Telia Carrier is focused on finding new growth, including new connections to its large cloud customers and services to smaller enterprises, because simply driving cost out of the wholesale business through things such as automation isn't a viable approach to the business, Fridstrom states. In fact, since the telecom bubble burst back in the early 2000s, driving multiple global network operators into bankruptcy, the entire industry has been living on relatively thin margins, he says, driving costs out continuously over the last 15 years.
"We can still do a lot better, but I don't think we will save ourselves by saving on cost," he says. "We need to grow somewhere else, and for us, cloud is one way to grow. We will of course do automation, but not so much for cost reasons but to make us more attractive to do business with."
As a company of 490 people, Telia Carrier is focused on automating processes to become "super simple to do business with" and because it can't throw people at a problem, Fridstrom says. The network operator has brought on board a new team of IT folks, including some from outside the telecom space, to specifically address ways in which it can integrate its systems to, among other things, let customers dial up bandwidth on an automated basis to consume more without any manual intervention.
The decision to bring IT-skilled people on board and do the work internally followed unsuccessful efforts at getting consultants and others from outside to direct the effort.
"The problem we had was they didn't know our industry, so they could not really help us," Fridstrom says. "They did what we asked for, but it's hard to ask for something and then someone else to build it. I think we now realize that we need to have the people ourselves, and we need to have our people building our things because we know our business the best, and that's been a major change the last two years."
Fridstrom admits the shift to doing things internally has also made Telia Carrier's vendors a bit less strategically relevant, and that shift could well continue as more hardware is commoditized and as the operator develops its own internal orchestration of a variety of boxes and systems.
"They become less relevant to us over the last year, where we had realized that we need to have the skillset ourselves, we can't just outsource the thinking to them, because they have no clue what we want and what we do," he comments. "They do a lot of good things and we'll have a dialog with them about what new features are and what they can do but we have to internally develop something to take advantage of everything they do and make it perfect for us."
He would like to see the telecom industry agree on some standard approaches to the way live data is pulled from network appliances so that the network operators can make better use of that data. In today's realm, every vendor's gear does things like streaming telemetry a little differently.
"We talk a lot about APIs and connecting our systems to other systems and that's actually an area where I think we can start to see some standardization, so it's not that difficult for customers to connect directly to our systems," Fridstrom says.
The end goal would be letting customers enter their own orders and allowing those to flow connect systems inside an operator and between networks, with the different systems being able to talk to each other. The Telia Carrier exec thinks that's within reach but admits he isn't clear on exactly how it's being driven. Fridstrom does credit the Telecom Infra Project with bringing network operators together on a number of interoperability issues.
Telia Carrier has no plans to do its own hardware and will still rely on vendors for that, but instead of buying a "huge system" from a vendor, will likely buy "pieces of systems" and knit together its own orchestration, counting on the vendors to share required coding to make that happen.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading