Analysis

Lynd Morley looks back at this year's 3GSM World Congress

It was cold in Cannes this year. Even the determined visiting joggers, who pound along the Croisette in the early hours, were swathed in woolly hats and gloves.  There was something of a chill in the air from the locals as well, which might, of course, have been in some way connected to the fact that after ten years, the 3GSM World Congress was paying it's last visit to Cannes before decamping to Barcelona next year. Given the significant boost the show delivers to the local economy, it is probably not surprising that, viewing all connected with the Congress as in some way treasonous, the waiters, bartenders and some shopkeepers surpassed even their usually accepted levels of arrogance, indifference and downright rudeness. 
But inside the Palais des Festivals all was warm and glowing -- that is, once you'd recovered from the frostbite contracted while queuing to register. The atmosphere in all five of the exhibition halls was bullish, determined and positively radiant. Indeed the much discussed (and prayed for) recovery in the telecommunications industry could not have been better illustrated than by the sheer numbers at 3GSM this year.  A record 34,000 participants meant that attendance was up by some 20 per cent on last year. Indeed, the number of delegates, exhibitors and visitors swelled the population of Cannes to such an extent that it was near on impossible to find table space to grab a café au lait in any of the cafes around the Palais.
All grist to the mill, of course, as far as the GSM Association and the Informa Group were concerned, underlining -- as such figures do -- the importance of the event in the mobile calendar.
Both organisers and participants were, understandably, keen to stress the growing momentum of 3G, emphasising its continuing development through IMS and HSPDA -- whose imminent arrival has precipitated a rash of roll out plans from the likes of Motorola, Siemens, Nortel, and, of course, Ericsson -- which claims to have set a new HSDPA data transfer world record of 11 Mbits/s. Questions about the availability of appropriate handsets remain, however, in the face of a rather unnerving reticence from handset vendors on the subject (and resurrecting the spectre of handset shortages for 3G roll-out last year), but pundits believe the industry has learned its lesson -- a sentiment echoed by Sony Ericsson vice president, Jan Wareby's statement to the effect that his company will be making products available for trial this year, with commercial volumes during the first half of 2006.
While product launches, partnership plans, and development announcements -- covering every conceivable aspect of the 3G world -- abounded during the show, the buzz was particularly audible around such topics as TV to mobile devices (buzz volume increases with the assertion from Orange that some 60 per cent of its users in France watched live TV on their mobiles); and music (several more decibels on the buzzometer with the announcement of a link-up between Microsoft and Nokia on delivering music to mobile phones).
Reflecting the incredibly wide range of nationalities present at the show -- which drew visitors from the full spectrum of market maturity across different countries around the world -- the 3G community is looking to its future in such countries as China, India, Brazil and Russia, who will, according to Bharti Chairman, Sunil Mittal, provide the next billion GSM customers within three years. The GSM Association and Motorola will help this process along, of course, with their promise to deliver a sub-$40 handset this year, with the aim of reducing to sub-$30 in the future. It could be stressed that such prices are essential to the further spread of GSM, given the GSM Association's own figures   Â© which show that although some 80 per cent of the world's population has access to wireless coverage, only around 25 per cent can actually afford to do so.
3GSM 2005 was, by any measure, a considerable success. Significant announcement were made, networking flourished, and deals were done; exhibitors seemed more than satisfied with attendance levels; the corporate parties were lavish and exuberant; and even those professional whingers, the assembled press, complained considerably less about the media centre facilities.
A fitting farewell, perhaps, to the Cote D'Azur. Next year Barcelona -- and hopefully a better chance of getting that cup of coffee.                                             n         

Just across the road from the Palais des Festivals, the Telecom Valley Gallery set up shop again this year in the famous La Potinieres du Palais.  Boasting much-welcomed heaters in the restaurant's canopy area, the Telecom Gallery offered comparative calm, mixed with that essentially French sense of stylish purposefulness.

Organised by the Telecom Valley Association, in partnership with Cote d'Azur Development (CAD) and Initiative Riviera Technologies (IRT), the Gallery is a showcase of the latest 'made in the Cote d'Azur' wireless technologies. The companies discussing their products and services over an excellent glass of wine (not to mention a superb menu), included Aequalis, Altix-EDS, Atos Origin, Devnet, ETSI, Istar/EADS, NCR Teradata, OrangeFrance, Philips Semiconductors, Smartcom, Temex, Texas Instruments, Trendium, and W3C.
Jean-Marc Dijan, President of the Telecom Valley Association, notes that these companies demonstrate that a real telecom value-chain has taken root and grown to maturity in the region, covering standardisation institutes, electronic design centres, consulting firms, software creation and integration firms, support services, research laboratories, engineering schools and so forth.
With the clear intention of attracting more companies into the area, Jean-Pierre Mascarelli, President of Cote d'Azur Delopment, adds that the local high tech community has been able to take advantage of the fact that the CAD provides international businesses with personal and confidential contacts to the area's business, economic and administrative networks, at no charge.
The Telecom Valley companies, like their colleagues in the main exhibition halls, came well equipped with company information and announcements, timed perfectly to coincide with the 3GSM World Congress.  Teradata, for instance (who also had a booth in one of the main halls), unveiled its data warehousing solution, Warehouse 8.0, aiming to provide businesses with breakthrough business intelligence to solve the problems of how to increase revenue, reduce expenses and identify new growth opportunities. Chris Parsons, Teradata's EMEA Industry Marketing Director, noted that for operators to achieve their declared aim of 'getting closer to the customer' (a recurring theme at 3GSM 2005) effective business intelligence is crucial. He explained that the stronger, more robust Teradata data warehouse enables customers to gain a competitive edge with a new level of business intelligence, and stressed that the company continues to enhance the warehouse suite to make it easier for businesses to integrate Teradata into their overall enterprise.
The IT services company, Atos Origin, which provides business consulting, systems integration and managed operations, was also able to highlight its capabilities at 3GSM hot on the heels of an announcement -- the company having recently implemented the LHS rating package 1.2 at T-Mobile Austria, within just seven months. The solution enables the billing of both post- and pre-paid customers via one system. A core element of the solution is that it will also be used for future 3G services, such as mobile voice and data communications via UMTS, GPRS or WLAN.
The companies gathered in the Telecoms Valley Gallery all had their own particular success stories to relate, of course. But while there's no doubt that this particular venue will be missed in Barcelona, it is to be hoped that they will continue to contribute to the 3GSM gathering -- on foreign soil.                        n

Lynd Morley is editor of European Communications

Louis Meyer argues that the drive for a more advanced
OSS should begin at a board level

As 2005 kicks off, it would appear, finally, that telecoms carriers are beginning to recognise the strategic importance of driving OSS investment from the boardroom. UMTS shows a great deal of promise for the future, and many carriers are realising the necessity for a highly proactive approach in developing and delivering innovative new services that are tempting subscribers to spend more. Certainly MMS is starting to take off, 'push-to-talk' is proving increasingly popular, and SMS-based voting services are an intriguing possibility.
The mainstream use of 3G services is firmly on the horizon. But as the industry readies itself to gauge the market's reaction to these ambitious new services, the benefits of installing new infrastructures to manage their efficient delivery is being overlooked by many carriers. Lack of business value-supporting OSS/BSS are emerging as a potential source of seriously numbing headaches in the coming years. Carriers will need to fully equip themselves for the strenuous demands that the introduction of new services will place on their delivery infrastructure in the near future, or risk being left behind by their competitors as the pace of change quickens.
The automation of network management is an ongoing process with significant advances already having been made, and with many improvements and refinements in the pipeline. The widespread adoption of these automated infrastructures must appear increasingly necessary and desirable at a board level to executives who are looking to improve efficiency, in practical and economic terms, maximising operating profits and ensuring that their networks will continue to deliver value and cope under the strain.
OSS has taken a prominent role in recent industry conventions and, as expected, billing and billing mediation solutions have received plenty of attention due to the convergence of pre-pay, pay now, and post-pay services, with an array of new applications under evaluation by operators. The prevalence of GIS systems vendors has demonstrated a high level of interest in services with a location-based flavour. Certainly analysts have been generally surprised at the strong presence of pure OSS vendors at the latest showcase events.
At TeleManagement World 2004, communication service providers readily admitted that their business processes could be made more efficient, but tight budgets -- in combination with the perennial misalignment between the requirements of IT and the board -- were often blamed as the reason for the lack of a systematic approach to the enhancement of network management.
It seems the problems most commonly encountered in the telecoms industry are receiving repeat calls from customers, the inconsistent distribution of work, and an over-dependence on an experienced workforce -- instead of highly automated processes or systems -- to complete the myriad of tasks in hand. However, it is encouraging that telecom professionals are at least aware of these inefficiencies and of their causes, even if they feel they have their hands tied when it comes to implementing solutions. This highlights the importance of aligning IT and business goals if operational efficiency improvements are to be realised, and that the drive for a more advanced OSS should begin at a board level.
There can be no doubt that OSS, and the attitudes surrounding its use, currently stand at a critical crossroads. The market led approach to mobile communications -- selling a product, before considering the suitability of the infrastructure to support the roll out of new services -- is sure to lead to some major problems in delivering a satisfactory level of customer quality and satisfaction.
There are two possible outcomes of this approach. Firstly, there is the possibility that the industry will intelligently fine tune investments in both network infrastructure and OSS/BSS to match market growth and tackle the changing demands as they arise. The second outcome is that there is a significant mismatch in growth and delivery capability, creating very public service quality problems, which could negatively impact on and perhaps irreversibly damage a firm's brand image.
The outstanding challenge for most carriers will be managing the huge volume of change ahead, both in terms of network growth and growth of the customer base. In some cases, the number of additions to the network could reach many hundreds each day. Without the human programming of diagnostic rules it is simply not possible to adapt to this rate of change. As far as the improvement of the level of service in network operations centres (NOCs) is concerned, the telecoms industry is now undergoing a sea-change where it is possible to largely automate network management and fault resolution, cutting human resource costs and the time taken to analyse and fix faults.
Next generation OSS infrastructure utilises artificial intelligence (AI), originally developed for use in the nuclear industry, where diagnostic decisions have a critical impact, to analyse and discover the root causes of network problems and reduce the number of events that need human intervention. This delivers greater OSS productivity without increased hardware investment; improved SLA compliance and service levels, reducing the likelihood of incurring SLA penalty costs; and improved network reliability leading to significantly reduced churn. Which in board-speak means reduced opex and lowered TCO with a very attractive ROI.
Carriers and by extension, their end users, can benefit greatly from task-based management and reason-led systems that allow for more rapid deployment of closed-loop control. Some carriers have reported a 98 per cent success rate when applying these AI solutions to identify and resolve errors that arise in the day-to-day running of their networks, which can mean up to two million individual problems fixed automatically every day.
Executives must recognise that their firms' reputation is at stake here and put in the extra effort to secure the necessary investment in high efficiency hands-off automated OSS, an investment which will make a tangible difference to the bottom line and may ultimately prove to be crucial to carriers' survival in the coming years.                                                     

Louis Meyer is CEO of Pivetal, and can be contacted via e-mail: louism@pivetal.com   www.pivetal.com

Could the ancient art of speech recognition have finally found resonance in the interactive voice response marketplace? Paul Welham explains

Speech recognition technology has been around for many years. The first speech synthesiser was produced in 1936, so there is a valid question to ask  namely: "Why has it taken so long to make reliable and commercially available systems available for deployment?"
The answer is really twofold. Firstly, there were constraining limitations in the availability and power of early computing technology. Secondly, and perhaps crucially, linguists found key difficulties differentiating between textbook grammar and the vocabulary structure of typical conversation.
Over the last few years, however, speech technology has come of age. The first public-facing system in Europe was deployed by Odeon cinemas in 1998 and was deemed a great success by both Odeon and their customers. Odeon were able to reduce call centre costs and improve their marketing. In 2004 Odeon made their Film line system totally speech driven, taking over 300,000 calls per weekend.
Speech recognition systems  now more usable, realistic and practical than in the past  are taking over the interactive voice response (IVR) marketplace. 
Over 70 per cent of the current voice business is linked with telephony communications and, according to leading analyst, Datamonitor, global voice business will be worth $2 billion by 2007.
Unlike IVR, natural language speech recognition systems are proving extremely popular with users. Speaking to a real person may be perceived as ideal, but when it involves a lengthy wait, over 80 per cent of callers/users prefer to use speech driven systems. Telephony is the area of speech recognition that is of most interest to organisations. It can offer cost effective ways of deploying speech recognition to solve everyday communication problems, and benefit other areas - such as data capture, intelligent routing and the dissemination of information.
There is a growing consensus that organisations need to be able to interact with their stakeholders 24x7. Speech recognition solutions can help achieve this goal, while providing a rare opportunity to automate mundane processes, improve telephony, reduce staff costs and improve services to customers and staff, all at the same time.
The technology can be used to solve common issues, including operator recruitment, excessive internal calls to the operator, expensive internal directory production and out of hours call handling. An operator's job is an anti-social one and, often, an underpaid role. Yet operators are a valuable resource as they have a detailed knowledge of how their organisation works  so it is crucial that they are customer facing. However, an operator's time is often claimed by internal staff asking for numbers.
Far from removing the human element, speech recognition call routing systems can relieve operators of mundane calls, giving them more time to deal with complex enquiries, where their specialist knowledge is essential.
Aerospace giant, GKN, for instance, wanted to reduce its costs partly as a good business practice in general, but also in the wake of the entire industry being affected by the appalling events of 9/11. The company looked at where it was spending money and how it could spend less, and the switchboard came up as a possible area for cuts. Cost benefits following the implementation of a speech driven virtual operator started to emerge very quickly: ROI can be achieved within months, and a speech solution can cope with the work of four operators for less than the cost of one human operator.
The alternatives to using speech recognition are few. Touch-tone or auto-attendant systems that ask you to either enter an extension number or press 1 etc. for your preferred option, are often used. These systems are seen as extremely frustrating by all types of callers and can never cater for the full range of options a caller may have in complex environments.
Speech recognition enables callers to interact with automated systems in the same way they would with a person, while at the same time removing those negative elements usually associated with automated IVR systems.
Excellent alternative
In the call centre sector, speech recognition provides an excellent alternative to the much-debated outsourcing issue. Providing queue management, skills based routing and automated transactions, all driven by speech, agents can deal with complex enquiries where their skills are needed, yet the cost per call to the organisation is greatly reduced due to the automation of many routine transactions. Peaks and troughs in call traffic can also be catered for without the need to hire extra temporary staff. Organisations such as Odeon cinemas are already employing this technology with great results.
When considering the design and implementation of speech recognition there are several important issues to be considered. These systems often cater for large user groups, including the general public, and as such will encounter a multitude of regional and ethnic accents. Only systems that are able to deal with these variations should be considered, to avoid alienating the people you serve.
There is a tendency to look to suppliers who provide existing legacy touch-tone communications, but speech recognition is an extremely complex area, so specialist knowledge should be sought from companies that understand speech. It is therefore wise to avoid legacy touch tone systems which have had speech applications bolted on as an afterthought, as the vendor may lack the necessary expertise to develop and deploy systems that work with the general public. A touch-tone platform is not the ideal speech platform, no matter how often legacy system vendors try to say it is.
Absolute must
An absolute 'must' is a professional recording service, to ensure speech recognition services sound seamless and professional to callers. Ultimately the caller is looking for an efficient experience when making a phone call, and is not looking to be entertained or distracted. They do not want music, sound effects, long monotonic greetings, persona or unnatural sounding voices. 
Systems should use industry standard software and hardware, ensuring they can be integrated with emerging telephony and IT technologies and other vendors' products, such as call loggers and pagers, to protect existing investment in telephony systems. Always visit reference sites that are similar in size to your own organisation and have the same business needs.
Always trial a solution before committing to buy  speech vendors confident in their systems' ability will, of course, offer this without any commitment from you. The true test of a solution is how it works in the environment you wish to place it and only a trial can provide you with the honest outcome. It also allows for any fine-tuning that needs to be made before general release to the wider population. First impressions are always lasting impressions with most users of this type of system, so it is important to get it right first time.
The implementation of a speech driven system will be very smooth if these simple guidelines are adhered to. The natural interface will remove any existing negative perceptions of automated systems, and users will accept that the system is ultimately ensuring that they achieve their goal  being connected to an empathetic, helpful human.                                         

Paul Welham, Director of Sales and  Marketing, Telephonetics, can be contacted via tel: +44 1442 242242; e-mail: paulw@telephonetics.co.uk[l=www.telephonetics.com/]http://www.telephonetics.com/[/l]

Service providers are transitioning from billing as a tactical back-office application to a strategic solution for maximising customer profitability, says Bhaskar Gorti

Years of upheaval in the global communications markets have led to new challenges and mandated new strategies for today's service providers. Over-capacity in the network and excessive carrier spending have resulted in an industry shake-up characterised by consolidations, downsizings, and bankruptcies. Service providers that survived are facing intensified competition, the commoditisation of products and services, erosion of customer loyalty, decreasing margins, and an intense pressure to differentiate.
In response, service providers are searching for business processes and technologies that will enable them to focus on retaining profitable customers by improving the customers' experience. With innovative new services-such as mobile gaming, customised ring-tones, e-mail and web-surfing capabilities-they hope to reduce churn and improve customer satisfaction. Many are also branching out from their home countries to establish global brands to compete on a worldwide basis, or considering Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) relationships.
Driving value to the bottom line
During the boom years, operators spent billions of dollars focusing on customer acquisition and network build out. Today, an objective of communication companies is to drive value to the bottom line  and time to market is the key to their success. Service providers must evolve their business systems so they can enter new markets quickly and effectively to respond to competitive threats and take advantage of market opportunities. Differentiation  creating true brand value  elevates a service provider out of the morass of cut-throat price competition and costly churn. With rapidly changing technology and shifts in consumer trends, smart service providers are also looking for ways to quickly bring high-margin products and services to market.
Services are now driven by the customer  not the technology. Not only do today's customers have a variety of service options to choose from, they also expect a variety of payment options including prepaid, postpaid, and nowpaid. Many customers, especially those with multiple service plans at the home or the office, are demanding convergent service pricing, discounting, and multiple payment options. This presents a major challenge for service providers who are dependent upon legacy billing and customer management systems that were built specifically to manage revenues for individual services or individual payment options.
The resulting proliferation of multiple, fragmented billing systems, coupled with highly customised applications built for 'point-in-time' purposes limits a service provider's ability to quickly respond to new opportunities and roll out new services. The inability to tie-in multiple billing applications for different services or cost-effectively modify an existing billing application, can lead to excessive expense, wasted time, and customer attrition.
Managing revenue streams
Enterprise applications are converging around three areas of information management: customer, financial, and revenue. With an increased focus on revenue, billing has emerged as a true competitive differentiator and a key asset of the company. Savvy service providers are transitioning from billing as a tactical back-office application to a strategic solution for maximising customer profitability in a complex service and payment environment. In much the same way that CRM evolved from sales force management to the unification of relationships between the customer and the enterprise, billing has evolved to become revenue management  the unified management of all of the service provider's different revenue streams. This approach optimises the value of customers by enabling service providers to develop, introduce, and sell the right products to the customer while minimising revenue leakage and the total cost of billing operations. Finally, a revenue management approach provides the business with the agility essential to rapidly launch profitable products and services and quickly respond to competitive pressures.
Optimally, revenue management solutions are also 'future proof', providing the foundation for supporting new products, services, and technologies. A true revenue management solution isn't just another silo in the enterprise, but an integration and unification of revenue processes across the business. With the broad business processes it encompasses, revenue management impacts the way providers introduce new products and services, manage customer accounts, and track revenues across the business.
Revenue management is a lifecycle of unified processes to generate, capture, and collect revenue for each customer. The lifecycle also includes an ongoing process of analysing, evaluating, and optimising each phase to maximise performance and deliver comprehensive insight and intelligence into the customer revenue relationships.
Revenue generation
Revenue generation enables services to be delivered to customers that are optimally priced for the user, service provider and any partners. With real-time access to customer data, the business processes associated with this phase maximise customer and partner value through a single view of the customer, combined with complex account management and agile service delivery.
Revenue capture
Revenue capture maximises market share using competitive pricing models and flexible balance and credit control to enable any service for any subscriber. As services are authorised and consumed, transactions are captured, rated, discounted, and charged while balances are managed. Real-time interactions help reduce the risk of revenue leakage, improve customer satisfaction, and encourage usage.
Revenue collection
Revenue collection ensures all invoices are generated and appropriate monies are collected from the correct debtors. Postings are made to accounts receivable and general ledger accounts, while handling all payments terms, settlements and disputes to ensure an accurate accounting of all revenue. A real-time, accurate view of revenue provides insight to customer profitability as well as the health of the business, while enabling the provider to respond quickly to changing market dynamics.
Revenue analysis
Revenue analysis spans the entire revenue management lifecycle. Understanding the revenue relationships with customers and partners improves their satisfaction. It provides real-time verification, reporting and analysis of all events and actions, which maximises revenue and minimises losses associated with fraud and revenue leakage.
Value chain
In today's complex environment, service providers cannot address these challenges and deliver exciting new services on their own. They must work with the best partners and content providers for their markets.  Because revenue management provides the ability to view all of the revenue touch points between the customer and the service provider, it facilitates the creation of an efficient value chain. The value chain is the sum of all processes in a product''s creation including design, pricing, procurement, and fulfilment. The value chain enables the service provider to capture points of value and reward innovation throughout the chain.
To make these value chains successful, service providers must develop relationships with their partners that create differentiated value, increase customer profitability and reward partner innovation. At the heart of an efficient value chain is a business system that tracks and charges for events; manages customer profiles, accounts, and subscriptions; collects revenues; and manages settlements with the value chain partners. 
Business partners, content providers and enabling networks, therefore, help service providers build an efficient value chain and pricing models. A value-add pricing model, for example, tracks both a variety of packaging types (such as subscriptions, pay-per-use, volume discounts, device specific and loyalty points) and a host of different payment methods.
Several leading service providers have already embarked along this path. Vodafone live!, Vodafone's easy-to-use consumer service that offers customers a wide variety of colour, sound and pictures, is an excellent example. Vodafone live! sought to increase subscriber revenues by establishing a global brand and consistent user experience while leveraging the various Vodafone operating companies' customer billing relationships. It was important that all of Vodafone's operating companies could quickly launch this service into their markets. The results have been excellent.  Vodafone live! is driving higher than average usage and ARPU and reached its target of eight million subscribers by June of 2004. And, for the period from October 2002 to July 2003, Vodafone live!'s customers downloaded over three million games and ten million ring tones.
To accomplish this, Vodafone live! utilises a model whereby the content that is in highest demand can be quickly and efficiently offered to the Vodafone community. Vodafone established a value chain that is driven by customer demand rather than by technological advancements. Vodafone's recipe for success? Find out what the customer wants, build an interface to the content partner, and offer simplified pricing that encourages near and long-term adoption. Vodafone is able to quickly 'plug in' partners without costly or time-consuming integration, while allowing the pricing to be more intuitive to the end user. End-users are offered multiple pricing options, including a 'pay as you go' model, thus attracting more people to try the services without making major commitments. Once a Vodafone live! end-user understands the value, they can move to different levels of commitment in the form of subscriptions and bundles.
Another exciting success story is Orange, the leading wireless provider in the UK. Orange wanted the ability to launch new data and content services quickly and offer next generation multi-media services. Their legacy system wouldn't support this capability. By utilising a revenue management approach, they were able to launch a new system that enabled them to quickly take new prepaid and postpaid GPRS services to market.  At the same time, they maximised their network investment by integrating their new system with their legacy billing infrastructure while future-proofing their platform so that it could support any future product offering. 
The right steps forward
Moving to a revenue management approach for doing business can be done in phases. As such, a model of 'co-existence' between legacy billing systems and more modern revenue management platforms that can handle the breadth of new service offerings is essential. As appropriate, revenue management platforms can transitionally replace legacy voice systems while continuing to enable new service deployments. The revenue management approach completes the value chain by linking the third party content providers to the end users and supporting real-time authorisation, authentication and accounting, real time advice of charge, and automated remittances and settlements. 
For service providers competing in a saturated market within an increasingly global economy, a revenue management approach offers a compelling strategy for creating new customer opportunities and dramatically reducing legacy billing costs. Industry pioneers, including Vodafone live! and Orange, are implementing revenue management strategies to develop a complete picture of their customer touch points in order to maximise revenue and optimize profitability.
With the global communications and media markets evolving, business solutions are consolidating to manage the entire revenue lifecycle. Billing has evolved from a single service, single payment model to the strategic solution for maximising customer profitability in a complex service and payment environment. Using the revenue management lifecycle approach to business, service providers can optimise customer value by unifying revenue relationships. This allows them to focus on their most profitable customers and maximise profitability through the consolidation and rationalisation of multiple, fragmented legacy billing applications. As a result, service providers can rapidly bring new products and services to market, demonstrating true business agility in a highly competitive industry.                                         

Bhaskar Gorti is Senior Vice President of Marketing, Alliances and Global Accounts, Portal Software
[l=www.portal.com/]http://www.portal.com/[/l]

3GSM World Congress 2005 promises to be the biggest and best event yet, reckons Bill Gajda

2005 will be a truly pivotal year for the global mobile industry. It will define where new revenue streams will come from, and how to drive the service uptake that will generate them. For the first time, many operators will have at their disposal new broadband technologies, exciting content partnerships, maturing business models and every indication that the momentum of GSM is building more rapidly than ever.
In February 2004, the one-billion-user milestone was passed  an incredible figure in its own right  but between then and September 2004, a further quarter billion subscribers have signed up. It took a dozen years to reach the first billion, but only half a dozen months to get quarter of the way to the next.
GSM's continuing growth is underpinned by that fact that it is now deployed, or is in deployment, in every country with a population of more than one million with the exception of Japan and Korea. Deployments in many countries and territories with smaller populations simply underline the technology's flexibility. However, Japanese and Korean operators have joined the growing ranks in the more mature markets of Europe, Asia, the US, the Middle East and Africa in upgrading to 3GSM to prepare the ground for profitable new broadband mobility for their subscribers. Four days at the beginning of 2005 will define the direction that mobile operators, content developers and technology suppliers take and will reveal the decisions they make.
3GSM World Congress 2005 will be the biggest in the event's 18-year history, with visitors and delegates expected to grow in number as the industry itself grows. In 2004, 28,000 visitors, 4,200 delegates and more than 600 exhibitors attended what was the largest event to date. In 2005, not only is attendance expected to exceed this, but more importantly, the quality of the conference programme will be at its highest ever.
The world's most influential mobile industry executives will take to the podium for keynote sessions in a speaking and educational programme that has unrivalled gravitas. It all begins with the GSM Association's Leadership Summit on the eve of the Congress. The inaugural invitation-only event in 2004 attracted more than 150 GSMA operator and associate member CEOs to agree and disseminate strategy for the year ahead. 
Over the following four days, the chief executive officers, presidents or board members of the leading industry players will share their insights with Congress delegates, presenting keynotes on how the industry is changing, where it is going, and how to gain maximum value from these developments.
The highlights will include 'Defining Future Opportunities - No Limits To Growth,' where Rob Conway, Chief Executive of the GSM Association will outline our plans for industry development. Joining Rob Conway during this first keynote session will be Lothar Pauly, President and CEO of Siemens Communications, who will outline what opportunities the convergence of the Internet and wireless worlds presents. Pascal Debon, President of Nortel networks' Carrier networks division will discuss the key mechanisms that will drive business transformation for operators.
Fireside chats
The Fireside Chats that proved so popular at the 3GSM World Congress 2004 in Singapore will encourage delegates to eavesdrop on what the decision makers think. Craig Ehrlich, the Chairman of the GSM Association, will scrutinise the issues of the day with Sanjiv Ahuja, CEO of Orange Group, Masao Nakamura, President and CEO of NTT DoCoMo and Rene Obermann, CEO of T-Mobile International.
The GSM Association understands that dialogue between developing and developed markets is important, and the speaking programme reflects this. Sunil Mittal, CEO of Bharti Telecom, the biggest GSM operator in India, will offer a snapshot of his expectations for the sub continent's mobile prospects as it becomes one of the fastest growing markets on the planet. Lim Chuan Poh, CEO of SingTel Mobile will discuss how to evolve beyond traditional services without the risk of revenue cannibalisation. Naguib Sawiris, Chairman and CEO of Orascom, the leading operator group serving the Middle East and North Africa will give his perspective on how to develop low-cost handsets for emerging markets.
In fact, the GSM Association hopes to see many more delegates, visitors and increased media attention from developing markets as these areas begin to play a vital role in how the industry develops. Often, these markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe and China have demonstrated they are actually leading much of the innovative service creation and deployment we can expect to see more of during 2005. For example, Napolean Nazareno, President and CEO of the Smart, and Gerry Ablaza, CEO of Globe will join a panel alongside Verisign and Simpay, to reveal how innovative text-based services and micropayment systems are now being used to transfer funds across borders.
Political and technical theme
In what will be a strong political and technical theme, Karim Khoja, CEO of Roshan of Afghanistan, will bring to the Congress his experience of building mobile networks that can support growing economies. In many developing continents, mobile communication remains superior to the fixed line infrastructure and could also become the broadband network of choice.
In its commitment to discussing the concerns of developing markets, the GSM Association has invited experts from outside the operator and vendor communities to talk about the prospects for the industry. Jay Naidoo, Chairman, of the Development Bank of South Africa will show how mobile communications are a fundamental driver for economic growth. In the spirit of entrepreneurship, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of the easyGroup will share his thoughts on how revolutionary business models can transform industries, a discussion that will chime with operators who are seeking leaner operations.
The mobile industry has always been an entrepreneurial one, and so a Venture-Funded Technologies session is incorporated in the Congress agenda. This gives 30 privately funded companies a window to 'elevator pitch' an audience consisting of top venture fund firms, and attempt to monetise their ideas.
In acknowledgement that the mobile industry constantly seeks to innovate, 3GSM World Congress 2005 will present leadership on a wide range of issues that are testing the creativity and resolve of all operators. Panel sessions here include pricing and value strategies, customer ownership and brand value, handset customisation and usability, a banking view on co-operation for mobile commerce, the interplay of mobile and TV, restructuring the handset supply chain and how to adapt content. Ralph Simon, Chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum Americas will moderate the Mobile Entertainment Summit, a new addition to the conference programme for 2005.
There is no doubt that entertainment will form important revenue streams for operators, and the Entertainment Forum will bring together the operators and content developers. Issues for discussion will include how to maximise revenue, protect consumers against inappropriate content, delivering TV-to-mobile content, personalising third party content and what it takes to offer end-to-end content delivery.
The 'Cool and Connected' Fashion show returns again in 2005, showcasing wearable mobile technology from the catwalk to the consumer, and reaffirming that consumer branding and design are all-important.
In many ways, the 2005 World Congress will mark a new pinnacle in the event's history.  But it will also mark a fond farewell to Cannes as its signature venue, as the Congress will move from Cannes to Catalonia in 2006.
The need to accommodate rising visitor numbers and continually growing demand for exhibition space from the ever expanding eco-system of suppliers to the GSM community will see the event relocate to Barcelona.  This decision has not been taken lightly, but we believe it is the best way forward as we work to accommodate an event and an industry that is growing at a pace few of us would have predicted even a few years ago.
Bill Gajda is Chief Marketing Officer, GSM Association
www.3gsmworldcongress.com/2005/default.asp

Flushed with success in its traditional Russian marketplace, Bercut is now looking West to further expand its range of services to European operators, as Priscilla Awde explains

From Russia with...well certainly interest. But also, what appears to be a different approach to solving the needs of telcos  especially in getting multimedia products to market fast.
Bucking the trend, Russian software solutions developer, Bercut, is challenging the scepticism and prejudices which traditionally hamper Eastern European companies wanting to do business outside their domestic markets. Started in 1996 at a time when access to Russia was restricted, the company developed a range of solutions mainly for mobile operators and, importantly, largely without the help or influence of Western suppliers or their technologies.
Rather than a burden, building 'everything from nothing' meant that software developers were not hampered by tradition, and could take a new approach to some old problems. "We started from scratch, explains Roland Orlie, Director of Global Business Development at Bercut International. "We didn't follow American or Western ideas, so our products have features and technologies which are highly innovative but unconventional. Although our software runs on open platforms and interconnects to standard systems, our products operate unconventionally and take advantage of optimal solutions. We can configure and create solutions very fast and, because we didn't have to go through all the different stages, we have leapfrogged much of the GSM technology.
"Initially reactions from Western suppliers and telcos were adverse, but when we asked them to look at and test our products they were pleasantly surprised."
Apparently they liked what they saw. The company is expanding from its solid base with Russian operators and winning contracts both regionally and within sophisticated and developing telecoms markets around the world.
Having grown up in a Russian market that has evolved from numerous, highly localised, small mobile operators into a few national carriers, Bercut expects to turnover £30 million this year. Supporting its push to develop end-to-end solutions, the company has developed selective partnerships with companies in Western Europe  a model it aims to expand along with marketing channels.
Orlie attributes Bercut's success to the fact that the software not only works well but saves operators money in the process by cutting roaming charges, increasing flexibility and making it faster and easier to communicate with customers.
"Mobile operators will only survive if useful applications and content are brought to consumers fast and easily," he notes. "There is huge competition for telcos especially as new services like VoIP are being offered by companies which aren't telecoms based. Packet data is easily delivered and will be cheap. Because of competition, mobile telcos are at the mercy of market demand  consumers drive the show in the mobile world which is why it is so important to make it easy and convenient to get information to end users.
"The new growth is in mobile systems which can be upgraded very fast and flexibly. Although enterprises are not getting the answers they are looking for, this is only the start of a vast, explosive proliferation of devices and technologies. There is a constant evolution of services and applications  nothing is fixed.
Bercut's strength, Orlie believes, lies in the fact that it is staffed by young, highly educated and motivated engineers who speak the same technical language as customers and who are more interested in bits and bytes than politics.
"Others stick to a standardised approach, but we are more dynamic and individual and therefore more flexible," he says. "Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen so that customers don't have to be squeezed into a mould. The business case determines buying decisions and our systems give a fast return on investment."
Innovation extends to payment methods developed for the low cost Russian economy. In a scaleable investment approach, telcos pay for what they use which reduces the cost of entry. Further, prices only increase with traffic volumes and subscriber numbers, so fees rise along with the growth in the business. Offering sophisticated, scaleable software systems at low cost is a model Orlie expects will work well in the world's developing countries in which mobile communications are growing fast, but where the economics leave little room for high up-front investment.
Grouped into three lines of business  managed solutions, customer care and CRM, and intelligent multi-services  products are based on a smart platform and offer all the advanced features common to modern telecoms systems. Implemented as stand-alone or in combination with third party systems, all products provide end-to-end management of customer applications and services in a secure and scalable environment. Easily configured, all systems are based on open standards and can therefore be quickly integrated into existing systems. Content providers can quickly write applications to run on a variety of transport systems.
Fundamental to the product range, the IN@family is a scalable, multi-services intelligent network which, as well as ready-to-use applications, includes customisation tools for bespoke development. Based on an open three-layer architecture and supporting OSA/Parlay specifications, the platform can be integrated with switching equipment from all the major vendors. The system supports fully featured VPNs including separate rates for different users on the network. Dynamic filters allow users to bar calls, create individual profiles and route calls as needed via SMS, USSD, the SIM menu or over the Internet.
The roaming platform analyses and processes signalling traffic between host and client operators in real time, providing end users with cost effective international connectivity. Using the USSD GSM transport protocol rather than SMS for mapping, allows operators to roam at the lowest costs possible and pass on savings to customers.
Based on a Java card in the mobile phone, menu based browsing makes it easy for operators to personalise services to individual users, sending them particular information as requested. One national Russian operator has successfully scaled up its browsing system from one to 13 million subscribers.
Pre- and post-paid customers are handled on the same service platform and the system supports real time billing for auxiliary services, including SMS, USSD and GPRS. Making life easy for telcos, Bercut's CRM product includes an out-of-the-box call centre and unified customer self-care system. Operators have all the tools required to offer customers a personal service and to support the rapid development and launch of new products.
Orlie is convinced that because Bercut systems have supported Russian operators as they evolved from small local companies and grown via consolidation into national carriers, they will work anywhere.
Taking a single minded, entrepreneurial approach, Bercut has streamlined its goals and focuses on making it easy for telcos to communicate with customers and introduce value added services fast, efficiently and cost effectively. The aim is to fix problems for customers and especially for the big, global operators which purchase centrally but which need flexible systems that can be easily adapted to meet local conditions.
"Innovation is the company culture,"  Orlie says. "We have short lines of communication with customers and provide individual solutions rather than standard off-the-shelf systems. We don't religiously stick to a standardised approach but are more dynamic, individual and therefore more flexible. Bercut is a very different company. Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen; to offer scalability and functionality at low cost."
Guided by its own 'can do' philosophy, Bercut is going West.                               

roland.orlie@bercut.ru
Priscilla Awde is a freelance communications writer
[l=www.bercut.ru/]http://www.bercut.ru/[/l]

As new data services emerge, mobile operators need a way of updating millions of handsets without users having to replace them. And OTA just could be the answer, says Joos Cadonau

As mobile data services fail to meet expectations, operators are looking for ways to roll out new services and convert subscribers into regular mobile data users. Increasingly this search has focused on solving one conundrum: how to upgrade billions of existing handsets to receive new services without having to corral their owners to invest in new models.Over-the-air (OTA) technology is one possible solution. It allows operators to add new types of services directly to the subscriber's SIM card and configure handsets remotely to support these new services.

OTA in action
Before we look at commercial benefits, it is worth explaining how OTA works.  OTA is based on classic network architecture. At one end is the back-end management programme selected by the operator, typically a billing or customer care system; and at the other is the customer's SIM card.  To deliver a software update from the operator to the customer, the back-end system sends a service request to an OTA Gateway, which transforms the request into a binary SMS to be sent to the SIM card. With an OTA platform, operators can seamlessly manage and update a customer's SIM card and cost-effectively deliver new applications without ever being physically connected to the handset itself. With this kind of power at their fingertips, there are a host of ways that operators can benefit from OTA. 

Driving data services
Mobile devices have evolved from 'dumb' terminals with basic telephony functionality into sophisticated smartphones with multimedia capabilities. However, for subscribers to use more advanced services, operators need to ensure their device settings and software are automatically configured. Through OTA technology, this once laborious process happens seamlessly and inexpensively.The result is that operators can convert more subscribers into regular mobile data users and rollout new services at lightening speed.  And for the consumer, the OTA approach is ideal. Subscribers don't have to worry about figuring out how to configure their mobile handsets to use these services  with OTA this is done automatically. Not only does it save them the cost of upgrading their handset, it eliminates the physical hassle of going in-store to buy Java games or back-up their address books, for example. Extensive tariff functionality gives the operator the flexibility of deciding whether to charge subscribers per service, as a package of services or per SMS sent.  Alternatively some operators may choose not to charge for these OTA services, seeing them purely as a way to increase revenues by increasing customer satisfaction and reducing churn.In addition, OTA is equally effective at revenue generation abroad. Through OTA technology, operators can keep their subscribers attached to a partner's network when roaming, which ensures that revenue streams are maintained.

Eliminating the recall revenue drain
As mobile phones become more complex and feature-rich, software glitches are increasingly commonplace. This is further aggravated by shorter time-to-market which leaves less room for thorough testing and increases the likelihood of widespread recalls  a major setback experienced by 3 and DoCoMo in recent years.While upgrading PC software via the Internet is routine, firmware updates for mobile phones are still very manual and expensive. Customers suffer the inconvenience of visiting service centres to fix their phones.By updating faulty software and fixing bugs remotely, OTA technology could potentially eliminate the cost of recalling and replacing handsets and return this lost revenue to the operators  balance sheets, improving customer service in the process.

Battling the virus threat
Earlier this year, the first wireless worm was detected targeting smartphones. As more and more computer functionality is added to mobile phones, the risk from hackers and viruses will undoubtedly increase.  To help stay ahead, operators are starting to use OTA software management to distribute virus protection and software patches wirelessly to end-users anywhere on a network. Rather than allowing viruses to proliferate, operators can use OTA to provide the necessary security before these attacks ever occur by filtering or blocking access from non-trusted sources to the handset.

Overcoming barriers to OTA
While OTA can deliver major revenue and service benefits to operators, its implementation is not without obstacles. Reassuringly, most of these can be overcome by sensible planning.First, the threat of mobile phone viruses means that security is essential when using OTA to modify the content of SIM cards or transmit additional information. However, operators keep SIM cards secure by encrypting communications and securing the link between back-end systems and subscriber's mobile phones using GSM 03.48 transport security.Secondly, when considering OTA solutions, operators should ensure that the technology complies with industry standards such as OMA (SyncML) DM and can integrate with complementary applications.  Operators should not put themselves in a position where they would need to replace functioning back-end systems to accommodate OTA technology.

Into the future
Today, OTA technology offers a practical solution to the age-old problem of how to service and upgrade handsets without the owner being present. What's more, there are genuine improvements to look forward to. OTA can be used to transmit information to next generation cards like USIM (UTMS SIMs), which support 3G services. Not only do USIM cards contain a link that automatically identifies a subscriber, they can receive OTA applications over GPRS, which is much quicker and more efficient than SMS. In addition, USIM cards provide storage for subscription and subscriber related information, giving users more opportunity to personalise services, which in turn builds customer loyalty. When you consider these technology enhancements, the conclusion has to be that both the present and future look unequivocally bright for OTA.     

Joos Cadonau, product manager, Sicap can be contacted via tel: +41 31 978 9090 www.sicap.com[l=www.sicap.com/]http://www.sicap.com/[/l]

With communications technology now filling every conceivable  area of our daily lives, Rob House reckons that – for the sanity of all – responsible management of communications should be firmly placed on the agenda

Communications are everywhere. Internet, e-mail, mobile and fixed phones, text and video messaging, voicemail...we have made the technology all-pervasive. But is it invasive? We've all been irritated by information overload, stressed by multiple messages, and exasperated by the behaviour of other users.
Working in the communications business, we seem to be the worst culprits of all. How many of us check e-mail in an almost addictive way? How many of us can't – just can't – switch off the mobile? How many meetings have dragged on and on because of interruptions to make or take calls? How many train journeys are made unnecessarily noisy by the caricature person on the mobile phone? And was it you?
How complicated is it for someone to turn off, or even just turn down, their ring tone? Or to speak softly?We are now all technology-competent. We use whatever we're sold, or whatever we're told to use. And, largely, we'd be lost without it. But it is also essential to know what is socially acceptable when using technology – that is, if you are to avoid the dangers of being treated like an outcast. Human relationships are still vital to success – and sometimes we tend to forget this. We promote the technology and devices upon which people's personal and professional lives are becoming increasingly dependant, but are we guilty of ignoring the protocols of technology etiquette?
We are a mobile society: business professionals and technicians tote wireless phones; mobiles have become fashion statements for teenagers; phones ring in meetings and loud conversations are conducted on public transport. The use of data is different, being less intrusive. But the ease with which e-mails can be sent to PCs and PDAs contributes to information overload.
We now receive 64 times more information than we did 25 years ago and growth continues: in fact, the curve is exponential. So, Siemens Communications in the UK set out to find out how effectively this communications revolution was being managed. The company commissioned a study into the etiquette of business communications in the digital age, which was undertaken by Surrey Social and Market Research (SSMR) at the University of Surrey, Guildford, England, with additional analysis by the University's Digital World Research Centre.
Seeking to determine attitudes and opinions with regard to acceptable communications practices, the research looked into the way in which today's business communications are affecting workers' attitudes, performance and interaction – and concluded that too much technology can make you SAD.
The new SAD factor
A few years ago, researchers in Scandinavia identified a condition known as Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder (SAD) caused by prolonged periods working without much available natural light.
The Siemens study reveals a new form of SAD that can affect workers all year round – especially those of us exposed to communications technology. Mismanagement of communications tools can be a root cause of workplace Stress, Anger and Distraction (SAD). The research findings clearly demonstrate that an over-reliance on communications is becoming a friction point in offices, causing stress which is affecting personal relationships both at work and at home.
Technology has given us a myriad of ways of communicating. We have desktop and mobile phones as well as PDAs and notebook PCs that can be used as softphones. We use the Internet, intranets and extranets, as well as public and private networks, both wireline and wireless. It is hard to imagine a communications landscape more fragmented than the one we currently endure. With all the new technology, Siemens has estimated that trying to get in touch with a colleague can waste an average of 30 minutes each day for each knowledge worker, which equates to a UK national wage bill of some £22bn per annum.
The research identified an underlying demand for the better management of availability and for integrated communications systems. And, ironically, it highlighted the fact that many office workers resent the interruptions that communications caused to meetings and workflow, but at the same time demanded almost instant contact when trying to reach colleagues.
So, how do we cope without drowning in the digital mire? Well, a bit of old-fashioned courtesy is a good start, coupled with implementing a system that controls your communications, rather than letting them control you.
Working with the University teams, Siemens has devised Eight Simple Rules of business etiquette to act as employer and employee guidelines to working behaviour.
1. Have your mobile off or on silent in meetings: The research showed that only 11 per cent of business users think it acceptable to have a mobile on during a meeting
2. Change your mobile voicemail to request text for urgent messages:Texting is generally thought to be too informal for business use and implies that you cannot be bothered to speak to someone. However, its use by request or prior arrangement for messaging has some potential.
3. Turn your device screens off when holding meetings in your office:74 per cent of respondents felt it unacceptable to read e-mail during an office meeting
4. If you are expecting an urgent call apologise and warn others in advance:The research was clear that interrupting a meeting to take a call should only be undertaken with prior warning and for urgent matters.
5. The person you are talking to deserves your full attention:11 per cent of respondents felt that an emergency was the only acceptable use of a mobile phone during a face-to-face meeting or discussion.
6. Hold private calls in private places:Clearly some calls – business and personal – are inappropriate for public places.
7. Break out of e-mail jail – talk to your colleagues:In many cases e-mail is becoming the easy option  and is being overused – overuse actually reduces its effectiveness.
8. Technology is not power – it doesn't signify your importance:Mobile phones and other personal devices do not signify a person's importance.
Interestingly, only slightly more than 50 per cent of respondents felt that it was inappropriate to use any form of IT equipment in a meeting or when talking to a colleague. Subject matter, location and relationships were all factors in determining how someone behaves in a meeting – with relationships being perhaps the most critical. Meetings now cover a wide range of discussions and many are informal and relaxed – on these occasions, interruptions are more acceptable if they are sufficiently important.
The University's research supports Siemens' own findings concerning availability management, a key feature in OpenScape – the company's presence-based application that utilises Microsoft's Live Communication Server infrastructure. Availability management applications like this allow users to flag to their colleagues their degree of availability and their preferred method of contact – integrating voice, e-mail, mobile, voicemail and text messaging systems to maximise contactability while minimising intrusion. In short, availability management applications are able to deliver the benefits of managing communications – such as eliminating the risk of missing an authorised, important, interruption, which traditional behavioural approaches are unable to filter – as suggested by the research, but without the manual intervention overheads.
Surely it is time that technology went back to the future and gave us the equivalent of everybody being in the same location at the same time and being able to communicate in real time? We need to enable better, less stressful ways of communicating and collaborating, starting with voice-data convergence and instant messaging (IM). IM is an application that uses icons to show the 'presence' – on-line or off-line – of nominated colleagues ('buddies' in Internet parlance). Note also that IM is actually a misnomer since it's used to communicate in real-time; e-mail is a messaging medium.
IP phones are, in effect, data devices that are visible to the network. What availability applications achieve is to develop and integrate IM applications that use icons to indicate presence and availability. This means that you do not waste time calling parties who are busy and you spend more time communicating and less time messaging.
IM programs also allow users to display additional availability information alongside the presence icon. Availability denotes a persons willingness to communicate and it is based on preferences and policies – i.e. it is managed at both the individual and corporate levels.
Who, what, when and where
Managed availability therefore solves the 'who, what, when and where' of communications. Presence and availability management tools put users firmly in charge of their communication devices. People can even leave their phone on during an important meeting confident in the knowledge that it will only ring in a genuine emergency. Why? Because users define their own rules that help them decrease interruption while simultaneously increasing their availability.
Presence and management are powerful communications parameters that minimise telephone tag, thereby boosting personal productivity, yet at the same time reducing stress. They also allow one colleague to talk to another immediately when there is a need to react to an event or an urgent issue.
Introducing real-time managed communications is the quickest way of cheering up the SAD office worker. The trick is to ensure that you control the technology, rather than it controlling you.

Rob House is Head of Collaboration and Integrity Solutions for Siemens Communications and can be contacted via tel: +44 1908 855 000; e-mail: rob.house@siemens.com  www.siemenscomms.co.uk

Maria Martinez, Corporate Vice President, Communications Sector, Microsoft Corporation, tells Alun Lewis why she believes the software giant is uniquely placed to help drive the telecommunications sector

Transformation seems to be the name of the game in telecommunications these days. While the financial discipline of the last few years has to remain, there are a host of new challenges on the horizon to deal with – from VoIP to the addition of content services to traditional service portfolios.European Communications– Alun Lewis caught up with one of the architects of this diverse new world at the TeleManagement's recent conference in Long Beach, California, meeting Maria Martinez, Corporate Vice President, Communications Sector, Microsoft Corporation.

AL: Maria, your keynote speech focused very much on some of the challenges facing us as an industry. Can you summarise these as you see them? MM: For a start, there's a tremendous amount of FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – out there. We all know that convergence is changing the industry in a big way and that it's a big challenge to plan where a business should go in this new environment. However, figuring out which technology will take you there can sometimes be even more difficult.According to Gartner, the worldwide revenue for telecommunications services and equipment is only expected to grow 3.9 per cent by 2007 – down from 9.7 per cent in 2003. What's most interesting is the role that software is playing in this growth. Software will grow at a rate nearly 10 per cent by 2007. So, if software is clearly a key growth area that is contributing to the overall industry improvement, it's surely more a question of "how can we use software to create new services and revenue?" 
AL: And what's Microsoft's strategy in this space?
MM: In the final analysis, convergence will only truly come to life through software-powered service networks. Microsoft's committed to the telecommunications space and we've made three big commitments that will help companies survive, thrive, and win in this newly converged marketplace.
Firstly, we're simplifying relationships across the board between application developers, systems integrators, content owners, distribution channels, services providers, and end users. Microsoft has important technologies and significant partnerships in all of these areas, with over six million developers and thousands of partners – now delivering mission critical applications, the largest databases in the world, delivering content to mobile phones, OSS/BSS systems and recently large billing applications.
Turning such a highly complex communications services value chain into a profitable business requires dealing very efficiently with many issues such as service aggregation, business process automation, business-to-business transactions and end-to-end quality of service management. The group I lead at Microsoft – called the Communications Sector Group – is today bringing all of Microsoft's internal assets together with industry partnerships in a co-ordinated way.
Secondly, we're facilitating the deployment of those rapid and cost-effective breakaway applications and services that will define success in rapidly changing markets. A great example of this is how BT joined forces with Microsoft to launch a one-stop-shop IT and broadband solution, including Hosted Exchange – an innovative first for small businesses in the UK. We've also helped AT&T Wireless differentiate their mobile data services through a portal that improves the end user experience of provisioning a mobile phone. Another example is our recently announced IP Television solution that's in trial now with several service providers around the world.
The solutions we are building around collaboration, hosted services, media and entertainment are designed to get to service providers to market quickly with the minimum investment in a way that they can rapidly monetize. But this new set of services demanded by the market creates unprecedented challenges for the integration of these platforms with existing OSS/BSS environments – which is where I see the TeleManagement Forum's New Generation OSS (NGOSS) effort playing a key role.
Finally, we're providing our service provider customers with a multi-services platform that offers the best opportunity to extend and differentiate new service offerings – while also reducing overall costs. Our biggest contribution in this area is our commitment to Web Services and driving standardisation through our joint efforts with IBM, Vodafone and others. Web services are the universal connectivity layer that will solve the many interoperability challenges.
AL: Obviously one of the biggest shifts underway is towards universal IP and an end to the old circuit switched environment. How's Microsoft interpreting that change?
MM: Today, IP, mobile cellular and broadband have emerged and are all pretty much ubiquitous. IP is now the leading protocol and forms the basis for most of the new services out there, whether through data, voice or video or the integration of all of them. Microsoft strongly supports standards like TCP/IP, IPv6, http, XML and SOAP, as well as the development and standardisation of key technologies like Windows Media and Digital Rights Management.
In transport, where IP is the basis for most of the new services, security and quality of service are vitally important. But the introduction of IP is forcing a change to a new business model in which service providers are no longer paid by distance.
Revenue must instead be made up in services and content. Here, developers using Microsoft platforms are driving solutions that include ring tones, music, video-on-demand and voice over IP for a unified communications experience, and innovative data services such as location and tracking information. Content provision is essentially about relationships, and that means having a set of partners who can build new and compelling offerings, increase distribution, and raise market share.
AL: Microsoft's business breadth must be a significant help in enabling this cooperation.
MM: Partnerships are definitely the key to succeeding in a converged world and, at Microsoft, around 96 per cent of our revenue is delivered through our partners. We have an existing base of thousands of best-of-breed partners who makes it easier than ever to streamline processes and solve business problems collaboratively. This means that service provider customers can pick the combination of partners and solutions that are right for their business needs – no one-size-fits-all, long-term commitment.
AL: And specifically in the OSS space?
MM: NGOSS is a critical piece of the puzzle when we integrate our services framework with a service provider's existing OSS/BSS network. We are designing Web Services interfaces that use the Telemanagement Forum's NGOSS specification to seamlessly integrate services with our customers' operational and business networks. We are very interested in partnering with other industry players to define Web Services interfaces in this area.
AL: Security and network integrity is also becoming a hot issue as we rely more and more on networked communications. What's the take from Redmond on this?
MM: Spam is a big issue that continually interferes with digital communications. We are working hard to educate the public and build anti-spam safeguards into our products to keep spam under control. We're also committed to pursuing legal action against spammers. Earlier this year, we teamed up with America Online, EarthLink, and Yahoo! to file the first major industry lawsuits under the new federal anti-spam law. And, several months ago at the RSA Conference, Bill Gates announced a detailed vision and proposal on how technology can be used to help put an end to spam. This included outlining our Co-ordinated Spam Reduction Initiative and technical specifications for the establishment of Sender ID for e-mail.
Addressing privacy concerns as new technology and services take hold is another challenge. Again, public education is the key here, with clear explanations of why information is needed, what information will be used for, and giving the consumer control over it. Our Chief Privacy Strategist, Peter Cullen, is leading this effort to keep consumers and businesses educated on privacy.
As always, security is a big concern for all of us, especially with the proliferation of new solutions and services that are arriving. Viruses, the risk of identity theft and other threats can have serious impacts along every link in the communications chain. Here again, we are working with service providers, software vendors, and even competitors, to define the legal environment, the processes and deliver the tools that will make the Internet safer. One of the ways we're working hard to improve security is by leading the formation of GIAIS, or the Global Infrastructure Alliance for Internet Safety. This organization provides technology and communications support to the worldwide service provider industry, and facilitates collaboration to help manage and improve security for millions of end users. During a recent virus attack, GIAIS members were able to e-mail 200 million Internet users worldwide within twenty-four hours of the attack to alert and advise them on specific actions to protect themselves from the virus.
And, of course, standards are also a big challenge. We will continue to drive web services standards across the board. We are also working with several standards organisations, like the TeleManagement Forum and the ITU Telecommunications Standardisation Sector, to further develop standards to best address the needs of the industry. 
AL: You mentioned earlier the term 'software-powered service networks.' What exactly do you mean by that?
MM: A network used to be defined in terms of physical nodes and physical links. A service network can be thought of in a similar way, except that the nodes are services – such as messaging, authentication and billing – and the links are provided by the Web Services interfaces.
For example, location and third party content can now be thought of as network 'nodes', that can be leveraged and easily interfaced with any other node on the network to develop richer and more dynamic service packages. These new nodes will therefore need to be manageable in the same sense as traditional network components – provisionable, meterable, measured against a service level agreement, and so on. The service network is not tied to any specific type of device or transport. In fact, it is an inherently cross-physical network, and cross-device – for example, the recent addition of voice communications to the Xbox Live network has taken gaming to a whole new level.
Now, there are a number of implications of this trend.
Firstly, it allows operators to leverage all current capabilities and investments of the current networks while allowing for much larger and more dynamic networks, as it includes many more 'nodes' and participants. Second, it brings the network world and application world together, which means that the business application people, IT people, as well as network people, are increasingly speaking a common language. Thirdly, it also means that features and applications that are exposed as services need to adhere to principles of network management, which many today do not.
Going a step further, for Microsoft this means:
• providing the tools and framework for creating, deploying and executing aggregated services – such as a 'price-check' service that automatically compares prices for a product on several e-commerce sites and displays the  information on a mobile phone.
• defining how applications and solutions can become well-managed services; and of course NGOSS is an important piece of this work.
We believe this approach will provide a powerful, flexible environment that will enable companies to choose the best possible directions and future strategy – and win. Change, after all, is a constant, and it always brings challenges and opportunities.                               

Alun Lewis is a freelance communications writer and consultant: alunlewis@compuserve.com [l=www.microsoft.com/]http://www.microsoft.com/[/l]

With jargon aplenty, John Blake reckons that companies should be carefully considering all the options before taking the VoIP plunge...

Voice over IP has been around for years but it is only in the last 12 months that it has started to gain traction, moving beyond the early adopters to mainstream customers beginning to consider it as a viable alternative to traditional telephony.
The impetus to upgrade to VoIP is coming from many different angles, not least from customer demand and manufacturer and service provider commitment to the new generation of voice services. The fact that it is now a 'hot issue' reflects the coming of the 'all IP' phenomenon in the corporate sector and the growth of broadband among smaller businesses and the residential market.
So is this renewed enthusiasm for the technology proof that VoIP has thrown off its old reputation as an unreliable and second-rate voice service?  The answer is that it is certainly starting to, but the key to this lies in raising awareness that VoIP is not a stand-alone technology, but dependent upon the network that delivers it.
The promise of advanced and more flexible communications and the lure of cost savings are encouraging enterprises both big and small to look to the technology. But the terminology can be confusing. VoIP covers an array of different types of digitally packetised voice communications. While IPT can be hosted or company managed communications carried over an IP network via an IP device, these services together with Voice-over-DSL-broadband and VoIP via a standard Private Branch Exchange (PBX), technically fall under the umbrella term of VoIP.
The platform for VoIP
Despite its name, VoIP can be run over a number of different network technologies. To illustrate this point, let's look in more detail at the different types of network VoIP can be delivered over and why companies are opting to implement them.
The trend towards an 'all IP' communications infrastructure is well underway. Established network providers around the world are investing in IP and looking to new revenue streams in the digital networked economy through new networked IT services. BT recently announced its own forward-looking plans to create a 21st Century network where all traffic, even that which is initiated on the PSTN, is routed over an IP network. It aims to have this up and running by 2008. In the corporate sector, many large international companies already have an IP Virtual Private Network (VPN) in place. These networks enable swifter and more flexible communications and are designed to carry advanced IP applications. They also have Quality of Service (QoS) technology, which ensures that mission-critical traffic, such as IP voice packets, is not disrupted in the Local Area Network (LAN) by other less important traffic like e-mail.
Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based IP VPNs have Class of Service (CoS) technology which categorises traffic by importance into separate channels and ensures that, as traffic travels on to the Wide Area Network (WAN), it continues to be prioritised. So, for companies with an IP platform in place, is the decision to switch to VoIP simply a 'no brainer'?
Running all traffic over a single converged network  and thus having a single point of failure  brings its own complexities. However, increasingly companies are considering the productivity, time and cost saving benefits to outweigh the risks of network downtime. To counter this risk, managed network services will include resilience planning, while other measures designed to eliminate single points of failure.
One example of an organisation already reaping the benefits of having a single network for all its communications streams is business information company, Datamonitor. It upgraded its network to a managed MPLS-based IP VPN for both its voice and data traffic between key sites in the UK and US. By implementing this managed service, Datamonitor was freed from the need to invest heavily in, or run, its own infrastructure and has cut the costs of calls between these sites by 50 per cent.
But the switch to VoIP over a dedicated IP network is not just being made once the corporate data network has been upgraded. Having carried out a technology refresh at the end of 1999, to ensure their infrastructure would not be hit by potential 'millennium bugs', many companies are nearing the end of their five-year PBX lifecycles. They are therefore faced with the question of whether to renew their standard telephone exchange or to invest in an IP PBX  a more 'future proof' solution that supports next generation IP telephony. With pressure from manufacturers, who are increasingly announcing plans to phase out the production of traditional PBXs to focus on IP products, the impetus to move to VoIP is an important driver behind the decision by companies to migrate to a converged network.
Convergence solutions
Once the decision to implement VoIP via a dedicated IP network has been made, the options open to companies are twofold: gradual migration via a convergence VoIP product; or complete migration to a pure IP telephony environment:
" Convergence VoIP products connect traditional digital TDM phones via a PBX to a gateway, which turns TDM speech into IP for transport over the IP network. For many companies, gradual migration to VoIP via an IP gateway makes financial sense since it does not require huge upfront investment in expensive IP equipment. It also offers the company's employees the chance to adapt culturally to IP voice communications, a consideration that is not to be underestimated since for many the notion of picking up a phone and not hearing a ring tone can take time to come to terms with!
" Pure IPT is the most advanced and future proof form of VoIP, where all elements are IP based. This involves overhauling a company's telephony infrastructure and installing new IP equipment  including the applications, PBXs and the phones themselves. Pure IPT supports advanced IP communications such as video conferencing, file sharing and white boarding (providing the right software is in place). It is also the most forward-looking form of the technology enabling companies that embrace it to derive competitive advantage.  For organisations with a mainly office-based work force, including call centres, where the quality of voice and video communications are imperative to the success of their business, full migration to pure IPT is a sound choice. 
Abbey, one of the largest UK high street banks, recently installed BT's pure IPT solution Multimedia VoIP (MMVoIP), a hosted service that incorporates Cisco technology, and expects to save millions of pounds over the five years of the contract by putting telephony and data over a single network. MMVoIP is an example of an IPT product, which is hosted off-site by a carrier using IP Centrex. By using a hosted service, companies can avoid investing in an IP PBX since this is hosted on the service provider's site. For companies without a skilled IP networking department making large-scale IPT migrations, a hosted service is to be recommended.But IP is not the only technology that is luring customers to VoIP. DSL broadband in the form of Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line (SDSL) or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) also enables cost-effective transmission of voice over a data network. The UK alone already has 6 million broadband subscribers and the success of broadband voice providers like Skype and Vonage, and indeed products such as BT Communicator, have helped to raise the profile of this flavour of the technology. BT Communicator takes the concept a stage further by allowing customers to manage their communications centrally in a variety of ways, such as voice, email and text, switching easily from one to another at no extra cost.
In addition, we are seeing consumer market technology pushing functionality into the corporate space  many corporate workers are discovering new VoIP technologies at home and are expecting to see the same functionality at work. For many small and medium sized businesses, particularly those whose workforce is not predominantly made up of office workers or whose business model does not rely on voice communications, broadband VoIP is a good choice. It is very easy to install, requires minimal investment, offers a converged environment that allows employees to use voice, Instant Messenger and Internet at the same time and can achieve impressive cost savings on voice calls. There are a number of enterprise specific broadband services available. BT has just launched its own Business Broadband Voice service, which enables customers to make internet calls from any broadband internet connection, keeping the same number whether they're in the office or working remotely.
Companies considering broadband VoIP, however, should be aware that it does not offer traffic prioritisation capability and its voice quality can diminish if multiple users make calls at the same time.
The choice of voice
So to summarise, transmission of voice over broadband and IP networks looks set to become prevalent in corporate communications. Ensuring the quality and efficiency of these communications is key to maintaining a competitive edge in today's digital networked economy. With all the variants of VoIP technology available, choosing the right solution is a critical task. Companies looking to upgrade to packetised voice must first consider what network they need to guarantee quality calls are delivered and then carefully choose between convergence or pure IPT solutions, DIY or fully managed options. Making an informed decision will ensure that their corporate communications requirements are not merely met, but superseded.

John Blake, Head of International VoIP at BT, can be contacted via tel: +44 207 356 5000
www.btglobalservices.com

In the murky world of telecoms fraud, criminals are already sizing up next generation technology for any security weaknesses. So, operators should regard fraud management as an essential weapon in the fight – and not merely an afterthought. Jason Lane-Sellers explains

Fraud has been a thorn in the side of the telecommunications industry for decades. It is estimated that US$35-40 billion of revenue is lost annually on a global basis due to fraud (CFCA 2003) and this figure is likely to increase with the emergence of next-generation services. The cost is not only financial, as operators also run the risk of damage to their corporate reputations and customer relationships.
It is, therefore, hardly surprising that new research from leading telecoms analysts, Analysys, has revealed that fraud is becoming of increasing importance to operators (Operator Attitudes to Revenue Assurance 2004).  In order to tackle the problem effectively it is imperative that telecom operators understand where fraud is likely to occur. Consequently, education in fraud management is as important as the use of detection technology, particularly as techniques to misuse networks are continually being refined.
It is important to recognise that fraud does not necessarily have to be perpetrated by an external party; significant revenue can also be lost through internal fraud or fraud committed by other operators, who may be exploiting weaknesses in interconnect contracts or manipulating tariffs.
However, the main threat continues to be external fraud, perpetrated by individuals or organised criminal gangs. This can range from the illegal routing of calls through a company's switchboard, to more elaborate and complex fraud scams such as premium rate service attacks utilising SMS and GPRS services, or trojan programs placed on mobile devices. Next-generation services will become particularly attractive to fraudsters as potentially higher transaction volumes mean that the risk is changing from the loss of call revenue to the wider world of content and e-commerce scams.
Having the correct fraud management practices in place will be essential, as the move to next-generation services will result in increasingly immature and complex technologies entering the market, all of which are potentially more susceptible to fraud. The recent Analysys survey revealed that there appears to be a widening product 'planning gap' with fewer operators taking revenue assurance matters, such as fraud, into account when planning communication products – which will doubtless lead to more widespread fraud.
Much of this has to do with operators seeing next-generation services as major revenue opportunities and therefore launching services very quickly in order to attract subscribers and gain competitive advantage. Consequently, issues such as fraud management often end up as an afterthought. For instance, as operators have tried to sign up customers quickly, they have kept the subscription process quite simple, which has provided many fraudsters with easy access to networks through basic subscription and identity fraud.
Operators are likely to become even more vulnerable once better handsets and improved content becomes available, as these will be of greater value to the fraudster. Handsets will be targeted for physical theft because of their higher value and immediate access to highly personal information. In addition, by providing open web and Java access to services, fraudsters can potentially download content, then resell it without authorisation, resulting in operators and content providers missing out on due revenue. The reselling of content could also impact on an operator's brand in the near future, particularly with the proliferation of adult and illegal content.
The growing number and type of services combined with increasingly complex value chains has resulted in operators moving further away from the customer, meaning that it has become much more difficult for operators to identify new, as well as conventional, fraud patterns simultaneously. 
However, the latest fraud detection systems, which incorporate event 'fingerprinting' technology, are seen as going a long way towards alleviating the problem. Event-fingerprinting technology allows operators to monitor event patterns in real-time and complements existing rules-based and AI (artificial intelligence) fraud-detection engines to provide a third 'in-line' detection method.  This information can then be directly fed into the fraud case-building process adding to data that has already been interpreted and integrated to provide operators with fraud alarms.
Event fingerprinting allows operators to recognise individuals or communities that have previously been identified as being of interest for investigation and monitoring. Even though a fraudster's given identity may have changed, their methods and communications patterns may not. By identifying communication behaviour, operators can create fingerprint-enhanced profiles to verify whether any fraudulent activity is taking place. Such systems will be of particular benefit to mobile operators, especially those in the pre-paid arena. They will be able to detect customers with a previous fraud history when they take out service on new pre-pay mobiles.  Previously they would have been identified as new customers, rather than existing customers on new phones taking advantage of new contract offers.
Problems for operators 
The move to IP-based networks will also pose problems for operators, as managing fraud will become more an IT, rather than strictly a telecoms, issue. For example, IP networks will be more prone to attacks from hackers and viruses in the same way that traditional IT networks have been. This means that operators will need to adopt an IT culture of regular system and software upgrades. 
The ability to detect VoIP calls in real-time will also be a key requirement in the next-generation environment.  By having an 'always-on' real-time view of VoIP events across the network, operators will be able to detect any anomalous activity and close down a VoIP session immediately.
Additionally, VoIP detection will allow carriers to enforce local regulations on the legality of VoIP calls. Appropriate and effective monitoring of customer activity will be essential, but operators need to tread carefully, as there is a fine line between effective monitoring and encroaching on a customer's privacy.
It is well established that the longer a fraud is allowed to continue, the greater the losses to the operator.  Managing and tackling fraud in a next-generation environment will require much more highly automated techniques that work in real-time. By creating real-time boundaries, operators will be able to start protecting themselves from fraudulent activity. In order to help identify new fraud threats and become more efficient in managing the problem, fraud management systems will have had to evolve as quickly as new telecoms services, otherwise operators will be playing constant catch up to the fraudsters.

Jason Lane-Sellers, Fraud Product Marketing Manager, Azure, can be contacted via tel: +44 207 826 5300; e-mail: jason.lane-sellers@azuresolutions.com
[l=www.azuresolutions.com/]http://www.azuresolutions.com/[/l] 

    

 

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