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Getting The Full Download On DataOffload: Pre-MWC13 Exclusive With Birdstep Technology

www.birdstep.com

In the run-up to MCW 2013, we interviewed Lonnie Schilling, newly appointed CEO of Swedish software company Birdstep Technology, that provides smart mobile connectivity and security solutions.

CTOIC: What do you see as the key theme for MWC in 2013?

Lonnie: Well as in previous years, there are going to be many themes in 2013, but a reoccurring theme, and perhaps the greatest challenge for operators is keeping up with subscriber demand, staying ahead of the bandwidth curve driven by more video rich content and ensuring a compelling user experience for a wider demographic customer base.

CTOIC: How have operators been responding?

Lonnie:  Not always in the best way! It seems that data caps have come back into play, but this is wholly counterproductive and fails to take account how customers want to use their mobile phones. Mobile subscribers are consuming more and more data and watching longer forms of video but these caps are self-defeating in such that customers believe that consuming data implies incurring punitive charges or data throttling which make the service non-compelling. So the real challenge for operators is to come to grips with complementary technologies like Carrier WiFi and Smart Data Offload solutions, and align this with their business needs to meet the requirements of their subscribers.

 CTOIC: But hang on, I thought LTE/4G was supposed to solve this bandwidth crunch?

Lonnie: Yes LTE does bring efficiencies over 3G and certainly more bandwidth, but the business case for the necessary coverage and density is prohibitively expensive. Here too Carrier WiFi is being used as a cost efficient solution for offloading. MNO's are now beginning to take advantage Smart Data Offload solutions to selectively offload non-premium data, perhaps a YouTube video, to WiFi while keeping premium data, such as a video subscription service like Netflix or Webex on the cellular core to leverage existing Subscriber Management services. In addition to smart selective offload, the MNO is interested in using subscriber analytics to better understand the Customer Experience from the perspective of the handset. The analytics give insight into what services are being consumed over WiFi and cellular, where the subscriber is when they consume the services and the quality of the service is, both objective and subjective. This resolves a key concern MNO's have had with WiFi; the operator now has complete visibility of the subscriber and service whether the user is on cellular or WiFi.

CTOIC: Presumably you agree LTE/4G does at least scale to the higher bandwidths required for emerging services, even if the costs are high?

Lonnie: I would argue that LTE has not kept up with the bandwidth curve. Just look at how smartphones are being used to consume more video. Did you know that it is expected that 2/3 of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2016 or that globally, the average mobile connection will generate 1,216 megabytes of mobile data traffic per month in 2016, up 1,221% from 92 megabytes per month in 2011, a CAGR of 68%! This trend shows that the rate at which data consumption is growing, continues to outpace the rate at which mobile technology, including LTE, can deliver bandwidth. So here’s the telling data point, LTE gives us roughly 12x increase in bandwidth over 3G, but bandwidth growth over the period since LTE began development has gone up 30x. And, according the Cisco, the problem further exacerbates over the next few years. LTE is behind the curve when the market is demanding greater bandwidth.

CTOIC: So what is the answer?

Lonnie: I believe MNO’s must be more pragmatic about augmenting their mobile service offering with Carrier WiFi, in conjunction with Smart Data Offload solutions. By deploying an intelligent offload solution, the MNO can become much more innovative in how they package and tariff the service and effectively compel their customers to consume more instead of less. By associating network policy with the intelligent offload solution, the MNO decides which applications will be transported via cellular or WiFi determined by time-of-day, location, quality of connection or user policy profile. The point is that the MNO can be completely agnostic to the access medium for a greater aggregate RAN capacity, or develop innovative business models for maintaining premium traffic on the cellular and non-premium traffic over WiFi. Standards such as Hotspot 2.0 and ANDSF enable the automated network discovery, selection and security, as is done today in cellular networks. Then link this to the ability to have real-time active / passive analytics for the MNO to maintain a very clear perspective of the customer experience, even when using WiFi, and the MNO maintains the control of the experience associated with their brand and offering. It is not a huge leap in faith to foresee in the very near future that a customer can globally roam and handoff between cellular, WiFi and back to cellular based on a defined network policy.

CTOIC: How quickly do you anticipate this happening?

Lonnie: It’s already begun! But fact is that it will happen much faster than it did for the cellular industry, which took 30 years to get to where we are today with transparent international roaming where subscribers are unaware of all the transactions between operators taking place in the background. All that complexity is completely shielded from the user even though their own handsets are participating in the transactions. I believe the “Law of Accelerated Returns” tells us that it may be up to an Order-of-Magnitude less time than it took for cellular. Besides, the hotspot infrastructure is already there or under construction, and of course the industry understands well how to develop and negotiate roaming agreements.

 CTOIC: Presumably cellular operators will not offload all their data. What data will they keep on their own infrastructures and how will that decision be made?

Lonnie: That will vary between service providers. But one thing they will all want is the ability to make intelligent decisions in real time over what data to move according to business rules and perhaps traffic conditions. Those decisions will be made by policy and executed in Smart Offload software that understands the subscriber, the data, the location and time-of-day and can offload according to specified rules.

CTOIC: What might those business rules be?

Lonnie: A service provider network might be getting a lot of You Tube traffic that is filling up the cellular network, and that could be offloaded to Wi-Fi. But say that operator has a contractual relationship with another OTT provider like Netflix that requires guaranteed QoS and the ability to monitor the activity. Then Netflix traffic would be kept on the cellular network and use the subscriber management capabilities there.

CTOIC: How will Wi-Fi be integrated with cellular?

Lonnie: That is still subject to debate. There are various options on the table, with some advocating running Wi-Fi in parallel with the cellular infrastructure and others who believe cellular and WiFi to be converged in the Packet Core. Regardless of the level of integration, I think it likely that operators will want to adopt a hierarchical structure where WiFi is implemented into the small-cell architecture and provides bandwidth and coverage in high-density venues and in-doors.

 CTOIC: Thanks Lonnie, let’s see what MWC 2013 has to answer in this debate.

During Mobile World Congress 2013, Birdstep is located in hall 7, E80, within the Swedish Pavilion

Lonnie Schilling
Chief Executive Officer, Birdstep Technology

Lonnie Schilling

Schilling brings 20 years of experience of equity investment, strategic business development, architecture sales and marketing within the international communications market. He was most recently Director, Mobile Service Provider Sales & Business Development at Cisco and he has also held leading management positions in other global companies such as Motorola, ITT, Worldview Technology Partners, Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN). Schilling holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Maryland. He completed graduate and postgraduate studies at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, the International Institute for Management Development, INSEAD and the Marshall School of Business at USC.

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Part II of The Big Data Summit organized by TM Forum in Amsterdam: the demos.

In this short blog I’m just reporting on the demos I saw at the show in January. Part III will be on the conference content itself which was very interesting. For a first of it’s kind, having 4 exhibitors was a reasonable achievement. I didn’t get to talk the folks Amdocs whose booth only had brochures nor with the Lavastorm guys as they were too busy for me both times I tried. I did get to the Guavus and Esri booths so here’s w

hat I took away.

Guavus was the sole sponsor of the event – although still only a silver sponsor, so the TM Forum sales people must be tough cookies ;o)

Guavus Logo

Guavus is a private 350 person company head-quartered in San Mateo, CA with offices throughout the US as well as in the UK, Singapore, Montreal and India where they also have R&D teams. As a few others, they claim to have been delivering Big Data analytics from 2006, before the name even existed.

It’s always a delicate balancing act to ride a hype wave like this Big Data Tsunami. You need to be seen to have been doing it for ages, but then again you also have to acknowledge its novelty otherwise you can’t join in on the orgy of industry news.

The CEO founded the company after working at SPRINT labs. Anukool Lakhina, realized there was a scalability hurdle that the traditional model for storing data and doing business intelligence analytics were not going to be able to cross. He raised some money and started working on a solution. The core algorithms developed then are currently patent pending.

Guavus now works with 2 of the big US Telcos as well as Bell Canada through the recent acquisition of Neuralitic. Star Hub is also a major client in Singapore that came about through the Neuralitic acquisition.

The company’s primary focus is in the Telco space, because that's where the core data resides. But as an aggressive young company Guavus is already looking at other segments and has a few confidential Proof of Concepts underway.

I asked Suzanne McCormac, Senior Director of Marketing Communications, if Big Data could save Telcos from falling into the commodity oblivion of the dumb pipe. “They’re sitting on a gold mine  - if they can just figure it out they have the opportunity to compete with the OTT players because they have better data from billing, CRM etc. There is a fantastic window of opportunity for them here”.

I asked Suzanne why Guavus, a US focussed company came all the way out to Amsterdam for the show, “The TMF Big Data Summit in Amsterdam is a key event for Guavus given the company's global expansion plans. We expect to announce several more CSP deployments outside of the US in 2013."

Despite being one of only four exhibitors, Guavus had no demo, but I’m told they’ll have a lot to show at this years Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Esri Logo

The only real demo I saw at the show was from Esri, a Geographical Information System or GIS company with a strong emphasis on being environmentally friendly and sustainable. That they clearly are, as Esri has been around since 1969. The company is atypically still privately held. Headquarters are in Redlands, California. Randy Frantz, Esri’s Telecoms & LBS Industry Manager was at the show and told me Esri is now the world’s largest GIS software supplier with over 3,000 employees and 350,000 clients (his business card uses the LBS acronym without explaining it, so if you’re as forgetful as I, let me remind you it stands for Location Based Services).

The demos were all of the graphical analysis of various data points that had a geographical component. Randy showed me several instances of dynamic charting where all sorts of graphs and colours automatically updated on the screen as you move around navigating through the data. So for example, clicking on one part of the network automatically updated the QoS/QoE data around the screen. One demo also integrated Esri’s display capabilities with IBM’s Business Intelligence software Cognos.

I got a clear impression that having Esri as part of a solution, say in an operator’s NoC, would make for an extremely powerful UI. Although Esri can undoubtedly power great monitoring interfaces, the competitive edge I sensed was more for trouble-shooting type of applications were interactivity is key. Such a top-of-the-range solution pointed to by the Big Data demos I saw clearly targets top tier operators that could justify the cost.

If you missed it, part I of this series is an interview of Nik Willetts, TM Forum's Chief Strategy Officer. It's here.

Part III is a report on the conference content, it's here.

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Part I of III: TM Forum’s chief Strategy officer on Big Data

The Big Data Summit organized by TM Forum in Amsterdam was my first.
My first on Big Data - well that’s not so surprising as there haven’t been many yet - but also my first TM Forum event. That’s strange as I’ve been in and out of the Telco industry for over a decade – it was a great event so better late than never.

Before reporting on the event itself in part III (BTW you can get a preview with 50-odd tweets from my time-line @nebul2), this blog is the feedback from my discussion with Nik Willetts, chief strategy officer of the Forum. He started by reminding me who they are. Part II covers the rare demos I saw.
TM-Forum is a 25-year-old non-profit US incorporated organization with about 120 staff. It is Telco based with around a thousand member companies, a quarter of which are service providers. These operators account for a whopping great 90% of the world’s subscribers!

Nik told me this conference was in line with the general Telco movement away from pure network management towards more services. His job, and this conference in particular, are to look for the next wave of digital growth.

He sees Big Data underpinning most successful customer programs in the future. “The whole industry must become data driven, with shorter cycles so as to establish new services that can compete with the eBays or Googles of the world. Without this transformation operators will be loosing very real money. Today’s digital services are built around user experience whereas traditional Telco services are built around technology. It’s going to be about market pull or what customers perceive, where it used to be about what engineering departments pushed. Successful operators will have a deep understanding of User Experience.” Nik pointed to an example given during the conference by Cricket, where analytics were used to determine exactly where user calls were being dropped geographically and feeding that experience data to network engineering teams, thus reducing churn. “But cost reduction will also be a key driver for Big Data within service providers as a better understanding of User Experience helps operators anticipate customer issues and reduce truck rolls.”

I asked Willets what had already struck him during this event. He told me it was “different stake-holders playing multiple roles, attacking the issue from different angles. TM-Forum always tries to get different people round the table together.”

I asked about the general squeeze operators are feeling here in Europe, and whether Nik saw it as a global phenomenon or one restricted to developed markets. “TM Forum covers the whole world, so operators in developing markets have the benefit of seeing what operators in developed markets have or haven’t done successfully to cope with new threats and opportunities. That’s exactly what you can see at this Big Data event. TM Forum is instrumental in this knowledge and experience sharing”.

This is the first dedicated TM Forum event on Big Data although the subject has been covered for about 2 years within other conferences.
Willetts was happy with attendance for a launch event with over 150 delegates and 12 CxOs. The event will be replicated in a year somewhere else.
When I complemented Nik for the absence of the usual sales pitches in presentations he told me that “as with other TM Forum events, there is no pay-to-play here i.e. vendors cannot pay to get to speak. The business model is for delegate fees, sponsorship and exhibitors, with all presentations being vetted. We do allow vendors to speak alongside their customers where it adds value to the presentation, as you may have seen with the Cricket/TEOCO presentation”.

TM Forum logo 1

Part II (the exhibition) is here.

And if you want to skip straight to the conference content itself, that's here.

Stay tuned for the full write up of the event.

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The importance of the home gateway in the age of OTT, it will be a key enabler of Big Data.

I wrote this blog entry in planning my visit of the BBWF 2012 show floor.

OTT is creating a deep shift in the TV value chain. Most cord cutters or thinners actually leave their traditional pay TV service to go somewhere else, or trade down to a cheaper subscription. Someone out there is profiting. Even if a 100$ monthly spend becomes 10$, that’s still 10$ of fresh ARPU for the new guy.

But Hulu, Netflix, Roku, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft beware: pay TV operators and even dusty old Telcos have realized that they too can be the new kid on the block when it comes to OTT TV.

But why would I be interested in an old pay TV operator, let alone a Telco, when all the sexy OTT upstarts are vying for my business?

One answer is data, or rather what has recently become known as Big Data. It’s adding fuel to traditional CRM and data mining, but also brings radically new service possibilities.

Like data mining Big Data is basically about aggregating data from user’s interactions with a given service and then number-crunching it in huge data centres to provide marketing teams with customer intelligence. One main goal has always been to improve and better target products to different markets and customer segments.

 

Data mining started as far back as the 1970s and by the 1990s it was an industry in its own right. But it has mainly been one dimensional, querying against a single relational database, or just maybe two or three interlocking databases. The most typical example is of a Supermarket chain analyzing data on the contents of shopping baskets to "mine" combinations of products that are purchased together (there's been a lot of mileage out of the good old beer and diapers case from the 1970s, where a marketeer - who wasn't yet called that - after analyzing shopping basket contents, realized that more beer could be sold if it was positioned in an aisle "on the way" to the diapers at least during weekends).

What’s new though is the explosion in different types of data, i.e. from all the screens in the house, and there’s also a huge increase in the amount of external data that can be collected from a range of sources including social media and messages. At the same time scalable cloud-computing architectures have come along to enable the data crunching to be powerful enough to get closer to real time answers, even when petabytes of data are involved.

So now instead of just realizing why subscribers behaved in a specific way in the past, Big Data will enable operators to optimize a service so it best suits what they will do in the future. For example providing near real-time content or service recommendations based on what the family is doing at the moment …

This is where Big Data will not only serve the interest of incumbent operators by giving them ammunition to fight off some of the OTT upstarts, but also bring new services to the end user. A few decades ago advertising was fun. But today TV advertising has become that period of time you either use technology to make disappear (i.e. with a PVR) or disappear yourself during the break. The truly personalized advertising that Big Data can enable could make it relevant and therefore interesting and oh so much more valuable.

 

You may be wondering what has this got to do with BBWF. Big Data has voracious appetite. This is where a broadband service provider can come in. 3G is often too slow, and is still capped in most markets, while 4G is still only in its infancy, so most content consumed in the home over IP will come through a broadband provider.

This means that a Home gateway is about the only place almost all user interactions go through. The gateway is also the hub of the home network where in-home usages like a child streaming a film dozens upon dozens of times can be captured to help personalize a service (who doesn’t have a few worn out Pixar DVDs that always amaze by still being playable despite all the scratches).

Where almost all operators have fared badly with their ambitious content plans, often closing down channels they created, OTT is giving them a second chance, thanks to the central role of the home gateway. Companies that are exclusively in the Cloud will never get such a complete picture of home usage.  Operators with coherent gateway strategies on the other hand will be best placed to harness Big Data by combining the cloud and the home network most effectively.

 

So at this year’s BBWF I’ll be looking out for companies that will enable my vision of the future. I’ll post something after the event, but I know I’ll look out at least for:

  • ADB that has extensive tools for monitoring home network usage,
  • Axiros that have championed and extend TR-069 to get it to carry more information than in the original spec,
  • Broadpeak who has made me curious with their new nano-CDN technology,
  • Cisco who’s new acquisition NDS have been championing Big Data for a while,
  • SoftAtHome with a compelling hybrid CloudAtHome approach,
  • Witbe and any other QoE companies that are monitoring retail devices.

See you there?