MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- 2015 TC3 Summit -- Vendor startups are scrambling to help comms providers transform their networks, make increasing use of cloud-based management and service-enablement systems, and improve customer satisfaction.
The TC3 Summit is like a big singles cruise, only instead of matching men and women (or other combinations) for romance, it's about matching startups with comms providers for business. [Editor's note: Also, it's on land. So actually it's nothing like a cruise.]
The spirit of the New IP saturates the conference, as startups seek funding from comms providers' investment arms and, in turn, providers look to invest in startups that can help them transform for a demanding new generation of customers.
During the first day of the conference alone, Light Reading took in more than a dozen presentations from emerging, independent companies in the wireless, security, billing and customer relationship management markets. Here are just a few of them.
Business transformation programs can be helped by network flexibility -- that's what Parallel Wireless Inc. is pitching. "Our business is making deploying cellular as easy as WiFi," founder Steve Papa told Light Reading Wednesday. The vendor's "converged wireless" system is designed to enable network operators to deploy multi-technology wireless access networks that, using cloud-based management tools, connect devices over whatever spectrum makes sense for the workload (3G, 4G or WiFi). Parallel Wireless has announced EE as a customer and helped the UK operator pick up the Most Innovative Wireless Service (3G, 4G, Carrier WiFi) award at this year's Leading Lights. (See Has EE Solved the Rural Connectivity Challenge? and Leading Lights Awards 2015: The Winners.)
Open Garden has developed a peer-to-peer mesh network application that enables devices to communicate with each other using Bluetooth, WiFi Direct, AirDrop, and, in the future, LTE Direct (a device-to-device technology that relies on operators' licensed spectrum for localized services within 500 meters of a user). The device itself becomes a relay point to extend networks indoors or on the street, anywhere that traditional cell coverage is spotty. Open Garden also sees the application, which automatically uses the best available connection, as a means of facilitating machine-to-machine communications, Micha Benoliel, CEO and co-founder, said at the conference.
Fornetix and FusionPipe
Fornetix has developed an appliance that can help service providers manage encryption keys, replacing manual operations with automated processes, CEO Bob Guimarin said. "Today if you need to rekey a point of sale or web-based server, it takes you 30 minutes. We do it in less than 20 seconds. No errors, perfect outcome every time," he claimed.
FusionPipe Software Solutions is also in the security business, providing authentication software that can be installed on smartphones and smartwatches and which eradicates the need for passwords or smartcards.
OneBill Software provides a cloud-based consolidated billing system to channel partners that want to provide their enterprise customers with aggregated bills for services from multiple communications providers.
Customer satisfaction is another piece of the New IP puzzle. Customers are tired of long wait times for new services and having to talk with support staff about problems or to make changes. And comms providers want to build closer connections with their customers. Several startups at TC3 are looking to help with customer relationships.
ItsOn Inc. has developed a cloud-based software system that communications service providers can use to set up, test and deploy new services quickly. It has also developed mobile device apps that can help customers to interact with their service providers as easily as with online merchants and tools that enable service segmentation and personalization. For example, a mobile service provider could allow families to divvy up data allotments among family plan members (more data for Mom's and Dad's devices, less for the kids'), while enterprises can gain greater control of how employees use their services and devices. (See Sprint Personalizes Prepaid With ItsOn and Cisco Chips In on ItsOn's $20M Funding Round.)
"Every operator on the planet now wants to be more interactive, friendly and offer different choices to users," CEO Greg Raleigh told us. "They want to prevent takeover of their networks by the likes of Google."
Also on the customer service front, Staflo is looking to help operators build customer loyalty by prompting sales associates in their retail stores to stay in touch with customers after purchase. Beyond simple "courtesy calls" [Editor's note: You know what's a "courtesy"? Not pestering customers if you don't have anything to say.] Staflo builds customer profiles to prompt store staff to call or text customers to offer additional products and services based on customer interests -- selling fitness wearables to health-conscious customers, for example -- or to contact customers to alert them of a potential problem, such as a bill spike.
"Despite all the work that's been done to improve customer service, it still sucks, quite frankly," Staflo CEO Kevin Gervais said during a conference presentation. There is a real imperative for communications service providers to do better and build customer loyalty as regulations make it easier for customers to switch carriers: Young people are more inclined to make that switch and to associate with, and become loyal to, a brand such as Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL). (See Apple iPhones Add More LTE & Ways to Pay and AT&T CFO Unfazed by Apple iPhone Upgrade Plan.)
Sorry as a Service
When all else fails, apologies can help balm wounded customer relationships. That's the business Sorry as a Service is in. When a comms company or other business does wrong, Sorry as a Service, which connects its software with a service provider's existing CRM systems, provides representatives with tools to send flowers, chocolates or other personalized gifts, with hand-written cards, to disgruntled customers, co-founder Sabine Sipunova told Light Reading. [Editor's note: As a married guy, I say, "Sign me up for a lifetime subscription!")