SDPs Need a Revamp, Says Carrier
Paulo Simões, TMN's head of R&D, and whose role includes advising Portugal Telecom (PT) on its SDP platform and vendor choices, told attendees at the SDP Global Summit (including many vendors) that many suppliers are not in tune with carriers' needs.
He said PT, which already uses a number of SDPs for different parts of its business, had recently issued a RFI (request for information) from the SDP community, and had received responses from 26 vendors. Those responses, he noted, included many that were too narrow and not aimed at dealing with his Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) requirements. (See The SPIT Manifesto.)
"Many [vendors] are focused just on mobile, or just on fixed. Some have no development roadmaps, and some had no charging functions for their SDP nodes," said the PT man, who added that current SDPs are also proprietary, which doesn't help with long-term planning or cost control, and many comprise multiple boxes that form specific functions rather than being integrated.
He added that vendors are "obsessed with IMS and femtocells. They say to us, 'Buy the box and then see what happens.' But I want to see service roadmaps. We need a SDP vendor that can understand our business case and be a partner. I need to know how I can make money. Show me the money!"
Simões noted that current SDP models are very focused on trying to help carriers reduce their costs, by providing service convergence capabilities and reducing the time taken to get new services to market, though he questioned whether the current platforms are achieving those goals.
However, the PT man wants something different from his SDP: "We need a mindset shift."
He said SDPs should "enable content management, to help deliver any content to many screens, and should work towards being a subscriber data collection point... [and enable] the monetization of customer intelligence." Being able to use that subscriber data is key to helping service providers develop new business models and potentially drive new revenues. "Current SDPs have a very different role," he added.
Simões said PT had already found that focusing on customer needs and creating a more flexible content management environment had paid off for the Portuguese incumbent. He said PT is increasing its fixed-line subscriber base (a very rare feat in a developed market these days) and is increasing its fixed-line ARPU (average revenue per user) because the operator had invested in fiber access and high-speed DSL and is using that access network to deliver IPTV services in what is a highly competitive TV-over-broadband market. (See Vodafone Launches IPTV in Portugal.)
"IPTV, available on multiple screens with the same controls on multiple devices, is sexy content for subscribers. You can enable this using a SDP, but we had to develop it in-house -- no vendor could deliver this for us. We had to do it ourselves." Oh...
So are the vendors doing anything right? Well, Portugal Telecom is already using a number of SDPs in different parts of its domestic and international empire, and one of those platforms is enabling more than 200 Web services, so something somewhere is working.
And life without SDPs is not worth thinking about for modern carriers, added Simões. "We will carry on using SDPs. Not using SDPs would have a devastating impact. We are lucky -- we have a visionary board. They prefer to try and fail than do nothing."
But there's still the business-case issue, though Simões has a suggestion that involves the vendors sharing the risk of deployment. "With SDPs, it's still to be proven whether they can deliver savings or help boost ARPUs, and vendors are still asking for a leap of faith from the operators. If vendors are so sure their SDP can help us make money, give us the boxes and we will pay them when we are making money. There's a challenge."
And what of the future of the SDP -- is it a platform that might migrate into the cloud, and become an on-demand capability?
The PT man says "some vendors are already trying to sell SDPs that are in the cloud. That's a model we're looking at as it may be a way to help make money in the future. It's not a reality for us yet, but it will get there eventually. There will be certain SDPs doing certain things, offering certain APIs, in the cloud, and other SDPs doing things" within the carrier's system boundaries.
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading