Hugh Bradlow must have one of the best jobs in the telecom sector. As CTO at the Australian incumbent Telstra, he is immersed in a study that is looking at the various technological possibilities that could change the future of communications services.
"We needed a systematic way of figuring things out," the amiable Bradlow told us at the recent Broadband World Forum event in Amsterdam. "We have visibility into the various technologies that are being developed, but what we don't know is how they will be adopted. IMS is a good case in point -- we knew what it was, but we didn't know how it was going to be implemented.
So Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) devised the Horizon 3 study to look at a number of innovations and try to figure out if they will go mainstream -- be used by (or impact the experience of) around 75-80% of the target user population on a regular basis.
The main ones being examined by Bradlow's team are the Internet of Things (IoT) -- otherwise known as sensor networks -- cloud solutions, and big data.
The "cloud solutions" category covers more than just the impact of cloud services, he said. It's a deep delve into the end-to-end IT environment that exists in the cloud, including the technology, the applications and the resulting data. "This is a case of 'software is eating the world.'"
Big data gets interesting when "decision support" results from analysis of raw data. "Don't tell me that the motorway is congested. Tell me the best way to get home." When such capabilities can be applied to vertical sectors, "it gets very interesting, and not just to health, but also to transport, mining, and so on."
And that applies to all the innovations being examined, including unified communications, software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV).
SDN and NFV questions
For Bradlow, NFV is "the tide rolling in -- that's going to happen." SDN, though, is a different case. "SDN is much more complex, and it's different for incumbents and challengers. For challengers it's a no-brainer, but for incumbents, it's very complex."
The major part of that complexity comes from the OSS. "We want a standard OSS layer so you can swap out vendors. That's the biggest lock-in to vendors. They want to deliver a vertical OSS, but we want a horizontal layer. But the vendors keep obfuscating."
Shaping the network
To make sense of the study's findings for a company such as Telstra, Bradlow's team also needs to figure out how the innovations will shape the networks of the future and how the networking capabilities impact users. "The physical network is important, but the more interesting part of the journey is what happens on the network and the factors that drive those requirements."
In his view, Australia's national broadband network (NBN) project, to which Telstra handed over its fixed access network, was "the best thing that ever happened to Telstra, because it shifted our focus from the physical network to what customers need from the network. That's one of the reasons our CEO is so focused on customer service." (See: Telstra Bags $10B Broadband Deal.)
The mention of customer service in a Telstra context might raise a few eyebrows from Australian customers, but Bradlow, whose favorite movie of all time is Chariots of Fire, says things have changed. "I'm not disputing there isn't a lot to do, but we've made a lot of progress."
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading