Amdocs and Openet settle baffling, endless patent dispute

After eight years of ensuring expensive holidays for their lawyers, rival telecoms software companies Amdocs and Openet have decided to call it a draw.

An extremely short announcement from Amdocs said “Amdocs and Openet today announced that they have settled a patent infringement dispute in the United States Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.  As part of the confidential settlement, Amdocs agreed to license certain patents to Openet.”

Back in 2010 youthful Light Reading hack Ray Le Maistre spoke to (then and still) Openet CEO Niall Norton in a bid to find out what Amdocs’ problem was. Norton, however, seemed to be as baffled as everyone else by this act of unilateral legal aggression and chose to conclude that it was merely a measure of how intimidated Amdocs was by the plucky Irish BSS upstart.

“[Amdocs] is a good company and a ferocious competitor,” said Norton at the time. “It’s good to know they’re thinking about us as much as we’re thinking about them. We’re open-minded about what might happen next. Our lawyers say this could take anything between three and 12 months to sort out.”

That’s what they always say Niall and then, before you know it, eight years have gone past and they’re the only ones with any cash. To be fair the case does seem to be especially arcane. A spot of light Googling revealed one case that was apparently resolved in 2016 and another that came to a conclusion a month or so ago. Both accounts seem like very effective cures for insomnia but we don’t feel any more enlightened about the merits and outcome of this litigatiathon as a result of enduring them.

In essence Amdocs accused Openet of infringing on some of its patents and the fact that Openet is now going to shell out some license fees would seem to vindicate it to some degree. But if we assume Amdocs’ intention was at the very least to force Openet to entirely abandon the technology in question, and maybe even to force it out of business, then the case seems to have been a failure.

Openet finds people are losing their faith in OTTs

Research commissioned by BSS vendor Openet found the Facebook data scandal has affected overall trust in digital service providers.

Just over half of the 1,500 people surveyed in the US, UK, Brazil and Philippines said they were less likely to share their data with an OTT (i.e. big internet company) as a result of the data scandal that hit Facebook with the Cambridge Analytica revelations. This trend also applied to free digital services in general as people have apparently got the memo that companies don’t just give stuff away without expecting something in return.

Openet’s narrative is that this represents an opportunity for operators to present themselves as a more trustworthy source of digital products and services. We had a chat with Openet CEO Niall Norgan and he described a potential role for operators as the providers of a seal of trustworthiness equivalent to ‘fair trade’ labels on consumer goods.

“Until now, digital service companies like Netflix or Uber have been held up as the poster children for delivering personalised digital experiences and services,” said Norgan. “But it seems some have been a little too liberal in their use of consumer data, ruining the party for everyone.

“Since the Facebook data scandal, consumer attitudes towards digital service companies and personal data have eroded, with some consumers even deleting accounts in protest. In fact, many have expressed an interest in paying for services if it means that their data won’t be abused, signifying an end to the ‘freemium’ era. Consumers are clearly screaming out for something different, something trustworthy.”

Of course Openet has a vested interest in this narrative. It has been undergoing a strategic pivot over the past couple of years to position itself as the vendor operators can turn to if they want to do something about the OTT threat. Norgan explained that billing itself isn’t the strategic play it once was and that operators need to get better at things like analysing data and partnering with other digital service providers to get with the times.

“Mobile operators have traditionally had a much more conservative approach in their use of subscriber data, despite having an abundance of it,” said Norgan. “For a long time, this conservative approach to data use has been used as an unfavourable measure for operators’ digital efforts, especially in comparison to other digital-first companies.

“But times are changing and it’s clear that consumers expect more if they are to hand over personal data in exchange for services. Mobile operators have earned the right to answer this call. But to be successful, they must learn from the mistakes made by social media and digital service companies alike. Transparency around data collection and opt-in processes are now top priorities for consumers. Operators must bear this in mind when seizing new digital opportunities.”

Here’s a summary of some of the findings from the report. Even if they deliver everything they claim, vendors like Openet can only take operators part of the way. They’re still wrestling with colossal cultural inertia and creating new digital services is never going to be a core competence. But the trust angle does seem to have some legs, if only operators can work out how to exploit it, but in a good way.

Openet OTT survey

Bringing BSS/OSS into the new age – it’s now or never

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Tony Gillick, VP Solutions Management at Openet, urges the industry to transform its approach to BSS and OSS before it’s too late.

TM Forum’s recent launch of its Open Digital Architecture is good news for the industry. It captures a lot of the good work that has already taken place and sets out a blueprint for the digital transformation of BSS and OSS.

Today’s service providers know they need to change if they are to keep up with the pace at which the industry is moving. But with ever-decreasing ARPU, and the race to free data underway, they don’t have the luxury of embarking on lengthy, hugely expensive transformation programs to get their BSS and OSS stacks up to speed. Instead, they need an API-driven open architecture that enables them to get away from vendor lock-in and having to deal with inflexible, large vendors who will deliver projects and upgrade software on their terms.

The bleak reality is that if operators are to survive in the face of rising competition from web-scale companies, it’s now or never to make that change happen, so what does that look like for operators willing to transform?

Become the model for change

BSS/OSS have been around since the start of the cellular business in the 1980s, and that’s where the problems begin for today’s operators. Throughout the years, operators have built up a complex burg of legacy systems and processes, which are not only no longer fit for purpose but also nothing short of a nightmare to overhaul.

For operators, transforming OSS/BSS begins in two ways. First, with overhauling traditional commercial models, which have become slow to move and very inflexible. These commercial models are no longer fit to serve the agile world in which we live, one where subscribers want everything now, on-demand.

Today’s operators need new commercial models that are driven by short-term goals and that do away with the old, lengthy, never-ending service contracts that look at transformation projects over several years, instead of months or even weeks.

The second way in which transformation can happen is through new delivery models. It’s no secret that web-scale companies’ agility is beyond that of operators. But this need not be the case; by harnessing new processes and technologies such as DevOps and microservices, operators can replicate the agility of Internet companies. It is only through this open, innovative and experimental approach that operators will start to compete with the big OTT players.

By overhauling commercial and delivery models, operators will not only be able to boost their rate of innovation, but they’ll also see the industry-wide issue of vendor lock-in disappear. As the industry moves towards open technologies which proliferate the use of DevOps and Open APIs, fewer vendors will be able to tie down operators to lengthy contracts that provide little in the way of innovation and experimentation.

Setting operator priorities straight

But making change happen isn’t just about technical capabilities, it also requires a shift in mind-sets and priorities, particularly when it comes to the deployment of new services such as 5G and IoT. Although the race to 5G is well and truly on, the state of affairs for operators today implies that perhaps it shouldn’t warrant such urgency.

Operators’ resources are stretched and, where subscribers are concerned, the pressure is on to be better and do better – this means, selling a wider variety of personalised digital services. While 5G and IoT will undoubtedly bring about a wealth of applications that will benefit operators, neither of these technologies will bring about immediate ROI. It’s important, therefore, that operators invest their efforts in laying the foundations to not only ensure their survival today, but to be able to support the technologies of tomorrow, and that starts with changing the way they approach OSS/BSS.

A greenfield approach to OSS/BSS

Adopting the correct technologies will be the key to unlocking the OSS/BSS treasure chest. Operators should approach transformation with a greenfield attitude – that is, to start afresh, with no legacy systems or culture and to adopt a “digital first, customer first” approach. And this does not mean that existing large-scale transformation projects should be abandoned, instead, new greenfield approaches mean operators can run these in parallel to the current legacy stack being transformed.

This greenfield approach promotes the switch from hardware and software stacks to real-time, automated digital platforms. These digital platforms can see operators launch services in as little as 14-weeks whilst still going ahead with their longer-term transformation projects. By using these platforms, operators can leverage a modular, API-driven approach and select which service or “platform component” they need, on an ad-hoc basis. This promotes faster service delivery but also reduces the cost attached to digital transformation.

Most importantly, this open, best of breed, platform approach is the antithesis of big vendor lock-in. By drawing on open technologies, promoted through the use of open APIs, operators will be better suited to encourage partnerships and the collaboration and sharing of technologies within these. Not only will this reduce OSS/BSS cost and implementation timescales, it will also prevent mega-vendors from selling services from a single supplier.

Ultimately, it is this openness that will promote innovation in the telecoms industry and that will see OSS/BSS become the systems operators need to succeed in this ever-evolving, digital world.

Digital Transformation: just a bump in the road

There’s no doubt that digital transformation is hard, and it’s clear that few operators know where to begin. But the solution lies in this greenfield attitude; by starting anew, with no pre-conceptions or notions in mind, operators can leverage experimentation to roll out new services that may have otherwise taken years to deploy.

It is this provision of tools – namely the platforms, new technologies, APIs – by vendors that will encourage operators to innovate, and will see the challenges associated with digital transformation soon fade into the telco past.

 

openet-Tony-GillickTony is VP Solutions Management at Openet. He’s been designing and deploying BSS for over 15 years and is responsible for direction and deployment strategy for Openet Digital Business Platform.

Openet calls on the power of Frykhammar

Irish BSS vendor Openet has nailed a high profile addition to its board of directors in former Ericsson CFO and CEO Jan Frykhammar.

Long-time CFO and super-sub CEO in the period between Vestberg and Ekholm, Frykhammar has pretty impeccable credentials in the telecoms vendor world. He was eventually purged in Ekholm’s changing of the guard and the only knock you could have on his experience is that pretty much all of it was acquired at Ericsson, so he may be a tad institutionalised.

“We are delighted to be welcoming such an accomplished and well-respected telecoms leader onto the board of directors,” said Openet CEO Niaill Norton. “Having been an invaluable member of the executive team at Ericsson, Jan has in-depth insight to the changes needed for vendors and operators alike during this period of industry transformation.

“With digital now a critical requirement, all BSS vendors must adapt their business models to put the evolving needs of operators first, and develop a profit model that is symbiotic. This, unfortunately, is far from the broken model we have today. With Jan on-board, I hope we can continue to disrupt the industry and provide operators with an alternative approach to digital BSS.”

“Openet is making real strides in supporting operators with a new fresh way of thinking around digital transformations, and I am privileged to join the company’s board of directors at such a critical point in its growth,” said Frykhammar. “Having worked in the telecoms industry for almost 30 years, I hope to support the great Openet team to deliver on its high growth aspirations as well as defining winning strategies.

“Openet’s message of changing the game is right. The industry needs to change and I look forward to working closely with Niall, and the whole Openet team, to continue to drive disruption through innovation and delivering value for customers and stakeholders.”

To be honest we’re still not sure how much value Board Directors actually add. They seem a bit like Executive Producers of films – brought in mainly for the cache of their name and reputation rather than what they will contribute on a day-to-day basis. But that may not always be the case and if we give Openet the benefit of the doubt in this instance, Frykhammar could be a significant addition.

Taking the BS out of BSS

Conversations at MWC 2018 with a couple of telecoms vendors reveal a more pragmatic, bespoke approach to doing business.

One manifestation of this is a tendency to move away from telecoms-specific vernacular to the language of the broader tech industry. So we no longer use defensive, them-and-us language like OTTs to describe internet companies and vendors such as Openet and Amdocs seems to be avoiding categorising their offerings along traditional lines such as BSS, in favour of the more customer-centric language of ‘solutions’.

Niall Norton, CEO of Openet, has been banging this drum for a while. He is trying to bring the kind of customer-centricity we associate with companies like Amazon to the telecoms B2B space by introducing greater flexibility to his offerings. The ultimate purpose of this seems to be to enable CSP customers to buy only what they need, when they need it.

In many ways this is counter-intuitive in an industry that has historically aimed for ‘vendor lock-in’, by selling massive end-to-end packages that make the customer umbilically dependent on the vendor indefinitely, for fear or the disruption that starting again with someone else will cause. The dependency creates the opportunity to charge high margin servicing and consulting fees whenever the CSP wants to change or upgrade anything.

But Norton’s bright idea is that by offering more bespoke packages he not only lowers the barriers to entry for making any kind of sale, but the CSP will hopefully end up spending more down the line when the business benefits of what they have already bought prove themselves.

Over at Amdocs the big news there is the recent acquisition of video-on-demand specialist Vubiquity, which only completed a few days before the start of the show. The most intriguing aspect of this piece of M&A was the clear statement of intent by Amdocs to cater to a growing trend in its core market: multiplay.

Operators all over the world are investing heavily in video provision and premium content to add spice and stickiness to their communications bundles. As we found when speaking to Vubiquity CEO Darcy Antonellis (pictured), the thinking behind the move is to put more tools at the disposal of its customers, and also to do so in a modular and flexible way to enable them to get to market faster.

Your average operator isn’t going to go toe-to-toe with Netflix or Amazon when it comes to on-demand video (one possible exception being AT&T if it ever completes its acquisition of Time Warner). But that doesn’t mean they can’t offer some genuinely valuable video services to end users, perhaps focusing more on niche and long-tail offerings and helping with their discovery.

Antonellis is now the GM of Amdocs’ newly-created media division, which further illustrate the strategic importance Amdocs is putting on servicing this area. She is a veteran on the broadcast and video industries and intends to confer some of that expertise onto the operator channel. Again, the emphasis will be on trying to deliver bespoke offerings, tailored to the unique business opportunities identified by each customer.

In keeping with the broader theme of this year’s show, the telecoms industry seems to be finally moving from the hype phase of the cycle towards seriously looking as business cases for the new opportunities we’ve been hearing about for so long. If vendors want operators to become more agile in order to take on the internet giants then their offerings need to match that. On the evidence of Openet and Amdocs at least, that seems to be exactly what they’re doing.

Openet reckons Globe Telecom deal win vindicates its ‘agile’ philosophy

Irish BSS vendor Openet has persuaded Philippines operator Globe Telecom to use its Digital Business Platform for its data services.

With much of the pre-5G talk focusing boosting the capacity and agility of the network, often overlooked is the question of what’s in it for operators and their customers. There are approximately zero mobile subscribers currently complaining that networks aren’t agile enough and Openet CEO Niall Norton has, for a while, been telling anyone who’ll listen that BSS vendors are doing a rubbish job of doing what they’re supposed to do.

“I have said very recently, and very publicly that the relationship many vendors have with operators is broken and needs fixing,” Norton told Telecoms.com. “Long term service contracts, packed full of unnecessary costs and expensive licenses, are tying operators to technology and systems that are no longer fit for purpose.”

As you would expect, Norton reckons Openet is different and the hero product put forward to demonstrate its novel approach to BSS is the Digital Business Platform. One of the ways in which it aims to buck the ‘vendor lock-in’ trend is to offer a more flexible, modular, bespoke approach, which presumably involves forgoing some up-front revenue in favour of a better long-term customer experience.

“New technology is redefining this relationship and putting the operator firmly back in control,” said Norton. “We have a range of new solutions, including the digital service platform that we are deploying for Globe that prove the case for an alternative approach. Our deal with Globe shows Openet walking the walk, not just talking the talk. We’re confident that this is just the beginning as the global operator community realise the significant benefits that a different approach to service delivery and monetisation can bring.

“Users in the Philippines have consistently exhibited intense social media usage and engagement,” said Globe CTIO Gil B. Genio. “In addition, Globe has seen dramatic smartphone adoption, take up of data plans, and exponential growth in mobile data, to the point that we now carry two thirds of consumer mobile internet.

“With this new platform, we can be more creative in developing and monetizing new services and offers, even as we make personalization a key differentiator of our services. Our partnership with Openet will give us the speed and agility that we need to grow our business to compete and win in the new digital market.”

There’s that term ‘agility’ again, but this time applied to the operator/subscriber relationship, rather than the network itself. Openet’s strategy seems sensible enough – after all the SaaS model has been accepted wisdom for years now – but it still begs the question of what operators are going to do with all this lovely agility. Perhaps we should check back in with Globe in a year or so to see what, if any, business benefits it has experienced.

Vodafone says it’s ‘ready’ but does it speak for all operators?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Niall Norton, CEO at Openet, a BSS and customer engagement systems provider, reflects on Vodafone’s recent rebrand and considers if it’s indicative of a wider identity crisis the global operator community is starting to recover from  

Vodafone recently announced a change in its brand positioning. It includes logo tweaking and a new strapline suggesting renewed optimism for the future. The renowned ‘Power to You’ will be replaced by ‘The future is exciting. Ready?’

Vodafone itself, through its CCO and CSO, Serpil Timuray believes the changes it has made reflect ‘the very good reasons to be optimistic about the future as emerging innovations in science and technology begin to have a profoundly positive impact on society.’

The announcement made me smile for two reasons. Firstly, it’s always good when the leading lights of our industry feel bullishly confident about the future. Secondly, it shows that Vodafone has invested serious time and money in working out how it’s going to deliver meaningful brand engagement.

The unwritten truth here is that all global operators, not just Vodafone, have had their world’s turned upside down over the past five years or so. They are all having to deal with deep structural change because of new technologies and new competitors changing all the rules.

They are all contemplating a future where they must justify a monthly tariff, despite voice and SMS being free, and with mobile data rapidly heading in the same direction. They seek new revenues despite not being entirely clear on where they might come from. They are trying hard to work out how to deliver better customer engagement and brand value despite a reliance on largely invisible, utility-like connectivity making them more invisible to the consumer.

To make matters worse, from a technology enablement perspective, most operators have tried to enact change with their hands tied behind their backs. Legacy technology from the old world, is being hopelessly out maneuvered by agile, webscale, cloud-based architecture from the new world.

A combination of these factors has led to something of an operator identity crisis. All have been asking themselves ‘where and how do we offer value today, and how do we build on this to prosper in the future?’

There are no shortage of possibilities. New revenues will likely come from IoT, bundled partnerships with third parties and contextual marketing services. Greater network and service efficiencies will be realized by embracing AI, automation and NFV to radically improve time-to-market and herald a new era of customer relevance.

All the component parts are there to help operators identify how they’re going to be successful. New services will be supplemented with innovative, context-aware capabilities that offer actionable insights and help operators build in new levels of personalisation. This will combine to create an emotional attachment for operator customers to try and make them feel part of an exclusive club. This will deliver engagement that’s valuable, not just noisy.

The global vendor community will continue to deliver the R&D the operators need to remain successful. As always, the operators that will be successful will be those that possess the agility to embrace change quickest. Crucially this means effectively communicating positive messages while helping customers navigate this change and selecting technology that can deliver this change.

Vodafone describes its purpose as helping its customers ‘adapt and prosper as remarkable new trends reshape the world.’ This is a decent summary of the challenge operators face. It’s down to us technology vendors and other partners to work closely with them so we can all work out how we’ll be successful.

 

Niall_NortonNiall Norton has been Chief Executive Officer of Openet Telecom Limited since September 2006. He served as Chief Financial Officer of Openet Telecom Limited since joining in February 2004. He served as the Chief Financial Officer and Company Secretary of O2 (Ireland) where he was responsible for O2’s financial control functions, business process re-design, strategy planning and wholesale. He also took the lead management role for the Ireland element of the BT Wireless demerger and O2 IPO process. He has been a Director of Openet Telecom Limited since August 2006. Mr. Norton holds a degree in Commerce from University College Dublin and is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland.