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All posts by Subex Limited

Smart NetEx decisions for improved Capital Efficiency and Customer Experience

There’s an interesting story playing out between U.S. state governments and city municipalities over the expansion of small cells. There is a significant push from the US government to expand small cells installation base and thereby increase the investments in this space. Many operators in the US are more than ever focused on getting the small cells deployment strategy correct as well as get it rapidly implemented.

Small cells are nothing new. We have been hearing for more than 7 years now, on the potential benefits of microcells – small cells, femtocells, picocells and how they can alleviate the capacity/coverage problems. Only in the last 2 – 3 years, small cells trend has picked up, with the uptick in mobile broadband and massive video consumption.

Market Reality

As the need for network capacity is constantly increasing, Telcos cannot afford to wait for long, till new technology standards are completely finalized and hence, it has prompted many prominent big names to announce 5G fixed wireless offering and 5G trails with vendors. In what looks like proactive initiative or in some cases the must-have network features, many Telcos have started to take incremental advantages and gains from 4G LTE-A/LAA with advanced features like Massive MIMO, 256QAM, Carrier aggregation etc. Despite all these, the coverage and capacity problems plague in extremely dense urban settings. Festive events or public aggregation pose challenging problems, especially when the traffic demand becomes quite unpredictable, forcing Telcos to deploy super buffered capacities. For example, look at some few stats related to last year’s Super Bowl at NRG Stadium, Houston. It probably created history of sorts on data transfer –

  • Verizon’s network transmitted 11 terabytes up 57% from the last year
  • AT&T data transmission is 9.8 terabytes, nearly double from the last year
  • Sprint’s network carried 5 TB data transfer
  • Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green the week prior to the Super Bowl, there were 59.9 TB of data, or 171 million social media posts with photos, used on the AT&T network in Houston

High voltage events like these, are becoming of strategic importance for the operators to keep the network up and for keeping the customer experience top-notch for obvious reasons. Customer perception – the potential brand establishment, is highest during these events. Telcos don’t want to take any sort of chance in such events and thus opt to deploy microcells with high-speed backhaul to support such events.

There’s another easily relatable trend – the indoor consumption of data is significantly high compared to mobile users, in the ratio of 80:20. This is especially true in urban areas, at homes and offices. Not only capacity is a concern, even coverage becomes challenging in high rise concrete zones. Small cells perfectly fit in this category to improve coverage & capacity to keep up the customer satisfaction. On the contrary, few Telcos operating in the densest telecom market in terms of user density, like in India, where the hotspots, coverage holes become the key decision points for capacity enhancements and optimization, do install new macro cells. In such cases macro cells are cost effective and addresses the issues effectively.

With 5G, we will see an increasing number of HetNets – small cells operating in tandem with macro cells thus handling offloading, higher throughput, greater coverage and in the process enables superior customer experience. Next evolution of investment planning is moving in the direction to cater to network densification trend.

Network Investment planning

Network capacity expansion cycle has shrunk, given the fact that the rate at which the traffic growth forecast exercises are done at every few months. This cycle is going to shrink further, due to dynamics of the data demand on the network, new business models, and technology changes. Network Planners and Capital allocators at CSPs, now require greater insights to address the high impact zones where Capex investment or capacity expansion provides maximum business outcomes.

Unfortunately, the processes for network investments still carry age old practices in this new paradigm! For instance, in one of our discussions with Telcos in India, we understood the yearly network Capex budget is decided based on competition strength or weakness in various circles (sub-regions) and based on simple extrapolation of traffic forecasts. Once these projections are agreed upon by various internal teams, network planning team go through series of technical negotiations with vendors and orders are placed. Of course, this is high level description of the entire laborious and time-consuming process. But you get the drift – there’s no rigor in understanding the insights that Telco’s own data can throw upon, for better network investments decisions.

Capital Allocation

For capital allocators inside Telcos, aka CFO vertical, it is important to understand the optimal use of capital on network investment. Investment in network capacity expansion can be done intelligently, keeping in view of key business metrics like maximizing ARPU, targeting high revenue sites, tackling competition presense etc, which ultimately helps in achieving business goals – maximize revenue, efficient usage of resources (cost center), optimize opex, learn lessons for next capex cycle etc. A data analytics approach reinforces and propagates this methodology of crunching data from various sources, understand the different moving parts and provides decision models and corresponding outcome scores for capital allocators to make appropriate network investment decisions, backed up by data.

Customer Experience

In the other end of the spectrum, the network planners and network managers are really focused on customer experience around the existing sites and at times around newly commissioned sites (new investments), to understand the factors impacting the quality of user experience. Some of these factors could be – no services due to coverage holes, poor connections due to capacity hotspots etc. These factors are crucial, as they provide clues about the network coverage or capacity bottlenecks that need to be fine-tuned through further investments or capacity augments.

Ultimate goals for network teams is to reduce customer churn, keep up customer experience and reduce network downtimes. With advent of newer technologies like 5G, these goals will be stretched due to increased complexity of the networks and super high load demand expected. Network planners are looking for advanced yet locally adpatable solutions to address network investment strategies to meet increasing expectations on great customer experience.

Conclusion

Therefore, it has become more important than ever that Telcos need to take a holistic perspective about many factors like the network capacity elasticities, everchanging user demand dynamics, quality of experience, financially lucrative regions, subscriber demographic profiles, marketing expansions, competitive presence and accordingly influence the network investment decisions to maximize both customer delight and achieve business objectives.

References:

  1. https://www.techrepublic.com/article/super-bowl-51-makes-digital-history-with-record-breaking-data-usage/
  2. https://blog.mobile-network-testing.com/capacity-enhancements/hetnets-small-cells-indoor-deployments/
  3. http://www.telecompetitor.com/indoor-mobile-forecast-six-fold-increase-by-2020/

The holistic approach to securing IoT Ecosystems

With the convergence of the physical and digital world, IoT ecosystem is becoming more pervasive and smart. With its “connected” nature, the concept of securing the IoT ecosystem has taken precedence and has today become a necessity. It is no longer a question of “IF” IoT networks will get hacked, It’s “WHEN.”  Organizations should be concerned about what should be done “WHEN” the ecosystem is compromised.

The blog discusses the various risks the IoT boom poses, and the approached organizations need to adopt to safeguard themselves.

Read More

Note: Published with permission from Liveworx

As a digital service provider, your adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) services presents opportunities as well as challenges. The upside: IoT opens new revenue streams by providing always-connected services to digital subscribers. The downside: IoT exposes subscribers to identity theft and security breaches. Subex provides holistic cyber security to ensure that enterprises are safe from unauthorized access and intrusion across their network.Subex Secure offers comprehensive IoT security coverage from real-time discovery and monitoring to response and recovery. Our solution leverages a one-of-its-kind honeypot network that combines physical devices and device emulations to generate IoT / ICS signatures. Our system evaluates global identity and device breaches and updates the Subex Secure signature repository to safeguard your enterprise from new and emerging IoT threats.

Managed Services – An important weapon in a telco’s arsenal for BSS business optimisation

While pressures on cost and margins with traditional services remain, fast emerging services are bringing in new risks and demands for new skills to manage them. Telcos are now looking for Managed Services engagements as a key differentiator in the emerging world.

 Telco’s are at the cross roads today – on one side they are pushing boundaries in a saturated and commoditized market to garner revenues and improve margins, whilst on the other they are pressurised to innovate and cater to the demands of the ubiquitous connectivity and data enabled services. Telco’s do not have a choice, but to act, to remain relevant in the market place with the changing landscape, new challenges and competition. With telco’s looking inwards for business optimisation – focusing primarily on the profitability of the business and monitoring the operational state of the business – what are the key trends shaping the industry and opportunity landscape ?

 Opportunities to remain relevant and successful in the new world order are plenty. Some of the initiatives are fairly quick to implement, while others require long term dedication and focus. Let us look at 3 key areas of opportunities in BSS for any telco.

  • OpEx control – Improving margins: The immediate and short-term opportunity for telcos is to control OpEx and improve margins on an already stressed traditional revenue streams. However, how do operators overcome the challenges facing them at two different levels – (a) skills upgrade (b) shortage of talented resources internally, and start improving their margins?
  • CapEx control – Improving RoIC: In the medium term, telcos are going to invest heavily in new and emerging technologies. The common conundrum corporate heads face are related to (a) successfully managing risks that comes with anything new (b) utilising the available critical capacity of technology & resources (c) responding timely & appropriately to market in face of competition and consumer expectations. How does Managed services help in providing the necessary capabilities to improve RoIC?
  • Economy of scale – Fuel growth: In the medium-longer term, telco leaders are going to look beyond their operating boundaries ; Industry consolidation, overseas M&A, new sources of revenue like PaaS/IaaS/SaaS for MVNOs or group op-co’s will be a key ingredient to the revenue growth. Is Managed services a viable solution to manage strategic and compliance risks?

Click here and download our latest newsletter in collaboration with Gartner for answers to the critical questions facing the industry leaders.

 

What kids can teach about Outsourcing??

Let’s deal with the difficult one first – Managed Services and outsourcing is here to stay and grow. So, what does this have to do with kids? Well nothing direct, except that kids can help resolve one of the biggest barriers to outsourcing – asking for HELP!

One thing I often notice, while meeting some of the prospects, is their reluctance to ask for help. The acknowledgement comes blatantly or subtly – there is a need to improve. The pressure of efficiency, productivity, reducing costs (or justifying with equal or exceeding returns) is mounting up on each one of them.  So, why hesitate to ask for help when there is a need? The top 3 inhibiting reasons are:

a)      Asking for help is considered a sign of weakness/failure

b)      Trust deficiency in the person who offers help

c)      Waiting for someone else to do it, so I cannot go wrong

There have been many management theories propounding kids’ psychology. Without surprise, it holds well when it comes to breaking these barriers too. Let me explain how, with typical kids’ perspective and how business could go about doing it.

Asking for help is a sign of weakness/failure

  • Kids view: Why? Why? Why? The ubiquitous question that drives every parent crazy is a Childs’ natural way to learn the world around her and develop cognitive skills. The kid sees it as an opportunity to be inquisitive, seek assistance (from someone who knows), learn something new and expand their horizon. The child doesn’t hesitate to ask for help  in its quest to face the world
  • Business way: Today while businesses appreciate hard work and diligence, they expect efficiency. Asking for help is a sure-fire way to achieve it. Seeking assistance is a fun way to solve a problem together and learn something new

  Trust deficiency

  • Kids view: Kids learn whom to trust and who not, either from the parents or slowly over a period of time
  • Business way: If past experience is something to go with and the trusted partner has delivered before, then entrust them with a new challenge. Else, if you are just starting, then start small, build confidence, before entrusting with bigger responsibilities

 Waiting for someone else to do it

  • Kids view: Walk into a classroom and ask for volunteers to try out something new – you will be amazed to see the numbers of tiny hands go up. Kids yearn for new things
  • Business way: Years of conditioning to be extremely risk averse has led to this state of mind. A well-planned and executed engagement will manage & mitigate the risks. Besides, many businesses have seen success the outsourcing way – there is enough precedence available. Go and get one for your benefit

After all, kids do continue to teach us a vital lesson or two…

Why do Telcos settle for less?

What makes a Telco settle for less? Is it the budget, fear of survival in a highly competitive market or knowledge and skill issues?

Bangladesh recently opened up the Interconnect landscape with 21 new ICX and 22 new IGW licensees entering the fray. This, without doubt, has fragmented the entire Interconnect market and has put significant pressure on the incumbents (to fight emerging competition) and for the new telcos (to have a viable business case for break even and eventually survive).

In a recently concluded InterConnect Conference at Bangladesh hosted by Subex, I had the opportunity to interact with a wide range of audience – CXOs, consultants & IT personnel. While it was acknowledged that a billing system is important to start the operations and convert “usage” to “cash”, it was evident from the discussions, that price was the driving factor in deciding a billing platform and to that end operators were scouting for “low cost” billing systems or looking at developing it in-house. Severe cash-flow issues, as the roll-out along with statutory payments to the regulator for obtaining and maintaining the license, was proving to be very costly. Hence cash-flow and total cost of ownership (TCO) were the main contributing factors to look at a low-cost billing option. The new telcos, in addition, were also exposed to the following risks:

  • Survival : Accurate and prompt billing will be a significant differentiating factor in the highly competitive market
  • Agility : As competition intensifies they need to be flexible to adapt to market needs and offer innovative products and services at the shortest possible time
  • Revenue leakages : Bangladesh as a market is highly prone to fraud and as per the regulator more than 10% of the revenue is lost due to illegal bypass

So, how are the telcos going to remain agile, competitive and eventually break-even at the shortest possible time? Do they have to settle for less and allow the forces of the market to dictate the future?

Subex unveiled a cloud offering for the Interconnect operators in the roadshow. It gives the best of both the worlds – low cost and superior technology, and help the telcos be ready for the future. The cloud model mitigates the business risks and provides the following benefits to the ICX and IGW:

  • Low cost of deployment & operations : With a TCO less than 30% of a licensed/in-house model and completely managed by experts, and CapEx requirement lesser by 50-60%
  • Low commitment : Volume based pricing to fit the business needs and scale as the business grows
  • Minimal risks : Easy sign-on and sign-off to the cloud model
  • Ready to launch: Pre-configured application requiring minimal customization (about 20%) to suit telco specific needs
  • Minimal domain knowledge: With service provider completely managing the core activities, knowledge and resource requirements from Telco are minimal. They are already constrained with resources and those can be used for growing their business
  • Flexibility : The cloud model can very easily extend into Revenue assurance, Fraud Management, Analytics for future

Naturally the excitement was evident when such an option was presented to the telco representatives. The only objection was around security (which was expected) and security is very easily addressable with the right technology and stringent processes.The “best-in-class” solution is available on a “best-in-class” service model which suits the pocket and addresses the business risks. It was time for the operators to go back and “relook” at their business case.

After all, when they have a great option, why do they have to settle for less?

Fraud has the potential to affect entire business adversely !!!

Here’s a recent incident with one of FM head in SE Asia. The FM head said, as an organization, the focus last financial year (FY) was on acquiring subscribers. The situation however when the annual report was published was :

(a) High growth in subscriber numbers

(b) Significant drop in revenues

(c) Drop in ARPU & AMPU

So, what had not gone according to the plan? Marketing had come up with “jazzy plans” to attract new subscribers. This was an avenue for dealers to inflate sales and earn commissions, as they realised the controls were not stringent (falsified subscriptions, dummy subscribers etc). Hence a significant portion of the new customers were taken on-board, but not generating revenue. This not only affected the top-line growth and in turn impacted the health indicators (ARPU and AMPU), but had a snow balling effect on investor confidence. The stocks have since then taken a beating.

This year the Telco is focusing on cleaning the subscriber base and finding ways to have the others generate more revenue. The FM head said, had we been vigilant while growing, we could have avoided a lot of negative consequences. The learning is fraud not only impacts small pockets of revenue streams. It could potentially impact the business at large. Hence it is imperative to consider fraud aspects as part of the proactive controls when launching new products and services.

Should the government be in the business of running a business?

Could privatization of Air India have saved this day? Should the government be running a business? Should it have left the business to people with the necessary skills and expertise? It is argued that privatization, which is a part of disinvestment process, results in better use of resources and efficient allocation. Around the world, many instances of businesses that have thrived after government relinquishing control are common place (there is also the other side that have not taken off well due to various other critical success factors not being met).Nevertheless, increasingly, governments are taking the role of regulators and not producers.

Is it not a similar situation being observed in Telecom industry? From a situation where the Telco’s produced (or managed) everything themselves, they are shifting their focus to building brand equity, customer satisfaction and user experience. Thus, telco’s are deciding how their eco-system needs to shape and work to achieve their goals (regulators), while a partner is delivering the required results (producers). Some of the strategic outsourcing engagements in India (Bharti and IBM for example) are very good examples of a thriving partnership. What was common place for networks is now spreading its tentacles to B/OSS.

Of course, many Telco’s are in a quandary on where to fit in functions like Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management – firstly, does it come under tactical operations or strategic business? One RA business head that I know of in the region has been tasked, by the CFO, with a specific KRA of increasing revenue by “x%” from the existing customer base in the current FY. Many more are likely to follow suit in the coming years (refer to KPMG Global RA survey 2012). The profile of RA/FM is changing – in addition to protecting revenues; they are involved in the areas of enhancement & managing revenues. Hence, the answer to the question above – RA/FM are both tactical (producing the desired results) and strategic (supporting the strategic initiatives of the organization).

Now what would be the right strategy – should I outsource or not? There is no one answer that is right. The only right answer is “what suits you”, depending on the organizational social & cultural makeup, risk appetite and the scale of economic issues. When I meet my customers, we work with multiple options and eventually decide on the best fit. Here are a few possibilities that could be looked at:

  • Pilot program (minimal scope, few people, short duration etc) for the risk averse
  • Bonus / Gain share to ensure accountability from vendors
  • Part outsourcing the tactical part and retaining strategic initiatives (remember one main challenge is to retain resources for career progression reasons. This would be an opportunity to give them the much needed upward movement into a new area)

No matter what the option chosen, it is important that it works for both the partners in meeting the common goals.

And, I hope Air India takes off well again – they have better leg-room and delicious food compared to other airlines in the sector.

Would Product upgrade alone solve the problem?

During one of my business travels recently, I met the Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management heads of few telco’s. There was one meeting in particular that struck me – let me call him Jack, the AVP of FM. Jack has been using a Fraud Management System(FMS) for close to 4 years & has certain business challenges to address. Jack was exploring the option of upgrading the FMS to tackle the challenges and needs.

Jacks’ primary challenge was to build a business case justification for FM upgrade to show the elusive RoI. Apparently, there have been challenges of his team detecting fraud, and he was of the belief that an upgrade will help address the fraud in new generation of services (which the current system is not capable of) and thus contribute to the RoI.

On probing further it was clear that he’s been under tremendous pressure from the higher-ups to showcase RoI, especially in the recent past due to tough macro-economic conditions. Some more questioning and discussions with his team members revealed that there have been (and are) many hurdles in performing their tasks –

a)      IT issues pertaining to system availability, performance, processing & tuning

b)      Knowledge issues in fine-tuning the rules and thresholds periodically

c)      People issues in understanding the domain and carrying out effective and smart investigations

While the operator is on a drive to introduce Next Generation services, more than 88% of the revenue still comes from traditional services – Voice, SMS/MMS, Roaming, Interconnect and GPRS. The top frauds also happen in these areas – http://www.cfca.org/fraudlosssurvey/

It was a revelation for Jack when the data was put up for discussion. It was also evident that an upgrade alone is not going to solve his problem. The need of the hour was an overhaul of the entire eco-system (address the 88%), along with the upgrade (to address the remaining 12%).

During the course of the discussion, I suggested a few best practices based on prior experience through the Managed Services engagements.

a)      Conduct an assessment to baseline the performance of the current function, including a SWOT analysis and detailing a roadmap for growth

b)      Basis assessment, build a business case for justification for skills/efficiency improvement and required technological upgrades

c)      As next step, strengthen the foundation of fraud prevention by improving on people, process by leveraging on best practices and experience from vendors and partners if needed

d)     Once the basics are addressed, mature to the next level by incorporating technological, process, procedures & skill upgrades

I also quoted one such Subex Managed Services engagement in India, where the operator was on an older version of the Fraud Management when the engagement started and has seen more than 2 times RoI within a year, followed by an upgrade to latest version. This helped them in the following ways:

a)      Optimize the resources as a first step and improve on fraud operations through skilled workforce, leveraging on existing technology and automation of repeatable tasks

b)      This resulted in significant financial savings, lowered operational and workforce risks, improved knowledge and enhanced business agility

c)      The highly scalable model for future growth also meant they were able to choose specific fraud related services and technological upgrades depending on its strategic objectives and business priorities

Jack, being the positive person, was able to appreciate a new perspective on his challenges and is looking forward to a detailed assessment to build a case for strengthening the FM team.

After this incident, I wonder are there more Jack’s out there with the right intention but not necessarily armed with the right tools?

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