Now is not an easy time to be a communications service provider (CSP). On one side there’s pressure to expand infrastructure to deal with growing customer demands for data and on the other, an increasing level of competition and constant pressure to provide customers with new, innovative services, write Chris Gilmour, the technical practice lead, and Mark Holder, an account director, at Axians UK.
This combination of factors is generating networks that are significantly more complex than was the case even five years ago. Future-gazers are constantly predicting the next big thing in tech, with many seeing automation and artificial intelligence (AI) as the keys to differentiation that can increase profit margins and solve network complexity problems that hold business back.
But infrastructure changes are not restricted to software and bots. It’s entirely possible that the fundamentals of tomorrow’s networks are already in place, just waiting for the innovation that will bring them to life. Modern platforms, that is to say those built within the last three to five years, frequently hold vast amounts of functionality and programmability that are simply not being used at the moment.
Putty in your hands
Throughout history, innovators have worked with limited resources to create something ground-breaking, and networks work on very similar principles now. For any given business there can be hundreds of opportunities to tweak existing network configuration to make it work better, more efficiently or more distinctively to add value to the enterprise. There may even be scope for a whole new product or product line: just as Play-Doh started life as wallpaper cleaner but became a market-leading toy for children, so a network can be programmed and changed to make better, more wide-ranging or simply new products.
The network is the key enabler of any CSP’s business, and while it is complex it is also the place where costs can be contained and services managed and generated. Customers rely on it, so providers are understandably keen to maintain a steady state, and it unquestionably consumes a great deal of resource as staff work hard to provide the services that customers increasingly rely on for their day-to-day needs. But the fact remains that any modern platform is likely to contain a substantial amount of unused capability that the CSP could be exploiting to reduce costs, reduce customer churn and increase revenue – but they’re not. Why?
Very often, the issue is one of resource. Communications service providers are so busy, with their heads down doing the day job, that it can be hard to look up and survey the possibilities. It’s hard enough launching new products, let alone reconfiguring the very core of the business. But CSPs also know that they simply can’t afford to neglect their infrastructure and pin their hopes on the next big thing. Network efficiency, meeting customer demand and creating new services are the key to their continued success; they must be able to respond to current challenges and future-proof the business.
The situation facing CSPs today has parallels in some of the best-known innovations in history. Alexander Bell’s invention of the telephone was not a stand-alone event, it catalysed further progress. It led to Emil Berliner’s development of new sound recording processes, which in turn gave birth to the music industry. That industry generated new customer needs, and goods and services to meet those needs. Just as network capability does today.
The good news is that there is often more help and expertise to be had, closer to home and more easily, than CSPs realise.