Last month I attended Layer123’s online event. There were a lot of detailed technical architectures for the future of NFV, SDN and 5G during the show. However, perhaps because of its online nature, there was no real sense of what business problems these architectures were directly solving, Sure, there were the usual graphs showing revenues stagnating with data volume exponentially growing; but there was no direct relationship between real NFV/SDN/5G projects and demonstrated CAPEX or OPEX savings or increased innovation agility. In fact the STC presentation showed that existing NFV was resulting in increased cost, not less.

Groundhog Day – Endless internal Proofs of Concept

This lack of direct ties between new technology like NFV or 5G, with the business success of the CSP, means that in many cases these technologies remain used in ongoing proofs of concept within the telco. They never quite see the light of day with the customer, because it isn’t quite important enough to disrupt existing ways of working. You can similarly see this in the use of 5G beyond simply more mobile broadband.

Lewis Hamilton can play the piano too.

Vodafone recently publicised how 5G innovation was enabling Lewis Hamilton and Jay Keys to play piano duets from different locations.

For me as an amateur musician, this was initially very exciting. My local orchestras have been unable to meet for music making since March. Friends in large choirs have ceased singing. Covid19 has effectively killed most music making. Zoom choirs are a very limited, lonely and poor alternative to real music, because of coordinating different latency to each member.

My immediate reaction is great, when can I buy this and that is where the problems start

The problem was that this was clearly a marketing proof of concept story, whose aim was about 5G technology and therefore my future desire to buy 5G, whatever that is. It had no relationship to a product or service any of us could or would want to actually buy.

  • The two players were only a room apart (they appear together later in session)
  • The video focused on the unnecessary technology of piano key actuation (ghost keys playing)
  • It majored on a future 5G enabling this, ignoring that this capability could be delivered on existing networks both fixed and mobile.

Commercialization remains the issue

The real issue is that Vodafone appears to have no clear route to commercialising this capability or, for that matter, developing a business case for this. Since lockdown I’ve lost count of the updates and changes to Zoom that I’ve installed. I haven’t lost count of the changes to my network suppliers have done; zero!

The innovation opportunity is now

WIth Covid19 Telcos have had a 6 month opportunity to deliver real time interaction experience. They probably have another 9 months of Covid19 driven need. The ability to interact in real time in groups goes beyond music. Remote gyms where you actually get banter. Even a zoom coffee morning would be enlivened by the ability to have groups chatting without a lag.

Do the maths

I pay roughly $15 per rehearsal to play in an orchestra weekly and for many other ad-hoc groups I will pay $50 or more. Most of this cost is the hire of rooms. I would, without hesitation, pay a CSP $10 for a single online rehearsal. By contrast I pay my mobile and fixed BB supplier about $30 a month for unlimited broadband (roughly $15 a week). My willingness to pay is a 66% increase in revenues. Amateur music on its own will not make a business for Vodafone, but the ability to interact in groups in real time is applicable to large numbers of social groups. The business case for this type of capability is made up of a multitude of use cases enabled by a Vodafone network capability.

Innovation – Just do it

An innovative company would be rapidly deploying a service with real customers and learning what works and does not. Instead we have a POC where we learn at the end of the advert that the musician and the racing driver are in fact in neighbouring rooms.

CSP’s should be asking themselves the following questions about every exciting technology innovation idea and trial:

Is your Innovation program joined up with your marketing program? If not, why not?

How well is technology strategy linked with Product development?

Is your innovation activity led by customer need, or by finding ways to package a technology decision that you have already made?

Changing direction

Appledore have extensively written on the challenge of innovation in telcos, as well as the operational challenges of existing OSS/BSS supporting this innovation.

Appledore will be publishing research on the need for many telcos to become utility providers, and what this will mean. For us, utility does not mean not innovative or agile. Rather, it means that the CSP is focused at process improvement innovation and innovation to expose as many network functions to others to scale their business. Appledore do not expect Vodafone to become a provider of online orchestral applications. However, we would expect Vodafone to have a large and profitable business in providing the underlying low latency connection services that this, and other applications, require.