June 7, 2023

The Era of the Open Telco is Coming. How Should CSPs Prepare?

Is it time for telcos to let go of their ‘proprietary’ mindsets and embrace a new era of openness? At the FutureNet MENA 2023 conference in Dubai, Netcracker's Head of Strategy and Portfolio Marketing Sue White joined a panel to discuss this vital question.

A few years ago, a shrewd business observation went viral. It made the point that the world's largest taxi company (Uber) owns no vehicles, the world's most popular media owner (Facebook) creates no content and the world's largest accommodation provider (Airbnb) owns no real estate.

These modern-day giants are all platforms. They derive their power from the shared open APIs that connect their millions of customers/partners.

Today, telcos must factor in this market dynamic as they ponder their futures. Traditional connectivity business is declining. The continuous threat from over-the-top (OTT) players and new business models is forcing telcos to rethink their strategies.

And the changes they are making to their infrastructures are accelerating this re-think. The transition to cloud—with disaggregated IT and network functions – is moving them towards open APIs that will enable simpler integration and make it easier for third-party developers to build services that hook into telco networks.

This is the promise of the ‘open telco’ era.

But how feasible is it? How easily can telcos switch away from decades of proprietary solutions in order to embrace collaboration and openness?

The organizers of the FutureNet MENA 2023 conference in Dubai set out to find some answers. They arranged a session entitled The Open Telco: How Do We Harness the Innovation Required for Networks of the Future?

Participants included:

  • Amir Abdelazim, Partner, Detecon InternationalFormer CTIO, Asiacell
  • Imran Shaikh, CTO, Virgin Mobile UAE
  • Hatem Mestiri, CTIO, Ooredoo Tunisia
  • Salih Ali AlSubai, General Manager Technology Architecture, stc
  • Sue White, Head of Strategy and Portfolio Marketing, Netcracker

The session addressed questions such as:

  • What does open Telco mean?
  • Does open Telco raise any regulatory or security concerns?
  • With the fierce competition telcos face, would open Telco be an opportunity?
  • How does open Telco play a role in different growth strategies?
  • How does 5G play a role in 5G realization?

Salih Ali AlSubai, General Manager Technology Architecture at stc began by reminding the audience that there are two kinds of telco openness: internal and external.

He elaborated that telcos must adopt the open APIs being released by TM Forum, ONF and others in the building of their own infrastructure. But they must also embrace external openness, which will manifest in the availability of open APIs to developers and third parties. The take away is that you can't have one without the other.

Sue White reflected that an open Telco is also one that can innovate at speed and scale. Networks and services need to adapt quickly to changing market needs, and this level of agility is not possible with proprietary networks.

White also discussed the concept of the open Telco related to different growth strategies CSPs may pursue. Some will remain focused on connectivity, bringing a tremendous amount of innovation. Here, the goal is to move towards network-as-a-service and even network-as-a-platform with  true plug-and-play APIs (such as those being pioneered by GSMA/Camara) enabling developers to use telco assets in their own applications.

Another strategy is the partner play. Incorporating partner offers into telco services to become more relevant to the customer’s digital lifestyle. This demands more automated processes, flexible partner business models, intuitive UIs and open APIs so that partners can self-on-board and then manage and visualize their own offerings and ensure that any subsequent upgrades are automatic.

The final growth strategy relates to a move into non-telco markets with the opportunity to disrupt them. White gave the example of fintech: "Telcos have got so many assets to offer the fintech industry and they know so much about their customers. It’s possible to really own this market. But to do so, common platforms are needed. They can't be building silos for each of these verticals."

She added that the telco's own mobile app could be the destination for these disruptive services, and that CSPs could use tools like gamification to encourage engagement with these apps.

You can watch a recording of the entire FutureNet session here.

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