How to get from pipes to a platform economy

The telecoms industry and its entourage descended on TM Forum Live! in Nice in May, for its annual brushing of shoulders with the Cannes film festival. After chairing the Digital Platform Economy & API track on the opening day, here are my reflections:

  • The word “platform” is used almost as often as the word “digital” these days. Everyone claims to have a platform and to be building new businesses on top of the existing ones.
  • Is the telecoms infrastructure a platform, or, just what it says on the tin, infrastructure?
  • The extended telecoms and IT industries talk about their chips, set top boxes, mobile devices, networks and clouds being platforms – so is it a question of a platform of platforms, similar to BT’s centralized cloud of clouds?
  • The virtualization of network, storage and computing means that the building blocks for these platforms are interchangeable from different players, whatever their background. This is as long as the appropriate northbound and southbound APIs are available. And, as Microsoft and Ericsson pointed out, TM Forum is working on building on this, and the edge compute services under mobile edge computing (MEC), to adapt the infrastructure to the digital platforms.
  • There seems to be a lack of innovation coming out of the telcos in business terms; consider the oft-mentioned 80 percent of innovation coming from outside the telecoms sector. Does the open source and API angle free telcos to innovate? Smart Pipe Solutions and Rocketspace certainly seemed to think so.
  • Industry-side presentations from GE Digital, American Express, Qualcomm, Accenture, FINTECH Circle and IBM all suggest that telecoms is more of a horizontal platform enabler. The notion seems to be it should make itself available on the terms of the different industries’ needs, rather than vice versa,  as has been the case in the past. Furthermore, linking all business and financial transactions needs to be seamless, if not invisible, to the customer

[Editor’s note: The answers to many of these questions, and others, will be covered in our imminent report, based on primary research – 5G: Is platform the killer use case? If you’re a member, the report is free. Let Annie Turner know if you’d like to be notified as soon as it’s available.]

Radical adjustments

Nik Willetts was accurate in his keynote as the new CEO of the TM Forum when he said “we are at a point of inflection”. Digitally ambitious telcos need to radically adjust their offers, culture and attitude to other industries, if they want to underpin the broader move to a digital platform economy. Other industries assume that the connectivity will be there, and there’s no guarantee of additional revenue for the telecoms sector.

The somewhat grumpy nature of telcos might just play into the future role of being a trusted, secure provider of additional services to usher in a future role built around artificial intelligence, analytics and machine learning. Collaboration – learning to partner at a range of levels, and leveraging open APIs and all available tools to make the whole ecosystem work – will be vital.

As Rocketspace said, a platform is where two variables come together as a meeting place where business is done. Facilitating, monitoring and helping this meeting in every way possible is a vital support role for the telecoms industry to undertake.

The advent of 5G should not divert telecoms from continuing to build out connectivity to people, homes, buildings and things, as they all contribute to the network effect. The most important thing is to expose the connectivity and compute power at the right place, hence adapting the platform around the business as it follows its digital path. [Editor’s note: One of the most striking attributes of successful platform-based businesses is that they morph to address new opportunities, and the platform is sufficienlty adaptable to support this.]

One final thought…

Is the platform defined by the vendor and its technology? Or by the business, or consumer using it? We must not fall into the trap of defining things by technology. It is time to turn the technology into business.

Platforms will have their debut on November 30th at the Great Telco Debate 2017 in London. Watch this space for the agenda as debates and expert witnesses emerge. We will work with Nik and the Forum’s Digital Maturity Model to help calibrate the industry against these lofty goals.


    About The Author

    Chris is a highly regarded and experienced Telecoms Industry Analyst covering the depth and breadth, demand and supply of the ICT sector on a global basis for 30 years. He is one of the few industry analysts who can draw together the many varied technology and business components helping shape telecoms in the context of the future digital marketplace. Having been registered blind for over 30 years, he now also brings his technology knowledge to help the RNIB and Vision 2020 leverage telecoms and communications technology for the blind and partially sighted community.

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