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Telecoms Sideswiped by the Digital Market Transition

Ray Le Maistre

"The number one reason a company fails is that they don't get market transitions." -- John Chambers, then CEO of Cisco Systems, March 2015.

That quote from Chambers, in his last full media interview before stepping down as the CEO of Cisco, should be etched on every quarterly statement of every company in the communications networking and services sector, because it turns out to have been a very prescient statement. (See CEO Chat With John Chambers, Cisco.)

There is a massive market transition underway, as global industry transforms towards a digital, always-connected, data-driven state. That should represent one of the biggest opportunities ever for the communications networking sector. But companies have failed to transform themselves to take advantage: The transition has begun and the telecoms sector is largely watching it from a distance: Enterprises worldwide have transitioned to cloud and digital operations. But telcos, and many of their key partners, haven't.

Communications service providers and their technology suppliers have missed out by failing to fully embrace the market opportunities:

Service providers: They haven't really become digital service providers and still haven't properly addressed the modern needs of enterprise markets (particularly SMEs). Virtualization plans have mostly stalled and most haven't really got to grips with the role they might play in an IoT world.

Vendors: They have, for the most part, failed to grasp what virtualization truly means for their businesses (revenues are way off). And they've failed to grasp what virtualization means for their customers, from a technology, business relationship and pricing model standpoint. This is why major operators such as Vodafone are still making pleas to the market to deliver what the service providers need and not what the vendors think they ought to have. (See Vodafone: Desperately Seeking Cloud-Centric Tech and NFV/SDN Not Floating Vendor Boats Analysts.)

In addition, despite some talk, the vendors haven't fully addressed the market potential outside of the traditional telecoms/cable/mobile market -- that is, in all the other verticals now dependent on communications and networking for their futures.

And despite great hopes for the transformative impact of virtualization for the entire ecosystem, NFV has failed to live up to expectations, as the results of the most recent Heavy Reading Virtualization Index survey, which is part of the Virtuapedia research project, show. (See Virtualization Confidence Takes Hit in Latest HR Survey.)

Add to all of this increasing competition from beyond the traditional comms sector (from the web-scale giants and IT services firms), constrained budgets, macro economic pressures and political upheaval and get these sorts of headlines:

You also get a consolidation rush as companies attempt to buy their way into a transformation or make desperate bids to bulk up and gain scale in an effort to survive. There have been many such moves this year but here are a few choice headlines:

Of course there are exceptions: NTT DoCoMo, for example, has developed and is driving revenues from a range of digital services and its sales are now rising again after years of decline. There are virtualization pioneers, and some with defined IoT strategies and goals (Orange springs to mind). And there are vendors that have been aggressive in targeting multiple new vertical markets and shifting towards new business models, though for some this is only happening now. (See Nokia: A Global Network Operator for the Enterprise?.)

The market is in something of a slump. It won't last forever, but it'll be painful and some companies won't come out the other side. Those that do, and which come out strongest, will be the ones that quickly shift their mindset, change their culture and "get" this market transition.

Not for the first time, Chambers was right.

Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Make sure your company and services are listed free of charge at Virtuapedia, the comprehensive set of searchable databases covering the companies, products, industry organizations and people that are directly involved in defining and shaping the virtualization industry.

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User Rank: Light Sabre
12/23/2016 | 3:25:59 PM
Re: Some real innovators out there
That is interesting to see how some are partnering with real estate developments and others going into areas where large scale apartments and business complexes allow for mass scaling relatively quickly. The big guys certainly have had an interesting last few years with all the buying and selling of vertical and horizontal assets but what matters may be seeing the "transition underway, as global industry transforms towards a digital, always-connected, data-driven state," and getting aboard appropriately.
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/12/2016 | 10:01:19 AM
Passed by

I think the ultimate way to understand how virtualization in the Telco has been made irrelevant from a revenue perspective is to look at Amazon.  They run their business and it is highly virtualized and Telco virtualization essentially does not exist.  Telcos lost this battle years ago, Enterprises don't wait for them to show up with optimized solutions.  Enterprises do what they need.  And there are many that have built entire businesses on setup and teardown of virtual instances and reallocation of computing.  They have done so by using the Internet as a transport and turning bandwidth into a complete commodity.  Go into a major data center and find the dozen+ vendors vying to sell you bandwidth.  This goose is cooked....time to move on to the next one (from a revenue standpoint...cost standpoint maybe different).


User Rank: Blogger
12/12/2016 | 7:58:58 AM
Re: He who dares wins!
Hi Gabriel

Yes, I knew the Elop reference might strike some as odd given that we now know what happened, but whether he was the direct cause of the demise or just unlucky enough to be at the helm at that time, I will leave up to the historians! The point is that he felt that he had to use the burning platform metaphor just to get people's attention. Still didn't work, which shows the depths of the challenges he was facing! 

Great reply by microcaptechninvestor - we need to hear some of the success stories too, otherwise we won't know what is gaining traction and what is not. 
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/12/2016 | 7:08:08 AM
Re: He who dares wins!
Elop's famous memo might not be the best reference. What an immense destruction of value he's overseen. Tragic.
User Rank: Lightning
12/9/2016 | 7:25:57 PM
What about small software players winning?
Ray, I hate to inject RADCOM and Radisys into the discussion again here. But it seems like these guys are emerging as early leaders in NFV while large incumbents struggle. RSYS fulfilled $70m DCEngine with Verizon, and RDCM has a $50m multi-year service assurance deal with AT&T.

I'm curious how/why there isn't any coverage of these stories on Light Reading? Clearly incumbents are struggling, that appears to be because CSPs are starting to redirect investment to NFV or will be when budgets open up for 2017.

By the way, RDCM has 9 trials underway with Tier-1 CSPs, four of which are accelerating and there is zero competition! It's a cloud-native service assurance VNF -- both huge issue for CSPs as covered by Light Reading.

RSYS is talking with a dozen or more CSPs, cable operators, etc for its COTS solution, DCEngine.

Can we get some coverage here?? There are some good stories to tell in NFV, just not at the incumbents.


User Rank: Blogger
12/9/2016 | 7:24:39 PM
He who dares wins!
Thanks Ray Timely article. The trough of disillusionment is firmly established and it is unfortunately implanting itself in both carrier and vendor plans for spending just at the time when when this investment is needed. One is reminded of Stephen Elop's famous "burning platform" metaphor at Nokia in a desperate attempt to bring that organization to its senses to no subsequent avail. Do we really need to paint the burning platform picture for everyone to realize that there is no return? Those who share daringness now and a willingness to learn as you go will be the ultimate winners. Amazon, Facebook and Google all started from nothing to create billion dollar industries while inventing while new ways to design, develop and deliver IT services and with a fraction of the capital and resources available to the Telco industry. The issues of NFV are not technical but psychological.
Alison_ Diana
Alison_ Diana,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/9/2016 | 4:07:53 PM
Some real innovators out there
As you point out, Ray, there are some real opportunities here and it's really interesting to see some of the partnerships and investments springing up. ISP Frog, for example, is partnering with a real estate development company which is building communities. This development company selects X number of contractors to build housing developments, constructs streets, stores, etc., and Frog won the contract to provide broadband Internet and phone for the entire 7200 acre town in Texas. But it's not just about cable service. The developer - Republic Property - is creating an entire IoT community; that's part of the added value it's bringing. So you have Frog and its partners like Adtran and the construction industry teaming up with local government, retail, etc. A pretty interesting combo.

Apparently Republic Property was behind Lake Nona here in Florida which I've visited. I didn't know about the IoT invesetment when I was there (someone was in hospital and I spent about a week around there), but the traffic light system was incredible - you never waited for a light to change if there were no other cars on the road because the sensor system was impecable! 
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