Phil Harvey, director of corporate communications, Metaswitch Networks.

Phil Harvey, director of corporate communications, Metaswitch Networks.

As you head to the LTE World Summit, there are several big ideas floating around that could absolutely change the telecom business for network operators, perhaps making them more nimble competitors than they’ve been before. Here are five big ideas for today’s network operators that I hope to hear more about in the weeks ahead:

1) Proprietary hardware is becoming a hard sell. The world’s largest network operators have spoken loudly and clearly about their desire to embrace network functions virtualization (NFV). They want their network equipment procurement processes to change in favor of industry standard servers, Ethernet switches and IT systems running software apps from independent developers.

It remains to be seen if the incumbent equipment vendors will ultimately allow this — they seem to be the gatekeepers to carrier innovation — but it does signal that NFV is not a fad. It’s a big deal and establishing credibility in this space is critical for network equipment providers of all sizes.

2) If a vendor says, “Don’t do it,” they really mean, “We can’t do it.” The incumbent network equipment vendors have registered a few complaints about all that could go wrong by virtualising network functions. But the whining won’t stop what seems to be an inevitable march towards openly-programmable networks. Operators; if your vendors do more than the usual amount of whining, you should start worrying.

3) Over-the-top is normal. We don’t live in a “five nines” world. Anyone who has made a call on their cellphone, ever, understands that. We used to rely on “enterprise” apps and services to do our work. Now we use our Google Drive for documents, our S3 for data back-up, the DropBox app for file sharing and Netflix for entertainment. These aren’t telco-grade services — they’re better. The carrier response to all the over-the-top services should have happened years ago. Perhaps it will come someday, but that day won’t come until carriers are convinced they can redesign their networks to behave as flexibly and cost-effectively as the Web-scale companies that are currently making life easier and more productive for consumers and businesses everywhere.

4) IMS doesn’t have to be a roadblock to delivering VoLTE. The use of open source software inside of telcos is increasing and many telcos have expressed interest in Project Clearwater, an open source, cloud-enabled version of the core signaling functions of IMS. As operators are looking at the most cost effective route to offering voice over LTE (VoLTE), they should consider alternative routes that help them deliver telco-like services at using Web-scale economics. I’m looking forward to the panel on Wed. June 26 (“Bringing an Effective Voice Service to the Customer: Evaluating the Options”) where many of these issues will be discussed.

5) Google is not your enemy. Neither is Amazon or any of the other Web-scale companies that are providing services that used to be the exclusive domain of telcos. These Internet innovators have driven down the cost of cloud computing, contributed tons of code to open source projects and they test new network-based services on a willing public almost daily. Telcos can partner with, learn from and use the resources these innovators have made available to offer new services or, even better, allow new services to be created on their behalf. All they have to do is get over the perception that anyone using their networks for profit is somehow a problem to be addressed, rather than an opportunity to be harnessed.

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