Photo - Johan Khoo, MD, Accenture Communications, Media and Technology Strategy practice in ASEAN.
"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way," so said author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. In much of the world, when it comes to mobile data traffic, one thing is assured: there's no looking back, especially as the world moves to digital, every business, regardless of industry sector, becomes a digital business and the high-speed networks to support that digital activity become even more vital.
Countries in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia - are no exception. Here also, mobile data traffic is outstripping voice traffic. The new digital consumers - armed with an array of mobile devices - are driving this phenomenon.
As a result, especially in the newer, developing markets, long term evolution (LTE) arrives before 3G; smartphones become popular ahead of their actual features; fiber optic cable is deployed instead of copper cable; and tablets instead of laptop computers win the day. In this environment, deploying high-speed networks, especially LTE, to handle the data is at the top of communications service providers' list.
When they decide to launch LTE, communications service providers (CSPs) following a more measured, traditional path can expect multiple challenges. There are costs associated with upgrades to IT infrastructure such as switches, gateways, and billing and operations systems; the time required to design a network; and migrate customers. These CSPs must build in the time to steadily recoup their network investments. And richer, more efficient IT systems regularly become available, requiring at least periodic upgrades.
Alternatively, CSPs can leverage the ever-increasing data traffic and the associated focus on investments in new, high-speed networks, and bypass a phase of IT architecture evolution, and head straight to the LTE finish line. Potential benefits include avoiding the proliferation of products, and side-stepping the challenge of separate billing systems for "pre" and "post" networks.
Photo - Neil Morgan, MD, Accenture Communications Industry Group, Asia Pacific Region.
Different approaches, similar challenges
Whether it's an "express" or "local" trip to LTE deployment, each has its challenges and drawbacks for CSPs, whether they operate in a mature or developing market.
When transitioning to LTE, CSPs in mature markets typically follow a traditional path, with periodic technological advancement matched to customer demand curves, upgrading IT systems accordingly, recouping those investments, and upgrading again when capacity is reached. While iterations add more capacity, more capabilities and saves operating cost, it also brings with it more complexities in migration and decommissioning of old infrastructure. As a result, a good number of CSPs in ASEAN still operate on legacy systems until an upgrade is justified or warranted.
In developing countries, the scenario is quite different. Here, the economy can be closely aligned with CSPs, and they can potentially fill vacant economic positions otherwise claimed by other institutions. Examples include financial institutions - with mobile money services offered by CSPs - video content provider, or educational content provider, with anyone a potential customer, as long as they have an Internet connection. In this case, because they are less committed in terms of equipment or infrastructure, ASEAN CSPs in developing markets may quickly deploy the latest technologies, since there's no need to demolish old architecture. Accelerated deployment of cloud solutions (think virtual desktops or virtual offices) over their high speed network, or "big data" systems that CSPs can use to track and respond to customer demands, are typically part of their initial rollout plan rather than late stage evolution of traditional providers. Moreover, the IT technologies available today are much more robust and flexible than their predecessors, giving these CSPs plenty of room to scale, pushing a major upgrade far into the horizon.
Regardless of the market in which a network is deployed, and whether it's a greenfield deployment or transition from legacy network, CSPs must design a clear strategy to start their journey to an "all-IP" world. Several milestones to meet, which would help ensure seamless LTE adoption, include:
- Product/Service strategy: A clear product/service strategy to ensure a clear monetization path for your LTE investments and superior customer experience;
- LTE radio frequency coverage: Prioritized LTE roll-out in congested locales, providing "hot spot" coverage, for pure data access with improved bandwidth and latency at a lower cost per bit transmitted;
- Policy management deployment: Growing data traffic and use of LTE-enabled devices will cause increase rather than solve network capacity issues - dynamic policy enforcement rules will come to the fore, providing differentiation at product and customer levels;
- Enhanced end-user capabilities: The move to a Digital world will be accompanied by the desire for consumers to interact with their service provider at a more granular level, across feature provisioning, billing configuration and plan sharing 'policies' of their own; and
- IMS and service layer enhancements: CSPs and OTT operators should make sure customers can still access voice and messaging services, to avoid jeopardizing current revenue streams, and to ensure customer quality expectations are met.
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