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Why we need an interoperable ecosystem of small, medium, and large telecom operators

The telecommunications industry is currently facing a significant challenge: ensuring comprehensive connectivity in key markets.

Johan HjalmarssonJohan Hjalmarsson
Ulf EngstrandUlf Engstrand
04 Jul 2024
Why we need an interoperable ecosystem of small, medium, and large telecom operators

Why we need an interoperable ecosystem of small, medium, and large telecom operators

In the United States, this challenge is embodied in the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. In Europe, it is represented by the EU Gigabit Infrastructure Act. These ambitious initiatives share one common objective: to provide high-quality services to all consumers and businesses at a fair price and within a reasonable timeframe, by the year 2030.

To achieve these lofty goals, we must foster a robust and interoperable ecosystem that delivers consistent and high-quality services across the board. This ecosystem needs to include small, medium, and large telecom operators, all working together in harmony.

However, the current state of the market is far from ideal. Overbuilding is rampant in many booming markets, leading to unnecessary costs, low utilization rates, and stifled investment and innovation. At the same time, competition from legacy technologies is rampant, with low-quality products often being marketed as equal to high-quality offerings. This situation is unsustainable and drastically slows the uptake rate.

To resolve these issues, the industry is increasingly turning to wholesale and unbundled value chains as potential solutions. By sharing the infrastructure investment, it becomes much more cost-effective since the cost of digging is significant. However, wholesale presents its own set of challenges, primarily due to the increased complexity of interactions between the wholesale operator and the retail service provider.

The cost of integrating all networks and operators in the ecosystem can be substantial, as each integration is often unique. Long-term operating and maintenance costs of these unique integrations can heavily affect the customer experience.

Despite these challenges, several initiatives have been launched in different markets to address the big challenge with wholesale. These initiatives, while commendable, often result in suboptimal solutions as they tend to be country-specific and do not cover all aspects of the customer life cycle, nor B2B services.

So, what's the solution? We propose an approach that involves smart collaboration, consistent customer experience, efficient and cost-effective integrations, and an ecosystem that fosters innovation.

Smart collaboration would enable network owners to maximize ARPU, increase uptake rates, and protect against overbuild. It would also offer service providers essential local knowledge and data to elevate sales and marketing activities and reach new consumers.

For a consistent customer experience, it's crucial to implement streamlined, high-quality, and consistent CX across all sales channels and networks. From a retail service provider's perspective, and from the consumers’, one wholesale network should not differ from another. Providing an excellent customer experience has a proven effect on increasing uptake rates by generating positive word of mouth in communities.

Efficient and cost-effective integrations are also a must-have. This means standardized integrations covering all essential aspects of the customer life-cycle, from initial contact to delivery and support.

Finally, we need to cultivate an ecosystem that fosters innovation. This environment should enable service providers to become agile and innovative and stay competitive, expanding their footprint to outer borders. At the same time, we need wholesale networks to focus on buildout and new network technologies instead of maintaining costly integrations.

To achieve this, we need to take a new approach to standardization. The standards should cover product specifications, processes, milestones, jeopardy management, and support tools throughout the entire customer life cycle. To encompass telcos of different sizes in different markets, the standards should also be adoptable, easy to implement, flexible, and governed efficiently.

The TM Forum Wholesale Broadband Standardization project shows the most promise to achieve this. By maintaining a focus on simplicity and minimalism in the standards, we can foster a healthy, interoperable ecosystem of small, medium, and large telecom operators.

Martin Creaner, in his work "Transforming the Telco," outlines five potential transformations for telcos, each representing a different business model. He suggests that most telecom transformations will likely result in a "Dumb Pipe" model, meaning that the telco will provide service on a wholesale B2B basis only. This suggests that to reach a sustainable future ecosystem, where the cost to integrate a small size operator is equal to larger players in the market, interoperable standards need to be widely adopted among operators of all sizes.

In conclusion, to reach the overarching connectivity goals, we cannot afford overbuild. Wholesale is the primary solution to the overbuild problem. For wholesale to work, we need a standardized, healthy, interoperable ecosystem of partners of all sizes. By maintaining a focus on simplicity and minimalism in the standards, we can foster a healthy, interoperable ecosystem and achieve our connectivity goals.