Identity Crisis Confronts Carriers

Telecom operators need to make a decision about what role they can profitably play in a Web services world and start investing, says TM Forum chairman Keith Willetts, who believes the carriers must stop trying to be all things to all people.

Willetts is well aware that events such as the TM Forum's Management World 2010, which takes place in Nice, France, next week, can sometimes muddy the waters, rather than making them clearer. (See Sun, Sand, SPIT & Software, Path to 4G Is Paved With OSS, and Analyst: Data Analytics Needs Some TLC.)

"We're looking to help the carriers clarify where they want to take their portfolios. A lot of events, including ours, can fly a lot of flags," and subsequently just identify a broad range of options that makes the decision-making process a bit harder, rather than helping to define the best path for a particular operator.

Willetts believes he is starting to see a trend amongst the operators that lead them to become the smart (not dumb) pipe players in a Web services world. "The big question is: Will the operators be enablers of others' services, or compete head on with the likes of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN)? "I suspect it's heading more toward the enabler model. I'm not saying I expect the service providers to give up the services they have, but I'm seeing more and more the trend toward the operators becoming the enablers, working with the over-the-top players, and not seeing them as the enemy. The operators can provide those over-the-top players with more than just raw bandwidth," states the TM Forum man.

Willetts is also hoping to raise, and answer, a lot of questions next week about how operators can develop and manage cloud services. "There must be a huge silver lining there," he states. (See Management World: Making Sense of the Cloud.)

One thing Willetts is adamant about, though, is that decisions need to be made soon, because the resulting strategy, whatever it is, will take a long time to implement -- and time is something the telecom operators don't have as their traditional service revenues shrink and fierce competition eats into the margins on their broadband and data services.

"As an industry we need to come to a consensus about where we want to go, because the investment cycles are so long. Operators can't chase every balloon that comes floating past, and there's been a tendency to do that. I'm hoping the conference will be a turning point [in helping to identify] where the industry is going," says Willetts.

He's expecting a good turnout of Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) decision-makers next week in Nice, with overall numbers set to be back up above the 3,000 mark, where they were before the global economic downturn. (See The SPIT Manifesto.)

That projected attendance number, though, could be well beyond reach if the wind blows in the wrong direction and sends another cloud of volcanic ash over continental Europe. "It's a pain. We're in the lap of the gods. There's always something -- SARS, swine flu, the volcano... We'll be alright," says Willetts, checking the latest webcam picture from Nice airport.

But like most folks hoping to get to Nice next week, he didn't complain about the prospect of getting stuck there...

For all the SPIT news leading up to the event -- plus reports from the show floor, updates from the conference halls, and gossip from the trendiest coffee bars and wine cellars in Nice -- keep an eye on our special Management World 2010 Show Site.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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