Keats Teaches Us a Network Lesson

MWC is kicking off today, and operators tell me their own hope for the show and for the year is a strategy to raise revenues and profits.  Well, I’m a poetry fan, and so I offer a snippet of a poem to guide them through their perusal of vendors’ wares, from John Keats:

Heard melodies are sweet, but sweeter yet are those unheard…

We’re hearing a lot in advance of the show, how SDN will do this or how M2M will do that or how the future is better backhaul or featurephones built on Mozilla’s new Firefox OS.  These things will all certainly play in the future, but they’re “heard melodies”, old news.  They’re also aimed almost completely at the cost side.  NOBODY in any market can surrender the notion of revenue growth without surrendering their future.  So we have to listen past the heard melodies to those (still) unheard.

M2M is what everyone talks about, but ultimately the problem with M2M is that it’s traffic not services unless you start thinking about what all those “Ms” are communicating about.  We can’t put a lot of control devices directly on the Internet anyway; you’ll have foreign hackers attacking traffic lights for heaven’s sake.  Are there applications that could justify a deployment of smart devices?  Sure, but unless the telcos start their M2M deliberations with the “A” word, meaning applications, they’re just feathering OTT nests with their investments.

Backhaul is traffic too.  Yes, you need towers to sell mobile, and backhaul to feed towers, but if there was ever a “heard melody” it’s traffic.  Operators have zero chance of building a future for themselves in networking if they think about nothing but traffic.  They’ll all end up fleeing to providing accommodations for trade show attendees as a profit source.

Featurephones with Firefox OS?  Sure, and I like the concept of a smartphone OS that builds an API for developers by compositing local device APIs and remote service elements.  But again I catch the haunting strains of those heard melodies.  The issue isn’t the phone, it’s the remote service elements!  I can empower iPhones and Android phones and Windows phones and RIM (oh, sorry, Blackberry) phones with remote services, providing I have a way of differentiating them.

OK, NSN may have a part of that with their “Liquid Applications” and the notion of siting a server close to an eNodeB, but we still need to define a service model for these servers or they again become assets for Google or Amazon to run stuff in or from.  Here we may get a taste of our first unheard melody because forward deployment of intelligence is something we do today with CDNs.  CDNs are immune from neutrality regulation in the US by explicit FCC rule.

So here’s my thought, my score for the MWC unheard melody.  Operators are committed to things like Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) to pull service features out of appliances so they can be hosted in generic servers.  One of their specific targets is the CDN space.  So suppose we combine the notion of CDN, the notion of Liquid Applications, the notion of Firefox OS featurephones, and the notion of backhaul all into one glorious harmony under the auspices of NFV?  If we create an architecture that can manage the hosting of transplanted “heard melody” features of today, why can’t that same architecture host the unheard, the new stuff, the cloud stuff?

A Liquid Application built inside a properly designed NFV enclave would look like a part of the network just as CDN components do.  They’d be immune from sharing, and most significantly they’d be differentiable by being IN the network and not over top of it.  The operators could deploy service components on the servers, offer them to featurephones and smartphones and dumbphones, and the components are the revenue stream. Not the phones, not the bits, not the “Ms” or any of those other tired heard melodies.

We have to get our eyes off our toes.  I’m not at MWC and a big reason is that I’m not interested in kissing off a week of work and flying to Europe just to hear vendors tell us what we have to buy to prepare for tomorrow.  It’s too late to prepare for tomorrow, and everyone in the industry should know that by now.  We will never reach the future by taking it one day at a time.  We in the telecom space have to prepare for the kind of future songs that Apple and Google and other OTTs have been hearing.  Those melodies may be unheard to the operators and network vendors, but they’re heard loud and clear by others, and we’ll never see that if what we think are those future unheard melodies are really the sounds of our own footsteps.

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