Dormant accounts costing thousands to administer? Inefficient data management? Subscriber details going back years and not knowing how to exploit the data? You could always speak to Stephan Ouaknine, CEO of Montreal-based Blueslice. Michael Schwartz did.
Seven years ago Stephan Ouaknine founded Blueslice Networks; he realised that the details of millions of telephone subscribers were often stored at great expense to telephone operating companies. These companies were in turn being charged excessively for the ironic privilege of not being able to exploit the information efficiently, ie, not being able to determine which customers were still "live" and which were of no use in terms of commercial viability.
What is happening is that with the proliferation of access technologies available, subscribers now have a plethora of communications choices and are as a result accumulating devices upon devices and identities upon identities. At the same time, operators are struggling to manage the consequent multiple access networks and multiple profiles in multiple silos. These market forces are creating the "multi-profile subscriber" and challenging operators to converge their networks and consolidate their subscriber information.
Blueslice prides itself on being an independent company, believing that this enables it to bring a fresh approach to the management of subscriber information for the more innovative service provider. In fact, through its previous ventures, Blueslice's shareholder value is running at over US$1 billion through prior ventures. Blueslice also receives further support from the government of Canada.
Blueslice claims to be the first telecom core equipment vendor to realise that subscribers are multi-dimensional in the sense that their details are being charged for at varying rates according to their usefulness to telephone operators. Besides its core business of building next generation mobile network equipment for the world's leading telecom service providers, Blueslice's ambition is to lead the Home Location Register (HLR) market, in other words, the sector within telecoms which will look after multi-profile subscriber management. Stephan Ouaknine explains: "Blueslice offers a dual pricing structure within one central repository: first, pricing for the dormant accounts and then for the active ones."
In more technical terms, Blueslice provides multi-access telecom players, eg, mobile carriers, VoIP service providers, FMC players, MVNOs, and machine-to-machine (M2M) operators, with next generation equipment, giving the players the capabilities to manage their subscribers' multiple profiles and deliver a converged service offering.
A subscriber-centric portfolio
To achieve its aims Blueslice is promoting its Converged Subscriber Platform 3000 as the next generation integrated platform for multi-profile subscriber management in mobile, VoIP, Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC), and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) networks. At its root, the CSP 3000 features an HLR; while the latter performs the mission-critical functions for subscriber profile management in GSM/GPRS and UMTS networks, Blueslice stresses that its CSP 3000 actually goes beyond the HLR function. In turn it includes the subscriber management functions for all access technologies to converge subscriber profiles across 2G (GSM, GPRS, EDGE), 3G (UMTS, HSPA, IMS), and VoIP (Wireline, WiFi, WiMAX) domains, with its integrated Home Subscriber Server (HSS), SIP Application Server, and AAA Server.
Stephan Ouaknine makes Blueslice's role quite clear: "By initiating the convergence process at the subscriber level, an operator can become a converged solution provider instead of just a bill-stapler. This means a consistent user experience across all domains for their customers, greater control over their subscriber base, simplified subscriber profile management, and a platform to deploy FMC-related, revenue-generating services.
Blueslice in India...
Blueslice is highly active in the developing world. Certain markets keep appearing in the company's portfolio of contracts. India is one. Here Blueslice has been working with VNL, which has spent the last four years developing a solar-powered GSM system to provide affordable mobile services to low-density, low-revenue users around the world. The WorldGSM system is a complete GSM solution, and contains all necessary network elements (BTS, BSC, MSC).
VNL's equipment has in fact been designed exclusively for rural and remote areas - not just adapted from traditional GSM systems built for urban markets in developed countries. Its business model has been created to address the issues of cost, power, minimal maintenance, inhospitable terrain and poor roads common in all rural markets.
Where Blueslice comes in is in supplying the ngHLR 3000 as its GSM solution; the next generation HLR will help ensure that VNL's WorldGSM can successfully provide end-to-end service for India's mobile operators. VNL is confident that it has "finally cracked the problem facing telephone operators in the developing world: how to provide affordable telephone services to vast rural communities - and still turn a profit".
Blueslice is keen to stress its knowledge of the difficulties and opportunities facing investors in the new markets. Stephan Ouaknine: "We observe, firstly, a huge growth in the emerging middle class. For example, we do a lot of business in Indonesia, as well as in Vietnam and Cambodia. In the case of Indonesia, we can see that in the slums of Djakarta people may not have running clean water but they do have a mobile. In fact three million new accounts are opened each month in Indonesia - comparing favourably with five million every month in India.
"Next there is a tremendous restructure taking place in the pricing environment, where price regimes have undergone enormous changes. Once again taking Indonesia as an example, there are several incumbents - Telkomsel, Hutchison 3 and Axis come to mind. The end result is sometimes an SMS basic charge of US$0.005 and a charge for cellular per minute of a single rupiah (US$0.0000828192), which is far below cost. The newest developments indicate companies going for market share.
"A third question is that of pricing within developing markets. Price erosion means market growth but if you are a phone company, you have to look at the bottom line. There is then the cost of software. It is no good a company going with its old-style legacy software. Costs become associated with dormant accounts but there is no revenue from them. Data can sometimes be difficult to make cost-effective. In India, for example, some subscriber codes are 20 years old!"
Stephan Ouaknine is confident of this company's strengths: "We offer a window of opportunity. We add real value to convergence at a time when everyone wants to do everything and everyone must in turn offer multiple aspects: fixed plus mobile plus VoIP plus virtual phone numbers. We offer you the facility of a virtual phone number in any network, any country. What is more we are independent."