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DTW24-Ignite: Telcos need partners for their platform revolution

Some of the world's largest telcos speaking at DTW24-Ignite explain why networks are central to their platform revolution.

Joanne TaaffeJoanne Taaffe
18 Jun 2024
DTW24-Ignite: Telcos need partners for their platform revolution

DTW24-Ignite: Telcos need partners for their platform revolution

Telecoms’ platform revolution is fully underway, according to technology leaders from some of the world’s largest communications service providers (CSPs) who spoke here in Copenhagen during the opening session of DTW24-Ignite. The key, they said, is collaborating to build platforms that play to their networks’ strengths.

“In the last few decades, we have developed sophisticated pricing and treated our networks and core product as something standard. That’s not the case,” said Kim Krogh Andersen, Group Executive, Product and Technology at Telstra. “The network is sophisticated. We need to reinvent this to save this industry … and work in ecosystems and invite companies to develop on top of our core.”

AT&T CTO, Jeremy Legg, is betting on the convergence of network services, believing that consumers will want to get their connectivity from one place.

“If public cloud providers can allow a business to spin up compute storage with a credit card and a keyboard, we should be able to enable the services across our wireless and wireline networks with the same degree of simplicity that developers already expect across the world,” said Legg.

“As you think about customizable network experiences, what this really gets into is the ultimate development of platforms,” he added.

AT&T’s Open RAN partnership with Ericsson will open AT&T’s wireless network to software developers globally, as will investments that AT&T is making in services and the software layer on top of its wireline network.

“Whether we’re providing precise location, whether we’re providing private networking, or whether we’re providing other services, the goal here is to begin opening up our wireline and wireless networks to the development communities that exist across states as well as across the world,” said Legg.

‘A story of platform thinking’

At BT, platform transformation is also translating into new services for customers, notably EE ID, which offers services like TV, gaming, insurance, security and devices to consumers without needing an EE telco subscription.

“It’s a really story of platform thinking. We’re opening up our own platform to actually sell a lot more,” said Harmeen Mehta, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer. “We … created common platforms and exposed them in a way that you could build through an amazing product catalog, any kind of product, and sell it in a consistent manner using the power of those platforms.”

This is the simplest way to deliver services, leading to maximum reuse and the lowest possible total cost of ownership, according to Marc Allera, CEO of EE and BT’s Consumer Division. Indeed, the platform approach is allowing BT to shut down most of its legacy systems, with the same platform serving consumer and enterprise customers.

“It will take 10% of the systems that the team … has today in order to run fully on a platform model,” explained Mehta. “We're shutting down 90% of our legacy.”

Mehta added: “It is dramatic simplification. We’ve built our entire platform much more like a commerce platform. It’s not 50-plus sales tools that we have – it’s one… Not 50-plus ways of fulfilling any of the products for our customers – there’s only one fulfillment.”

Reducing the number of support systems has required significant data transformation at BT. For example, the company has replaced more than 35 billing systems with just one that relies on a single data warehouse, “because when data is everywhere, it’s nowhere – it’s useless”, according to Mehta.

EE and BT also went from running 7,500 different customer plans to standardizing on fewer than 100 highly personalized plans. “It’s truly a brand that’s powered by AI-first thinking because … everything is personalized and getting more and more personalized as we as we go along,” said Mehta.

Relying on partners

Embracing a platform approach is an entirely new way of working for communications service providers (CSPs), requiring deeper relationships with hyperscale cloud providers, suppliers and systems integrators. But speakers stressed that computing technology is not more important than connectivity; both are dependent on the other.

“All of our companies, I think, are going to have to have professional software development jobs,” said AT&T’s Legg. “Our underlying networks’ hardware is being replaced by traditional compute, and software layers are being put on… So now, what we have to do is begin to take an ownership of our own product roadmaps and directions and technologies, and employ those technologies ourselves … but knowing that we can’t do it all ourselves. We’re going to have to do this with partners.”

Legg acknowledged that hyperscalers have “won” the computer storage war. “So, I look at that saying, ‘All right, well, how do we play in that ecosystem?’ Well, we can have deep network integration into all those cloud providers, all the way down into the cage.”

With this integration, CSPs can offer services that allow enterprises to “jump straight on our networks, right from within the cage,” Legg said. “We don't do that as an industry – make it easy to jump across different circuits – even though we’re in the position where this group of people can effectively route a bit anywhere in the world.”

Generative AI (GenAI) is one area where collaboration and partnering are especially important. Indeed, Vodafone CTO Scott Petty urged operators not to “waste time building your own AI infrastructure”.

“If we can speed up our time to market, if we can modernize our estate and build a fantastic AI infrastructure, we can lock and deliver to our organizations,” he said. “And the future is bright for technology. AI will not only change what we build for our companies, it will change how we build for our company.”

Legg also emphasized the importance of partnerships and collaboration.

“Hopefully here in partnership with TM Forum, in partnership with other operators … we can begin to create scale marketplaces that developers … can begin to tap into those customizable networks that we and other telecommunications companies offer.”