What if Uber became a telco?

Tony Poulos
14 Sep 2016

If you were tasked with starting up a brand new, greenfield communications network, would you would opt for a traditional OSS/BSS support infrastructure, or a much simpler all-you-can-eat subscription model?

If you opted for the latter, you are either a non-telco person or a liar.

Let me explain.

For a start, almost every new network that has begun operation in the past ten years has opted for a traditional infrastructure. This isn’t because the people backing such networks choose to go that way – it’s just that the people they hire to help in the construction of the business inevitably come from telco backgrounds. Those people in turn bring with them their traditional thinking and knowledge, and of course they will stick with what they know best.

And if the new venture decides to get expert advice from existing consulting firms or systems integrators, they will likely be taken down the same route, for obvious reasons. This is an industry that has mastered the art of survival – not of the fittest but of the ones that can make things the most complex.

We constantly hear cries about the cost of maintaining legacy systems, yet we continue to purchase them and commit to their upgrades for decades because no one has the courage to say “enough is enough”. The logic in going down this path is that we want to account for every minute, every second, every bite of every network transaction so that we can maximize income, and it’s these systems and methodologies that have held us in good stead.

We have also mastered the art of checking all of the systems with other systems to ensure that no revenue leaks and no fraudulent activity occurs, resulting in further losses. But maybe, just maybe, all of this could be avoided simply by charging every user a monthly subscription fee, paid in advance if their credit is unworthy, or by credit card or direct debit, a facility that most people now have access to.

You would think that with all the data analytics available to us in this day and age we could effectively calculate the cost of building and operating a network and extend that to a revenue model based on subscription that could accurately predict the number of users needed and what price to charge to become profitable.

Throw in the savings from chucking all those extraneous BSS and OSS components, and you would probably end up with a reasonable business. After all, you really only need to know who was accessing the network to ensure that they are a paying customer and spot anyone abusing the system.

Your main concern would be whether your network is able to meet capacity requirements – and if you are really smart you would have all your support infrastructure cloud-based or contracted to third parties with comprehensive SLAs in place.

Better still, all your customer interactions could be managed via a self-care app and bots, removing the need for expensive customer service representatives and associated CRM/call center systems.

If you felt the need to supply more than simple network services and internet access, you could always opt for third-party OTT services and bill for them using the same subscription model, but making them responsible for support.

You see how easy it could be and how many millions of dollars could be saved? Yet there is probably no single network operating in this simplistic, totally feasible way today. How long before an ‘Uber’ comes along and turns the telecoms industry upside down? Experience shows that no amount of regulation or industry lobbying will be able to stop an activity that is so logical, so simple and so beneficial to consumers.

And what’s stopping existing network operators from going down this route? Hmmmmm….

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