up in a town 50 miles away, so now the entire South East rail system is completely snarled up. They predicted the weather and probably knew there would be a point’s failure, but still the network crashed. So I need to phone work to let them know I’m going to be late, but I can’t connect. Thousands of other commuters around me are also trying to phone ahead, but the network can’t handle it. It seems to happen every day.

We are surrounded by events which are beyond our control, but often they happen in predictable ways. The points failure was perhaps less predictable than my alarm, but we always knew that when the temperature dropped there would be some kind of failure somewhere that would lead to cancellations and a breakdown of the network. We always knew that rush hour would become an agonising crawl into town on overcrowded trains. The congestion could probably have been avoided if they could have predicted which parts of the network were under the most stress and the impact on the network in the event of failure or congestion at those stress points. Additional resources could then be provided at those points, or alternative routes planned to bypass the congestion and limit the ripple out effect, like a fire break.  The problem is only likely to get worse, and the network more unreliable, as the population increases and more people than ever rely on the rail network to get to work.

With the arrival of LTE and rapidly increasing popularity of Video on Demand then telecoms networks are also facing increasing levels of congestion and instability. Global data traffic is predicted to increase by 10 to 20 times by 2019 (Cisco).   In order to meet regulatory obligations and maintain customer experience Capex is set to spiral upwards. MNOs, who are already facing a year on year decrease in ARPU, will struggle to keep pace with demand and the risk of congestion will be ever present.

As with rail networks MNOs need a longer term strategy in place to understand where and when future choke points in the network will occur so that the risk of congestion can be eliminated for the least cost. Subex Capacity Management provides the capability to predict these points of congestion by monitoring and correlating metrics from across the network to provide detailed forecasts of network utilisation. Additional factors can be brought into the forecasts, such as the impact of major events or the rolling out of M2M services and different scenarios played out to understand how the network will respond. By automating the forecasting process network managers can be alerted long before issues become critical and congestion begins to occur. They can evaluate different options for either re-homing traffic or augmenting the network for the least possible cost. Stranded or un-utilised assets can even be recovered and re-located to satisfy demand for very little cost.

CFOs need to find ways to keep increasing revenue while controlling costs, and CTOs need to keep network delivering ever greater speeds as volumes of traffic increase exponentially.  Both need to look into the future to avoid a future of network instability, falling quality, crippling network costs and lost revenue.

Mark Jenkins
Mark Jenkins has worked in the IT industry for over 15 years as a BI and Analytics consultant, and more recently as ROC Product Manager for Subex Ltd. He has designed and deployed solutions for global companies in many sectors including Insurance, utilities and telecommunications. Mark holds a BSc Hons in Computer Science from Manchester University (UK).

Capex Optimization: A strategy for growth, or defense?

The battle is heating up and speeding up in virtually every market. Customers want the newest, latest, greatest handsets, products, and services.  But how long has this battle been heating up, really?  The answer is simple:  Since the 1980’s.  All that has continued to change are the tools used by the operators in the battle.  Let’s examine the latest tools being used in the Americas and understand how that impacts Capex.  The results may be surprising:

In what is arguably the start of the latest rounds of “artillery”, T-Mobile launched free roaming to over 100 countries in 2013, and started attracting customers by the millions away from the likes of AT&T and Verizon.  After the immediate dust settled and the program was seen to actually be viable, AT&T responded with paying the early termination fees for converting subscribers from T-Mobile.  In the process, flat rate plans with expanded data benefited all of us, as T-Mobile and AT&T both offered non-contract based data allotment increases, for no cost (and in many cases, lower costs) to existing subscribers, to shore up their retention numbers.

Verizon has taken a more conservative approach, saying they have the largest 4G network, which has caused AT&T to counter with having the fastest 4G network.  Not to be left behind, T-Mobile responded with offering to roll over unused data, and to unleash attractive unlimited plans via their recently acquired MetroPCS brand.

All the while, Sprint, the last major national carrier in the mix, has been losing market share while “sprinting” to greatly expand their 4G network.  In the recent weeks they have jumped into the market with a very viable message, aimed directly at AT&T and Verizon, to cut subscriber bills in half…literally.  They even took out an ad in the most expensive slot in the world:  The American Super Bowl.  This ad was designed to “apologize” to AT&T and Verizon.  The results of the campaign, however, are not making Sprint apologetic at all:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlJ2sJJu1io

And now the latest, and perhaps most interesting move, has been the international expansion of some operators into Latin American markets.  The model is simple:  Buy a Latin operator network.  Re-brand it to your internationally known name.  Offer local services that extend all the way into North America.  No roaming or interconnect, and all local calling.  This is a major threat to long-time incumbents in the Latin market, and it’s already happening. Three years ago I was asked what I thought the impact of 4G/LTE would be to the markets.  I made a quite possibly crazy prediction that 4G was going to upset the way we understand roaming and interconnect, simply due to the fact that data, VoIP, and the new products that were going to ride on femtocells and wifi / wimax were going to totally change the playing field.  Could it be that something similar is gathering momentum today?

What is the common thread in all of these battles in the Americas market(s)?  Quite simply, the operator revenues are not growing, or are not growing at the pace to keep up with Capex spend.  Networks are being extended and evolved not to add revenue, but instead to sustain revenue.  Here’s an example:  In the last 24 months I have moved my entire family to 4G.  My bill decreased.  More data was added to my plan.  My bill again decreased.  I then expanded my home DSL to a 30x increase in speed.  My bill stayed flat.  All of this involved more network capacity and expansion in products and services.  But I was not further monetized…I was just retained.

Capex optimization, if pursued for growth, could be considered a great goal and something to strive toward.  However, if Capex optimization is pursued to simply maintain your revenues (and market share), this should no longer be considered a goal, but instead a critical strategy for longer term survival.

So ultimately, how do operators monetize networks?  Perhaps the question needs to be focused on monetizing customers – by turning attention toward strategies that get more share of wallet.  Operators should invest Capex into supporting behavioural shifts in their customers.   Mobile wallet, xBanking, xCommerce, etc, need to be provided as revenue-generating services by the operators, for those customers.  It’s no longer about getting money for network services…it’s now about getting money from supporting a behaviour facilitated by those network services.

John Brooks
Vice President – Product Management - John Brooks serves as the Vice President of Product Management in Subex. He has over 26 years of experience in Telecommunications, spanning Fixed, Mobile, Data, and Video technologies. Within the industry Mr. Brooks was a board member for the GBA, founded the TM Forum Fraud team (authoring the first International Fraud Operations and Fraud Classifications guides), and now leads the TM Forum Network Asset Management team, focusing on transformative best practices for SDN/NFV operations. Over the years Mr. Brooks has served as an Advisory Board member for a prominent technical university, and has spoken at over 50 industry events and authored numerous papers on topics spanning IoT, Digital Disruption, Big Data, and Enterprise Risk Management. With Subex (formerly Connexn/Azure) since 1999, he has directed over 40 successful Cost, Revenue, and Business Optimization engagements at over 24 top-tier carriers globally, including AT&T, America Movil, BT, Vodafone, and Verizon.

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