Real Time Communications Featured Article

The Evolving Communications Landscape: GENBAND's BG Kumar Explains Transformation in Service Providers, Enterprise Needs

May 28, 2014

The way we communicate has evolved drastically over the years. While cell phones were once a rarity, today it is more uncommon to not own a smartphone that can connect to applications and the Web. This reliance and innovation in mobility has also led to demands for real time communications, as we now have constant access to communication and information, and is also changing the way service providers and businesses operate. 

I caught up with BG Kumar, EVP and Chief Product Officer at GENBAND, to discuss his more than 20 years of technology experience, the changing trends affecting service providers and enterprises as well as what is changing as we shift to an all-software world.

He explained that the Web isn’t a very personal communication medium today, but as more organizations start to embed real time communications into Web environments it will open up tremendous opportunities for interpersonal and contextual communications. For example, if you have a question about  an online bank statement today, you’re looking at about a 25-30 minute process of dialing in from your phone, holding through various forms of IVRs, eventually reaching a human, giving them your account information and then start to explain what your question is. With real time communications, it will be very easy to click a button directly from the same webpage as the online bank statement, connect to an agent who knows exactly who you are, has your details and customer history accessible on his or her screen. From there, it becomes a collaborative interaction, being able to highlight the specific line in question and give answers that are contextual and fast.

“Real time contextual communications, especially in the enterprise world, will essentially drive all commerce and support going forward,” Kumar explained.

So as we move toward this webification of communications, what’s going to happen to service providers and network operators? Kumar first explained that the definition of a service provider is changing. Ten years ago, a service provider provided all communications mechanisms to the end user, such as cell phone service, home line and Internet connection. Now customers don’t have loyalty to a particular company or service provider.  They choose various communications mechanisms and have a service provider for each.

As an example, Kumar quotes his daughter, who one day told him, “The Internet is down,” when really just Facebook was experiencing an outage. In her mind, the Internet equals Facebook. Today, what it means to be a service provider is a collection of different application providers and service providers based on your different needs.

To adapt to this change, traditional service providers  have to make a fundamental change in their business model, Kumar explains. First and foremost is with time to market. While traditionally fixed subscription models would support an 18-month process of new service rollouts, today it’s all about timing. You can’t wait a year and a half to rollout a service because by the time it is introduced the service may no longer be needed. Cloud-based deployment models are key because by definition, the cloud is fast and agile. Today the name of the game is coming up with a service, deploying it, and tweaking and improving the experience over time or if a service doesn’t work out moving on to the next. While previously, services and features were so meticulously planned and adoption rates were accurately predicted, today’s service providers don’t know what’s going to take off and what’s not.

“It’s a major change for them,” Kumar said. “They have to change the way they do business and that’s not an easy transition.”

There are also growing gaps between serving the consumer and enterprise segments. The consumer space is turning more into freemium service models, where money is made from advertisements and other avenues because the end users are not going to pay for fee-based services. On the other hand, enterprises want quality of service and reliability and will pay money to receive those.

The enterprise market is a key business for GENBAND and the company has committed to being 100 percent software-driven. The first step toward this is virtualized software as the industry heads toward network functions virtualization (NFV). Kumar explains that taking products and virtualizing them and putting them in the cloud is not NFV – it’s a great deal more than that. “It’s how you deliver a service,” he said. The benefits of NFV include elasticity, scaling and service orchestration tied with software-defined networking infrastructure. 

He expanded on elasticity, saying it’s important in NFV environments because capacity demands are not fixed, and allow operators to scale on demand. For example, holidays like New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day typically see more network traffic than other days, but if you look at all the other days in a year, the traffic on the network is not nearly as high. Elasticity enables operators to scale up network functions for the peak periods and scale down when demand goes down. “It has to happen in real time,” he said. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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