Over the last decade the emerging markets have often been at the leading edge of the newest technologies within the telecoms industry.
Two of the most easily citable examples being the prepaid market and what that has done for online charging, and the mobile money market which has driven the merging of telco and banking and brought about the expansion of the balance management component of online charging into transferable cash between subscribers. Both of these are capabilities that have been broadly pushed in the more developed economies but far more widely utilised in the emerging markets.
The snowballing rollout of 4G networks is unifying voice, data and event-based services on a single platform (that IMS ideal everyone was talking about five years ago) and I think the next year will see the emerging markets really taking the lead on using cloud (SaaS) business and operational support systems that utilise the IMS core. The latest developments in Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) and the increasing capabilities of cloud delivered BSS/OSS platforms are allowing more and more to be delivered as highly scalable, remotely accessed, service driven platforms. And the greatest advantage of this in the emerging markets is the reduction it drives in CAPEX for new projects.
Software is by its nature far easier to scale than hardware, enabling new ventures to define a baseline start-up requirement at a much lower entry point, and the SaaS model for this software usually means a ‘low-to-no’ set-up fee, instead rolling it into an ongoing monthly charge for the operator.
You can get almost anything as-a-service now - hardware, hosting, billing, CRM, accounting packages, order and warehouse management…to name just a few of the more mainstream cloud offerings. Building a product that comes with little to no upfront expenditure opens the doors to a far wider audience who can use the tools that are offered to unleash their creativity and tap markets previously not deemed of interest to large software providers. The size of the emerging markets is what brings the possibility of the high volume / low margin business in to sharp focus for many established software providers.
So is it all upside as far as the cloud is concerned?
Well, the lack of local hosting options (for various reasons, including limitations of power, security, resilience and connectivity) can be an issue if customer data is to be stored in-country, though regulators in emerging markets may be more forgiving than those in the federalised older economies.
Utilising cloud aaS offers can reduce the dependence on local talent to maintain on-premise systems but conversely that may then inhibit the development of those local skills, increasing dependence in the long term on external providers. And cloud BSS/OSS platforms tend to be more generic in functionality than on-premise enterprise software, so whilst they may be suitable for greenfield deployments and fast launches, the rapid growth often seen in emerging markets may mean a new operator rapidly outgrows a simple cloud offering’s capabilities.
The attraction of using cloud platforms in emerging markets is that of being able to align costs with revenue, thus lowering the barriers to entry for new businesses and in turn promoting greater innovation and investment. Combined with the increasing availability of and access to high-speed communication networks, it creates new opportunities for businesses to optimise their operations, improve business agility and above all else deliver a superior service to their customers.
Richard Doughty is a Senior Consultant at Cerillion Technologies.