Clive Sawkins, i3forum, on the need to bridge carriers and enterprise
Carriers talk a different language from those that design enterprise networks. Yet if they worked together they could beat the OTT providers at delivering new services to their biggest customers, writes Clive Sawkins
Why does IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) stop at the edge of the enterprise network and not go further? You may think this question a bit abstruse, but the answer – if it is the right answer – could help carriers maintain a vital relationship with their customers and not just become big bit-pipes.
One of the major challenges facing the industry is that enterprise architecture and network architecture are the responsibility of different companies and different architects, all with different priorities.
Yet the chief information officers (CIOS) who are the representatives of the enterprises – and the biggest endcustomers of telecoms service providers – do not think in this siloed way. Nor do the staff of the enterprises, the people working long hours at desks, in airport lounges, in meetings, in hotel rooms and in their spare bedrooms at home.
They just want the systems to work. They don’t want to know about how services work; nor should they even have to think about networks. But increasingly they do want to use services such as Outlook or Gmail, Skype for Business, Whatsapp and Facebook – especially as most if not all of those are increasingly focused on business opportunities. Communications users’ whole world has changed in the past few years; it’s not at all clear that the network architects’ world has yet recognised that.
Just think of those services whose brands I’ve just mentioned. They can generally be classified as over-the-top (OTT) services and, with their increasing appeal to the enterprise market, it really is time for carriers to take notice. If they don’t, the OTT providers will win without a fight and the carriers will lose out.
That’s why the i3forum – which has long promoted Ip-based standards and coordination in the IP carrier business – earlier this year merged with the Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC), an organisation more focused on enterprise services. It was a very natural coming together of two organisations to work for the world as it is going to be.
So, back to my original question: Why does IMS stop at the edge of carriers’ networks? The answer is that the telecoms industry viewed IMS as a signalling system for telecoms providers, not for enterprise. As a result, enterprise networks are tending to move towards Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). How would SIP, a less robust approach, affect the operation of networks? They could work well together, but much thought needs to be given to interworking the two protocols.
But, more importantly, we must stop thinking in silos. Borderless networks are key to the future, and that means the industry – on all sides – must do things differently.
How so? Just ponder for a moment on the complexity involved – in billing, for example – when a user walks out of an office into the street, making a phone call that is transferred from the enterprise network to the public cellular network.
The newly expanded i3forum is trying to get the industry to think differently, to think more broadly than in the past. We want to expand people’s horizons. Does that need a change to the way networks are designed? Absolutely it does.
But the benefits from this will outweigh the difficulties, the challenges and the hassle of learning to do things in new ways. Opportunities will emerge from a tighter integration of applications: more functionality, more security – especially in the cloud – and a better all-round experience. Integration will allow carriers to bundle services and adjust their charges.
Integration of carrier and enterprise networks will affect everyone – including carriers and enterprises, but also of course equipment and software vendors, as well as OTT and other content providers.
Which will benefit most? As it stands at the moment, the OTT providers look like getting there fastest, pushing carriers further down the value chain. That would turn the carriers into nothing more than providers of large pipes. As the distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks in October showed, the industry as a whole needs to prioritise security and become aware of what’s going on with the devices that are connected to the networks.
Will the carrier industry respond in time? It has to become aware of the opportunities that are there if carriers move faster to win new markets – and reduce the time to revenue. Some operators are already offering find me/ follow me services, for example – but so are OTT providers. The industry needs to take advantage of new opportunities.
Think of the CIOS wrestling with the challenges of the new services. It’s a lonely life, being a CIO. By the very nature of it, they work in companies of all kinds, and it’s rare to have others of equal experience and knowledge in the company with whom to share thoughts and discuss ideas.
That’s one of the reasons why the i3forum is happy to share its thoughts. We believe in educating CIOS and others across the industry, in enterprises and carriers, in order to generate interest and help understanding.