Earlier this year, I read an interesting article in the USA Today by Barbara De Lollis on the rebound of Air Canada. As an aviation nut, I am always interested in the inner workings of the airline industry, but in this case, it was a interesting case study for what’s possible with service providers too.The article covered how Air Canada went from struggling to be a”profitable pioneer” -it did so not by changing its industry, for as at its most basic level, it still delivered people and cargo from point A to point B as it did before. Rather its change was more to its business model, largely focused on changes to allow customers to”personalize” their air travel experience to meet their own respective needs. For example, instead of having just non-refundable or refundable tickets, it unbundled them so that, as a flyer, you can have a non-refundable outbound but a more flexible return ticket, should the meeting end ahead of schedule and you can get to the airport earlier. If you want to reserve a seat, you can for a small charge; or if you don’t care where you sit, then no problem, just take any unreserved one. If you don’t check a bag, they’ll give you a $5 refund. Don’t care for frequent flier mileage, they’ll give you money back for that as well. And they increased the entertainment options as Dameon D. Welch-Abernathy from Phoneboy shares with us here. With all the options, some may think that the margin would plummet, but what they’ve found is that 75% of their customers are upgrading and taking advantage of one of the services. So by giving greater control and options to consumers, Air Canada became the preferred carrier for many and helped to boost their bottom line. Read More »
There is a lot of activity in the cable industry lately related to improving consumer choice. One of the most challenging activities in recent times was the”7/07″ transition. For those that may need a refresher, ’7/07′, the name that the cable industry gave to July 1, 2007, was the date that the FCC mandated that new cable set-top boxes that arrive and deploy in the field must be equipped with separable security. The technology that is inserted into the set-top boxes to meet the separable security requirement is a multi-stream CableCARD. A CableCARD is a temporary removable security mechanism that, when inserted into a certified television or other device enables delivery of digital video programming and also allows the cable service provider to authorize protected subscription features for a specific subscriber. By mandating that all set-top boxes include separable security, the FCC is allowing consumers to choose to obtain their set-top box hardware from alternate sources other than their local cable operator, (i.e. retail, etc.) while still being able to subscribe and access the digital video services offered by their cable operator. Consumers may also choose to forgo the set-top box and purchase a CableCARD-enabled television to receive their digital programming services. While progress with 7/07 has been made and shipments of CableCARD set-top boxes are underway, the cable industry has been focused on a number of developments that could some day render the CableCARD obsolete. Scientific Atlanta is playing a leading role in the development and engineering of a technology called Downloadable Conditional Access System (DCAS).
Conditional Access Systems (CAS) are comprised of the system, software and components needed to provide consumers selective access or denial of specific content services in their cable operator’s network. Access to services is controlled by first encrypting the video, audio or data content before it is transmitted over the network. This transforms the data so that it can not be easily”snooped” while in transit or at rest in the network. Then, authorization is achieved through key distribution and entitlement messages sent to client devices. Until recently, the client portion of most CASs was embedded in predominantly fixed hardware such as secure microprocessors and encryption-handling ASICs.
This week, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at WiMax World in Chicago. My fellow panelists and I spoke about the advantages and challenges of WiMax, with a particular emphasis on the ecosystem surrounding the technology. In fact, “ecosystem” (as defined by Dr. James Moore) was the key buzzword at the conference, as participants realize the advantages of this technology will only impact the market if a critical mass of companies work together. We did our part, with the Cisco ASN gateway interoperating in the booths of several WiMax radio vendors. Berge Ayvazian of Yankee Group moderated the panel, and he lightened the mood by bringing three foam balls on stage, bearing the Sprint WiMax brand XOHM. He challenged panelist Jeff Thompson, founder and CEO of Towerstream to juggle them, and Jeff rose to the challenge with several deft cycles. Not to be outdone, Atish Gude, another panelist and senior vice president of Sprint Xohm, juggled at least as well. Both earned a round of applause from the audience. Clearly, my conference speaking skills need to move towards circus tricks, perhaps fire eating or sword swallowing. While WiMax still faces a long road ahead, one service provider with whom I spoke has already completed successful multi-vendor interoperability tests. He showed me a USB-based “dongle” used to connect laptop PCs to WiMax service. (USB seems poised to displace PCMCIA as the PC connection of choice, in part because it works with desktop PCs, not just laptops.) Not yet a full WiMax ecosystem, but good first steps.
Thank goodness as we look at the opportunities for ourselves and our service provider partners — where we need to invest — the question is not as difficult to answer! We are going through such an exciting time in the industry. The consolidation that has and continues to occur is driving all of us to work smarter and approach things in new and evolutionary ways. Our Service Provider partners are investing to provide yet another wave of industry impacting services and like no time in the past we are well positioned to partner with them to mutually grow. A key element of our strategy this year and a big bet for us is Managed Services. Read More »
Although most service providers have turned their attention towards services for the consumer, Managed Services for both Commercial and Enterprise business customers will continue to be a major growth opportunity for the service provider community. This opportunity will drive the vendors of commercial and enterprise products to look to the SP channel to scale the sales of their products, but will also require them to accommodate the operational needs of the service providers. These basic needs include zero/low touch deployment capabilities and common interfaces using standard protocols to monitor and troubleshoot HW and SW once it’s deployed. Over the next several years, in order to greatly decrease the operational burden of managed services, there will also be a push to virtualize them. This will also allow service providers to easily add incremental capacity in order to meet increasing customer demand. It will also allow for much higher availability as services lost in one environment can quickly be reestablished by seamlessly moving the customers to another network resource that has the capacity to support them. Read More »