No-one is in any doubt that 2009 will be both tough and interesting, or as analyst John Strand of Strand Consulting puts it, "the moment of truth".
In November Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone, the world's largest mobile operator by revenue, said its European networks were only running at only 32% capacity, dispelling the myth that the explosion in data traffic (often credited to the introduction of the iPhone) is forcing mobile operators to upgrade their networks as fast as they can.
On the contrary, in the Western world at least, it seems there is little if any pressure to do so - a sorry state of affairs borne out by the fact that equipment vendors from Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Network to Nortel are having a hard time of it.
Laura Howard, CMO, ECI Telecom, comments, "We're proceeding cautiously with our eyes wide open. We think that apart from in credit-constrained markets, the economic crisis could accelerate the demand for bandwidth. You don't stop watching IPTV or browsing on the web or making phone calls because you're not going out for dinner so much."
She adds, "The [operators'] approach must not be about cost cutting, efficiency is the key and being micro-tuned to the needs of customers."
She asks, "Do operators need bigger, smarter, more cost-effective pipes to get services to customers - yes. There are two main drivers. The first is the explosion in video on the web in developed economies. In developing economies, it's the staggering growth of mobile - India is signing up 10 million new subscribers a month.
In turn, mobile backhaul is driving take-up of carrier Ethernet because it is a more efficient way of aggregating traffic and backhauling it to the metro network for transport. It would be very hard to do this using TDM because it's not flexible, it doesn't scale and the price would be too high."
Adan Pope, CTO, global solutions, Telcordia, states, "By and large, we don't see significant retractions in CAPEX for OSS and access technology - many are well positioned to ride it out. The value proposition is in operators taking a service catalogue approach to enable them to operate more efficiently. Large scale transformations will not be in vogue for the next few years because so far they've typically had significant delays, costs have over-run and the promised benefits have not materialized."
Chung-Ling Woon of ConceptWave is a hugely energetic advocate of integrated product, service and network catalogues as the most efficient, cost-effective means of ensuring order fulfillment, by exploiting and cleaning up existing data, through so-called zero migration. No big bang approaches involved.
He points to the work his company has carried out for Canadian quad play service provider Videotron. Before ConceptWave, order taking and fulfillment was 40% accurate at best. On its first day of operating, ConceptWave dealt with all the orders correctly, without any referrals or delay.
Woon concludes, "One of our customers, Enoch Glover, IT director at Time Warner Cable always says that telecoms services are not a commodity, but a utility - and utilities have no fear of downturns.
"We are able to accelerate cost reduction through improving the way people and processes work and the platforms they rely on. Operators mustn't look at this as the time to deploy a better mousetrap, but a great opportunity to transform how they work. With integrated service catalogues, the marketing department designs the products and gets them to market when they want to instead of having to wait for what the limitations of IT will let them do."