There has been a spate of recent announcements regarding cloud-based services and emerging plans for the cloud economy. Every week there are reports of plans to invest in deployment of cloud-based computing platform infrastructure that will allow service providers to support a range of hosted services, such as storage, on-demand computing, IT application delivery, etc.
Amongst other benefits, flexibility, scalability, reduced operational costs, reliability and dramatic reductions in capital expenditure are often cited as key motivational factors in supporting enterprise migration to cloud based services. Although many IT vendors and Systems Integrators are rushing to join this market and become service providers, and there are new entrants offering highly-scalable general purpose computing platforms, such as Amazon and Google, many Telcos also recognise that they have a role to play in this emerging industry. Telcos have a number of unique assets that it is believed may give them an advantage over competing suppliers, such as their rich set of subscriber data, trusted billing relationship and the ability to provide ubiquitous access to services
Cloud computing is a nebulous term and although it offers potential benefits, the specific advantage of individual applications must be considered on a case-by-case basis. What can sound compelling on paper needs a clear and robust business model: moving from the generic to the specific requires clarity and a convincing value proposition.
But while the hype has been growing about the potential of such services, it’s often forgotten that Telcos have already been in this business for many years. In fact, Telcos may be the original cloud-based service providers. There have been hosted voice and data services available from Telcos for many years, but there has been a surge in interest in such services through the rise of fixed and mobile broadband. More recently, increased reliance on mobile devices has broadened the scope of hosted voice services to encompass mobile users. Perhaps the lack of awareness comes from confusion of terms; Centrex is well known, but there are now labels such as IP Centrex, Mobile Centrex, Mobile PBX and more. Whatever taxonomy you use, Centrex is a classic example of a cloud-based service. What’s more, it offers the same generic advantages as less-specific cloud based applications, but also has a unique edge: a simple value proposition.
It can sometimes seem surprising that good old-fashioned voice remains a killer application. We all use it, increasingly so, as the continued growth in the number of voice minutes globally demonstrates, and yet we take it for granted. What’s more, we are increasingly mobile, with greater and greater numbers of business users opting to use mobile handset as their preferred device for receiving calls. This creates an opportunity: both for Telcos to develop strategies to capitalise on the growth of cloud computing, and to deliver advanced, hosted business services to mobile customers.
Mobile Centrex or Mobile PBX allows mobile network operators to offer business-class Centrex services to mobile users as well as to fixed customers. Centrex services typically have two key dimensions – main number capabilities and personal call capabilities. Main number call handling is concerned with the management and distribution of calls via one or more dedicated company numbers; personal services relate to inbound and outbound calls directly to or from individual employees. If a business adopts Centrex, it will configure the service to encompass both non-specific main numbers as well as the individual extensions within the user group.
In the mobile context, this means that conventional main numbers can be incorporated into the numbering plan, but if no fixed main number is available, then mobile numbers can be nominated as the corporate number instead. This means that it is easy to demonstrate how mobile Centrex services can be of benefit to users, as integration with existing and new numbering plans can be seamless. All of which makes it far, far simpler to develop a compelling proposition, based on specific benefits, for example:
- No capex
- Reduced opex
- Ubiquitous and growing service demand
- Everyone uses voice!
- Increased efficiency through reachability and access control
- Service enrichment through new capabilities, such as location based billing
- Access to complementary services, such as conferencing
If Telcos are serious about the cloud, it may be better to start with an appealing, compelling service that can be easily deployed and launched, rather than reaching for the skies with unproven and uncertain product offers. Amidst all the hype, there is already a clear path for Telcos to take their first, tentative footsteps towards becoming cloud-based service providers, of which Mobile Centrex is just the latest and most promising development.
Tore Saeter, November 2010