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    ..Adapt and survive or prepare to learn harsh lessons

    This month the TeleManagement Forum, that august body of individuals and companies who work in the OSS and BSS spectrum of the mobile community, met in Nice, France, for its annual gathering. Now, this might not have the appeal to some of multimedia shows where we can look at nice pictures on tiny screens, or of handset shows, but it is every bit, and more important. Sure, the news coming out of Nice tended to be more of the “several people promise to work together to make things work better” variety, rather than  “Lookee here – music, naked bodies and cool games on your phone”, but the two are intimately connected. To digress for a moment, BT’s announcement of the lucky companies to be fed from the top table of its £10 billion 21st Century Network project made the most headlines and, somewhat carelessly, Britain’s top telecoms carrier had neglected to include Britain’s top (Only? And barely that?) network equipment vendor. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if BT felt that Marconi wasn’t up to the job, or down to the price. This isn’t, er, France after all.

    But, and whether this directly impacted Marconi or not, the fact is that two years ago, BT Wholesale ceo Paul Reynolds clearly said that companies that didn’t buy into BT’s single management structure would not get the gig. Vendors could no more expect to supply equipment with proprietary OS and network management interfaces, he said. BT was targeting £1 billion a year savings from improved operational efficiencies, and much of that meant not having multiple network service contracts. Vendors could either demonstrate to BT that they were prepared to develop products with open architectures and control interfaces, or they could take a jump, was the gist. Now, back to Nice, and lo and behold there are a clutch of announcements (see our news pages in this issue) addressing just these issues, albeit in a more specifically mobile environment. Several vendors were coming together to put together their version of a standard for interoperable network management interfaces. The TMF itself has produced reams of paper work on interoperability and open management, in a highly defined way. Believe, me, I’ve seen just some of the paperwork and it’s not for the faint hearted.  So here’s the clutch. Much of the TMF’s work is influenced and then taken up by the operators themselves. For instance, Vodafone and T-Mobile who both announced in the latter part of last year plans to cut billions worth of operational expenditure out of their accounts. The target? Well, the title Vodafone gave to its efficiency drive, One Vodafone, should say it all. Add in the consolidating drive from the United States as operators acquire and merge, and a real industry trend becomes apparent.

    So why, apart from cutting costs, are operators going to all this trouble.Well, one reason lies in their need to be able to support all the shiny, happy, lookee-here services mentioned at the top of this piece. Take an example from the corporate example. If you ask certain players within the industry how mobile operators might offer cast iron, punitive SLAs, differential class of service, traffic prioritization by user, application prioritization, all the stuff their fixed line counterparts are working on, and you may well be met with a blank look. But not by the operators, who know that being mobile is no longer enough, and if they are to become truly trusted by their enterprise customers they need to start acting like a trusted enterprise supplier. If they can’t track a service across their networks, if they can’t guarantee the performance of an application no matter what elements it hits, which systems it must interoperate with, then they can’t offer these kinds of services. Companies that understand this should make merry: those that don’t are in for a hard time. And it may well mean some realignment of how we pigeon hole companies across the network infrastructure, network management, test company, OSS and software provider divisions. It will mean a chance for some companies to enter different market areas, which some are already doing, and it may mean that some “non-mobile” players, or who are strong in both fixed and mobile camps, step up to the plate.

    After all, as BT showed, carriers will make their decisions based on what is best for them, and not for their suppliers. Nice news indeed.