How to step towards becoming a digital service provider with UC&C Part 1
It has been more than 15 years since the first IP-based networks were deployed, followed by a plethora of innovation across these networks, writes Frank Paterno, the vice president of Global Carriers at PGi in the first part of a two-part article.
One success story since then has been the adoption of unified communications (UC) in the enterprise. Unified communications has succeeded because it integrates instant messaging (IM) and presence, voice over IP (VoIP) telephony, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), email and whiteboard capabilities. Communications service providers (CSPs) have realised gains by investing in UC for its ability to pull through additional revenue streams.
However, while UC continues to bring value to enterprises everywhere, the first wave of UC did have drawbacks. Interworking and infrastructure costs were challenging and high; regardless of whether equipment was deployed on-premise or hosted in a non-cloud environment utilising an IP-based application server (AS). Despite this, CSPs invested in UC. But, what’s next?
Around four years ago, a newer UC service model emerged. It uses a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) architecture. Referred to as UC as a Service (UCaaS), it addresses infrastructure costs and interworking through cloud-based services models, in which the operator hosts services for the enterprise in the operator’s private cloud. In return, enterprises receive lower total cost of ownership (TCO) benefits and an agile service on-boarding model.
The UCaaS concept is evolving because of the accelerated innovation that takes place across cloud environments. Equally, the lines between UC and complementary services continue to blur. So, a new, powerful concept, defined as unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) is emerging. The key difference between UCaaS and UC&C is ability to seamlessly integrate UC services with complementary services, such as video integration, mobile access, real-time communication (RTC) and voice services.
UC and the cloud
In response to this technology shift and market landscape change, UC is evolving. On the market side, this centres on the continued success of the over-the-top (OTT) cloud-based messaging players, who are stripping operator UC revenues by offering freemium communications applications. In response, and given the ongoing traditional IP network capex and opex constraints experienced by enterprises, progressive operators are driving adoption of the network function virtualisation (NFV) cloud-based architectures that enables UCaaS service models.
Moreover, while scalability and agility drivers for NFV have been well documented, implementing the SaaS model correctly is vital to operators’ long-term growth prospects. This is because, UCaaS embodies the spirit of using a software-enabled cloud to open new cloud-hosted opportunities for operators, while providing enterprises a lower TCO model and enhanced mobile service support.
The UCaaS model has major competitive ramifications. First, it represents a better reference architecture to stem the continued erosion of communications revenue, since OTT providers provide only a cloud application, while the operators can provide cloud applications, plus other value-added services.
Second, SaaS-based UC alleviates the inherent lock-in from the days of hosted private branch exchange (PBX) services. We no longer require application servers, running proprietary protocols on purpose-built hardware, that need expensive custom software for new features, or acceptance of a rigid, cookie cutter service models.
Digital collaboration arrives
The migration of operators to the cloud has other consequences. In addition to architectural changes and SaaS opportunities, the journey will alter the operator’s business identity. As CSPs expand the services reach of their cloud deployments, they continue to move into new markets through delivering new digital content. The intersection of a cloud-based application layer with a 4G/5G high-speed mobile access layer fulfils the promise of a truly digital content delivery model inside and outside the enterprise.
In this model, the operators use these assets to deliver digital video content through acquisition and/or collaborating with third-party content providers to achieve a seamless integration model. The outcome of these activities is that the network operator transitions from an operator into a digital service provider (DSP).
We view DSPs as unique from traditional operators: they deliver a wider array of content, which includes not only the pure delivery model, but encompasses video sharing on a far wider scale, meaning they adopt the role of being digital content publishers. DSPs also take a more aggressive approach in the automated delivery of digital content, sold directly to the user, by publishing content online either in the operators’ cloud or a third-party cloud.
The next article in this series will consider the realities of becoming a DSP with UC&C capability.