Xiaomi the difference: Chinese smart device maker vows to disrupt UK market

Xiaomi launched Mi 8 Pro, the first time it has unveiled new products outside of Greater China, a sign of its ambition to expand in more mature markets.

At a Hollywoodian event (as almost all smartphone launches are nowadays) in Barbican Centre on Thursday, Xiaomi became the latest Chinese smartphone maker to introduce their latest products in London, following recent launches by Huawei and OnePlus. The company unveiled Mi 8 Pro, an upgrade version of its Mi 8 model launched earlier in China.

After registering impressive growth in India and other markets in Asia, as well as consolidating its position in China, Xiaomi, like some other Chinese brands, is eyeing the mature markets for new growth. Western Europe is an attractive option as the market is not flooded with hundreds of smartphone brands as in India and China, and there is a sizeable open market that is easier for new brands to set a foot in instead of having to crack the carrier market as in the US.

“Today we witness a new chapter in Xiaomi’s global expansion journey, underpinned by our global ambitions. We are thrilled to make great strides by announcing our arrival in the UK,” said Wang Xiang, Senior Vice President of Xiaomi Corporation.” By bringing a range of our amazing products at honest pricing we want to offer more choices and let everyone in the UK enjoy a connected simple life through our innovative technology.”

The newly launched Mi 8Pro and its predecessor share exactly the same hardware and software, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 CPU, 6.21” AMOLED display (yes, need to go to the second decimal digit), 8GB RAM and 128GB onboard memory,12MP+12MP AI dual camera on the back, and 20MP selfie camera, Dual 4G SIM, Dual frequency GPS (to minimise coverage dead zones, like near tall buildings), infra-red facial recognition (to unlock with facial ID in the dark).

On the software side, Xiaomi overlayed a light MIUI skin on top of the latest Android release, plus a couple of its own preloaded apps (browser, messaging, etc.). Presumably the main point is not how many people will use its apps but rather to gather usage data. The Xiaomi executives did stress the number of active MIUI users in the world and in Europe (its products are already being sold in Spain, Italy, and France). It has also preloaded a MS Office suite, one of the first offers Microsoft made to the Android ecosystem back in 2016.

Under the spotlight was its photography technologies including the so-called “4-in-1” super-pixel, that is combining 4 pixels into 1 to take in more light, therefore to capture more details even in low light environment. Also being boasted is the speed the phone focuses (using the so-called Double Pixel Auto Focus, DPAF, technology, demonstrated in a video as faster than both the iPhone XS and the Samsung S9+). Nowadays, no presentation of smartphone cameras is complete without talking AI, and Xiaomi is no exception. The main talking point here was on the analytics capability to separate foreground from background, making post-shot processing easier.

The only genuine upgrade the Mi 8 Pro offers over the Mi 8 looks to be the fingerprint reader. It is at the back of the phone on the Mi 8, but is upgraded to on-screen reader on the Mi 8 Pro.

All the bells and whistles aside, what Xiaomi most wanted is to stand out in two areas: design and price. It is clearly successful in one, maybe less so in the other. Xiaomi claimed to go down the minimalist route for its design, claiming that it was inspired by the exhibits at the Helsinki Design Museum. It even got the director of the museum to go on video to endorse an earlier product. But what it got to show its innovative design on the new product is a transparent back-cover where the upper part of the inside of the phone is visible. But to those of us old enough to remember the 1990s, this is more a retro than inno. Swatch’s Skeleton series, anyone?

Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro_Front resized Xiaomi Mi 8 Pro_back resized

But when it comes to pricing the strategy is much bolder and more likely to succeed. Xiaomi broke through in the device market in China in 2011 by offering smartphones with decent specs at a very affordable price. This strategy has carried them through ups and downs all the way to London. The Mi 8 Pro will be retailed at £499.99. This is vastly lower than other smartphones with comparable hardware specs. Xiaomi is clearly targeted at the so-called “affordable premium” segment.

On the distribution side, Xiaomi started in China exclusively using online distribution channels. There have been followers with mixed success, but at the same Xiaomi is also diversifying to brick-and-mortar retail outlets in markets like India, Malaysia. Xiaomi also aims at a mixed channel strategy in the UK, it opens its own online shopping channel, getting online and offline channel partners (Amazon, Currys, Carphone Warehouse, Argo, John Lewis, etc.) on board, as well as opening its own authorised retailer in southwest London on 18 November. It also tied a partnership with 3UK, though Xiaomi executives would not tell more details of the terms or the packages 3 plans to offer.

Also introduced to the UK market at the event are a smart wristband (Mi Band 3, main feature being its display larger than previous generations) and an electric scooter, to deliver the “ecosystem” story—the executive stressed Xiaomi is more than a smartphone company. On display in the experience area were also smart speakers, set-top boxes, smart kettle, and smart scale.

Our overall feeling is that, the Mi 8 Pro smartphone is decent but not fantastic. However the price point Xiaomi sets it on is disruptive. This strategy has worked for the company in China and other Asian and European market, taking them to commendable market positions and financial success. It may stand a chance.

Xiaomi event pic2

Culture is holding back operator adoption of open source

If open source is the holy grail for telcos, more than a few of them are getting lost trying to uncover the treasure; but why?

At a panel session featuring STC and Vodafone at Light Reading’s Software Defined Operations and the Autonomous Network event, the operational culture was suggested a significant roadblock, as well as the threat of ROI due to shortened lifecycles and disappearing support.

Starting with the culture side, this is a simple one to explain. The current workforce has not been configured to work with an open source mentality. This is a different way of working, a notable shift away from the status quo of proprietary technologies. Sometimes the process of incorporating open source is an arduous task, where it can be difficult to see the benefits.

When a vendor puts a working product in front of you, as well as a framework for long-term support, it can be tempting to remain in the clutches of the vendor and the dreading lock-in situation. You can almost guarantee the code has been hardened and is scalable. It makes the concept of change seem unappealing Human nature will largely maintain the status quo, even is the alternative might be healthier in the long-run.

The second scary aspect of open source is the idea of ROI. The sheer breadth and depth of open source groups can be overwhelming at times, though open source is only as strong as the on-going support. If code is written, supported for a couple of months and then discarded in favour of something a bit more trendy, telcos will be fearful of investment due to the ROI being difficult to realise.

Open source is a trend which is being embraced on the surface, but we suspect there are still some stubborn employees who are more charmed by the status quo than the advantage of change.

Telarix and Starhome Mach merge to offer global wholesale telecoms portfolio

A couple of companies involved in the areas of operator interconnectivity, roaming and general wholesale action have decided to merge.

The combination of Telarix and Starhome Mach inevitably claims to offer a full end-to-end set of wholesale solutions for operators, covering voice, SMS, clearing, settlement and fraud prevention. The new company has 450 customers in 130 countries. All this mucking about with telecoms plumbing also creates business opportunities in BSS, subscriber analytics and that sort of thing.

“CSPs must manage their complex partner ecosystem from negotiation to traffic management, to billing and settlement, while at the same time, providing differentiated services to consumers, businesses and IoT.,” said Telarix CEO Marco Limena. “This merger will enable the development of new  innovative solutions overcoming the complex challenges of today’s digital transformation era to drive desired business performance.”

“Our success in launching SaaS versions of our leading roaming and clearing platforms introduced a variety of other innovative solutions in real-time anti-fraud, Network Function Virtualization and the Internet of Things,” said Starhome Mach CEO, Itai Margalit. “Bringing our offerings together with Telarix’s solutions will bring new solutions to the market and we see a huge opportunity to accelerate company growth.”

“Telarix and Starhome Mach have been very successful in their respective markets,” said Steve Pusey, former Group CTO and Senior Board Advisor to Telarix. “The joining together of this expertise creates a unique opportunity to address the market demand for full spectrum solutions.”

While positioned as a merger this looks more like the acquisition of Starhome Mach by Telarix. Private equity is involved one both sides but only Vista Equity Partners, which is behand Telarix, will remain involved, it will be based in Telarix’s home of Vienna, Virginia, and Limena will be the CEO of the new company, with Margalit becoming President of the roaming silo. You can read further analysis of this move at Light Reading here.

The Children Act: US lawmakers asking to know how YouTube collects data on children

US Congressmen have demanded Google CEO answers questions on how YouTube tracks the data of minors.

Anyone who has been a parent to toddlers or pre-schoolers in the last dozen years must have felt, like it or not, YouTube has been a wonderful thing. It does not only provide occasional surrogate parenting but also delivers much genuine pleasure to the kids, from entertainment to education, with sheer silly laughter in between.

Meanwhile we have also recognised that YouTube can be a pain as much as a pleasure. The pre-roll and interstitial ads on such content are all clearly pushed at kids, in particular game and toy shopping; recommendations are based on what has been played therefore encouraging binge watching; not to mention the disturbing Peppa Pig or Micky Mouse spoof parodies that keep creeping through, a clear sign that, while you are watching YouTube, “YouTube is watching you”.

But neither the pleasure nor the pain should have been there in the first place, because, though not many of us have paid attention, “YouTube is not for children”, as the video service officially puts it. In its terms of service YouTube does require users to be 13 years and above. But, unlike Facebook, which would lock the user out unless he has an account, anyone can watch YouTube without the need of an account. An account is only needed when someone intends to upload a clip or make a comment. Even in situation like this, children can pretend to be above the age limit by inputting a faked date of birth, or simply by using someone else’s account. And YouTube has known that all along, it even teaches users how to make “family-friend videos”. Admit it or not, YouTube is for children.

Following complaints from 23 child and privacy advocacy groups to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), two congressmen, David Cicilline (D) of Rhode Island, and Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska, sent a letter to Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai on September 17, demanding information on YouTube’s practices related to collection and usage of data of underaged users. The lawmakers invoked the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 (COPPA), which forbids the collection, use or disclosure of children’s online data without explicit parental consent, and contrasted it with Google’s terms of service which give Google (and its subsidiaries) the permission to collect user data including geolocation, device ID, and phone number. The congressmen asked Google to address by October 17 eight questions, which are essentially related to:

  • What quantity and type of data YouTube has collected on children;
  • How YouTube determines if the user is a child, what safeguard measures are in place to prevent children from using the service;
  • How children’s content is tagged, and how this is used for targeted advertising;
  • How YouTube is positioning YouTube Kids, and why content for children is still retained on the main YouTube site after being ported to the Kids version

Google would not be the first one to fall foul of COPPA. In a recent high-profile case, FTC, which has the mandate to implement the law, fined the mobile advertising network inMobi close to $1 million for tracking users’, including children’s location information without consent.

This certainly is a headache that Google can do without. It has just been humiliated by the revelation that users’ location data was still being tracked after the feature had been turned off, not to mention the never-ending lawsuits in Europe and the US over its alleged anti-trust practices. It also, once again, highlights the privacy minefield the internet giants find themselves in.  Facebook is still being haunted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, while Amazon’s staff were selling consumer data outright.

Nine years before COPPA came into force, an all-encompassing Children Act was passed in the UK in 1989. In one of its opening lines the Act states “the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.” This line was later quoted by the author Ian McEwan in his novel, titled simply “The Children Act” (which was recently made into a film of the same title). In that spirit we laud the congressmen for taking the action again YouTube’s profiteering behaviours. To borrow from McEwan, sometimes children should be protected from their pleasure and from themselves.

Ericsson ups US investments in search of regionalised relevance

Ericsson has announced it will increase investments for R&D in the US as it revs its engines in pursuit of much-hyped 5G market share.

Increased investments in R&D is nothing which should be applauded, it is after all a monumental shift in the telecommunications and technology industry, and therefore should be expected. That said, Ericsson seems to be sending a message to the world with the focus on the US; Huawei continues to find itself on the sh*t list, so we are going to dominate this market.

“The increased investment is to support accelerating build out and rapid deployment,” said Ericsson’s Head of Networks, Fredrik Jejdling. “All about working with our customers more closely.”

While increasing the focus on the US might not be the greatest endorsement for the manufacturing capabilities or employee competence in Europe, Jejdling pointed out this is not a shift away from the continent, but Ericsson’s localisation strategy. This is where Huawei has found success in recent years, its engineers have been on hand to help development and deployment. These investments are focused on adapting R&D focus for the individual needs of the market.

For example, while the US is primarily focused on enhanced mobile broadband and fixed wireless access, China has prioritised IoT. There isn’t necessarily a wrong answer for the 5G focus, but by moving R&D centres closer to customers, Ericsson is able to adapt operations to local demand. Jejdling also highlighted the strategy will allow the business to create a more flexible supply chain, working with manufacturers in the specific regions to shorten development lead time and bring products to market quicker.

“We need to make sure we are relevant to each customer,” said Jejdling. “It’s all about serving the markets in their own way.”

The US is currently Ericsson’s largest market, accounting for a quarter of the firm’s business over the last seven years. The absence of market leader Huawei is almost certainly working for the benefit of Ericsson, but the reasons don’t actually matter that much. The vendor landscape is highly unlikely to change considering the political paranoia towards China and its vendors; Ericsson’s decision to double-down on the US and capitalise on the opportunity is a very sensible strategy.

What is worth noting is this is new investment from Ericsson. Just because the US is getting attention right now, does not mean investments will be decreased in markets such as Europe. Accoring to Jejdling, this is not a trade-off, at the very least, investments will be sustained in Europe.

“One of our big manufacturers is in Talin, and so are some of our biggest research sites,” said Jejdling. “This announcement is not about moving away from Europe, but expanding in the US.”

Looking at the focus of the R&D investments, there are three areas of particular interest. Firstly, the Austin ASIC Development centre will receive some additional attention, as well as 80 more bodies. It might be worth noting, one of the AT&T research labs focusing on IoT manufacturing, retail and data analytics, is conveniently located a 50 minute flight away in Plano, Texas. The second will be a baseband software development centre, which will be staffed by 200 new employees. Finally, an artificial intelligence research centre will be located in California, close to the Silicon Valley technology hub, and will account for an additional 100 hires.

The focus for the AI research centre seems to be around machine learning and network automation technologies, these are closest to Ericsson’s core competencies after all, though Jejdling commented this is a relatively blank script for the moment. The team will lead with the demands of the market, which is still trying to grasp the potential of the technology.

“R&D for AI is in the process of being established,” said Jejdling.

While some might worry over the lack of concreteness around AI developments, it is worth noting this is the new status quo in the development world. The companies who have made best use of new breakthroughs in the world of intelligent technologies are the ones who adopt a fail-fast business model. These developers are adaptable and scale dependent on external factors such as market demand and parallel technological breakthroughs. Should Ericsson want to bolster its credentials in the software work, some might comment it is flagging currently, it will have to embrace this new, un-telco, mentality.

As a strategy, increasing investments in the US is certainly a sensible one. US customers account for a significant chunk of the Ericsson spreadsheets as it stands, therefore it would be a perfectly reasonable place to start the 5G assault, capitalising on established relationships. The strategy also has a Huawei feel about it. The Chinese firm has a reputation for accessibility, placing engineers close to customers to improve customer service. Consider the success over the last few years, why shouldn’t Ericsson take a lesson from the Huawei playbook.

Mavenir places fortunes in hands of big boys and RCS

Mavenir is a business which has been growing steadily over the last few years, capitalizing on the virtualization buzz, though future prospects could ultimately be out of their control.

One aspect of the business model for Mavenir is simple. It is somewhat reliant on the process of decoupling hardware from software, the emergence of standardised NFVi, which in turn will allow operators to reduce spending on hardware, placing more emphasis on software, which is the dream situation when rolling out the 5G world. Mavenir does of course have some pretty handy technology outside this grand plan, but this seems to be the general thesis.

This trend of decoupling hardware from software is already underway, though admittedly progress has been lethargic to date due to resistance from today’s heavyweight vendors and some operators clinging to the strategies of yesteryear, but staggered steps forward are being made. This is where Mavenir can enter the fray with the knockout punch; because its business model is not associated with hardware, it can offer software products and services cheaper.

The overarching theory is sound. Companies like Huawei and Ericsson, despite becoming software players in their own right, will have to protect total revenues; the transition from an integrated hardware/software solution to purely software will drop revenues, therefore in the first instance prices in the pure-play software business will be inflated. These are companies which will not want to shock investors with a plummet in revenues, therefore the transition into the virtualized world with be ‘managed’. With the traditional heavyweights overcharging, Mavenir can swoop in and undercut because there are no legacy hardware business revenues to worry about.

This all sounds like a very effective business model, but a lot of it is dependent on factors which are outside the control of the company itself. As it stands, Mavenir is profitable, with revenues of roughly $500 million and plans to grow this number to more than $1 billion in four years, but this all depends on virtualization trends picking up pace, operators embracing the new dynamics of the digital economy, 5G deployments to be as optimistic as currently being preached, and of course the assumption they can undercut the bigger boys on price.

But this is only one part of the Mavenir story, the other is focused on RCS, and looks incredibly promising. To date, RCS has been somewhat of a dirty word for the operators, with the webscale player plundering the bounties. But the tide is turning. Recognising the potential for RCS when delivering new services in messaging and multi-media content, it is embraced by operators in North America, with trends slowly beginning to sail across the Atlantic to Europe.

In the RCS world, Mavenir has been one of the first to get to the party. The team has already developed cloud-based applications, allowing easier integration for the operators, but more importantly, these applications aren’t just focused on the consumer services. This is where the webscale players have been reaping the benefits, but with an eye on the enterprise services market, Mavenir has the potential to make solid progress.

Another very important factor is the procurement process. The team already count 240 companies around the world as customers, and many of these customers are fickle beasts. They don’t like the unknown and fear change, the fact Mavenir is already a known entity is a positive. But known under what name…

This has been the plague of the business for the last few years. It was known as one name, then another brand, before adopting a new logo. Consistency has not be a major play, which will certainly make some nervous. A big question is whether Mavenir has permanently solved its identity crisis.

The theory about being able to undercut competitors is believable, but until competitors start talking about pricing models, we’ll never actually know. The assumption here is competitors will be defensive of hardware revenues, not aggressive on the software side. However, trends in the VoLTE world, where Mavenir is arguably knocking the likes of Nokia and Ericsson off the pedestal, and RCS are looking promising for the business.

A large component of Mavenir’ success seems to be heavily reliant on the deviousness of today’s mega-vendors and whether they will abuse relationships with customers, as well as adoption trends with are largely uncontrollable. A lot of future success seems to be dependent on moving cogs functioning smoothly and in a timely manner, but the team is confident… some might even say cocky.

Apple demonstrates its conflicted position on smartphone addiction with iOS 12

Gadget giant Apple made its devices more addictive while at the same time offering some tools to help people cope in the latest version of its mobile OS.

The latest version of iOS – 12 – has a bunch of novelty features apparently designed to appeal to children, including adjustable animated emojis, novelty camera effects and shared augmented reality experiences. At the same time it seemed to acknowledge its responsibility for ensuring kids occasionally leave the house and interact with the real world by introducing more tools to help limit smartphone use.

“We’re very excited about the new communications features we’re bringing to iPhone and iPad with Memoji, a more personal form of Animoji, fun camera effects and Group FaceTime,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering. “With iOS 12, we’re enabling new experiences that weren’t possible before. We’re using advanced algorithms to make AR even more engaging and on-device intelligence to deliver faster ways to get things done using Siri.”

“In iOS 12, we’re offering our users detailed information and tools to help them better understand and control the time they spend with apps and websites, how often they pick up their iPhone or iPad during the day and how they receive notifications.

“We first introduced parental controls for iPhone in 2008, and our team has worked thoughtfully over the years to add features to help parents manage their children’s content. With Screen Time, these new tools are empowering users who want help managing their device time, and balancing the many things that are important to them.”

Here are the main things introduced in iOS 12:

  • Faster – Apple chucked out various suspiciously rounded-off percentages to show how much faster everything is when you use the new OS.
  • Shared AR experiences – persistent AR experiences tied to a specific location, object recognition and image tracking are all part of the second generation of Apple’s ARKit for developers.
  • Fun stuff – Memojis are Animojis that you can personalise, just when you thought they couldn’t get any funner. There are also new camera filters and things you can superimpose onto images to make them yet more fun.
  • Group FaceTime – group audio/video calling.
  • Siri shortcuts – suggestions and shortcuts to Siri commands that the Apple AI reckons you might want to use at a given time and place.
  • Saving you from yourself – giving users more power over things like notifications and augmenting the ‘do not disturb’ function to stop people getting in touch when you’re trying to concentrate on stuff.
  • Saving your kids from themselves – Screen Time is the feature that allows you to monitor how much time you or your kids spend on the device and on specific apps. It also allows you to limit the amount of time spent on an app and block access to the whole device at certain times.
  • Privacy – a tweak to the Safari browser are designed to help block social media “Like” or “Share” buttons and comment widgets from tracking users without permission.

“It came as little surprise that Apple introduced a suite of apps to address the growing levels of addiction to mobile devices,” said Ben Wood of CCS Insight. “The tools specifically designed to analyse and manage the amount of time kids spends on Apple devices will be a welcome, but potentially alarming new feature for many parents.”

“Apple’s focus on social responsibility closely followed that of Google at I/O and illustrates a new appreciation among the tech giants of their role in helping people manage their daily engagement with technology”

“It’s a smart move for Apple to reflect the current concerns around security and privacy with new tools to prevent web companies from actively tracking your browsing activity. Although it will be largely transparent to most consumers, it will help further Apple’s efforts to differentiate its products from rivals with strong security credentials.”

These tools are all well and good but if parents are looking to Apple to teach their kids balance and moderation then they might want to consider the extent of their own reliance on devices. A decade after the start of the modern smartphone era people seem to be increasingly questioning their relationship with these ubiquitous gadgets and how insidiously reliant on them we have become. That’s healthy and Apple is wise to accommodate it.

Intel IoT ambitions hit by Wind River sale

Chip giant Intel is selling its Wind River subsidiary to private investment firm TPG, nine years after buying it to boost its mobile and IoT efforts.

Wind River has a long history in embedded software, which encouraged Intel to drop $884 million on it back in 2009. The stated rationale at the time was to help Intel in its efforts to diversify beyond the PC and server markets and came at a time when Intel still thought it could take on the ARM ecosystem in embedded processors.

“Wind River is a leading software vendor in embedded devices, and is part of Intel’s strategy to grow its processor and software presence outside the traditional PC and server market segments into embedded systems and mobile handheld devices,” said Intel when it completed the acquisition. “Embedded systems and mobile devices include smart phones, mobile Internet devices, other consumer electronics (CE) devices, in-car “info-tainment” systems and other automotive areas, networking equipment, aerospace and defense, energy and thousands of other devices.”

A decade and billions of dollars have produced very little ROI for Intel in the embedded processor market, although it’s still hoping to have a significant piece of the 5G pie via modem subsidiary Infineon, which it acquired a year or so after Wind River. The latter more recently got incorporated into Intel’s broader IoT efforts, but even that clearly didn’t pay off.

“This move is designed to sharpen our focus on growth opportunities that align to Intel’s data-centric strategy,” said Tom Lantzsch, GM of the Internet of Things Group at Intel. “Wind River will remain an important ecosystem partner, and we will continue to collaborate on critical software-defined infrastructure opportunities to advance an autonomous future. We expect this transition will be seamless for our mutual customers and partners.”

“This acquisition will establish Wind River as a leading independent software provider uniquely positioned to advance digital transformation within critical infrastructure segments with our comprehensive edge to cloud portfolio,” said Jim Douglas, Wind River President. “At the same time, TPG will provide Wind River with the flexibility and financial resources to fuel our many growth opportunities as a standalone software company that enables the deployment of safe, secure, and reliable intelligent systems.”

“Our technology team is focused on backing strong, market-leading companies in growing industries,” said Nehal Raj, Partner and Head of Technology investing at TPG. “We see a tremendous market opportunity in industrial software driven by the convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent devices and edge computing. As a market leader with a strong product portfolio, Wind River is well positioned to benefit from these trends.”

This seems to be yet another example of how difficult it is for tech giants to diversify through acquisition. So much M&A by companies like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Ericsson and many more has ended up being reversed or just plain written off a few years later, at significant cost to shareholders. One day, maybe, shareholders will start rewarding companies for organic diversification strategies that take a while to play out.

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.