With CES behind us and Mobile World Congress on the horizon, it's easy to assign an inordinate amount of importance to the technologies driving the wireless industry. It's dangerous, however, to overlook the people involved.
I'm not talking about the CEOs, CMOs or CTOs of mobile operators--the people making the Fierce Most Powerful People list every year. I'm not talking about the people that manage an operator's device portfolio, price plans, marketing, or customer care. No, I'm actually talking about all of them. More precisely, I'm talking about the interactions among these people. You see, no matter how compelling a technology might be, if successful deployment requires collaboration across multiple business units, the "organization" cannot be ignored.
This isn't some grand revelation--any more than "2012 is going to be a big year for small cells" or that "RIM is at a make or break moment in its history." Over the past few weeks, however, a handful of interactions here at Current Analysis sent a not-so-subtle reminder that, as wireless technology and technology marketing evolves, getting the organizational dynamic right is more important than ever .
- Service Provider Wi-Fi. We're going to hear a lot about Wi-Fi as a cellular offload technology or complement to mobile broadband services at this year's Mobile World Congress. I've been on enough message testing exercises this year to know that we'll probably come away from Barcelona with Wi-Fi as one of the show's key themes. Cellular-Wi-Fi integration, however, means a lot of different things to different people. Integration in the packet core. Integration in the backhaul layer. Integration in a common small cell gateway. Integration directly into the small cell. Conversations with operators suggest these are all on the table. The reality, however, is that Wi-Fi and cellular businesses are distinctly different within most operators. They're run by different people, with different priorities and judged on different success metrics. Whether or not carrier Wi-Fi solutions are ready for prime time, getting the "cellular guys" to care about Wi-Fi and spec it as a part of their network demands is another story.
- Data Roaming. Driven by a handful of customer inquiries, we began paying closer attention to LTE roaming last year. Our semi-official stance was probably best summed up as, "important, someday, just not now." Operators, at least, don't seem to be too worried about it given the ability of HSPA and Wi-Fi to meet most mobile broadband demands in the near-term. More broadly, however, data roaming is still a hot button among bill-shocked customers as well as operators who want to convince people that leaving data on when abroad is worth the cost. I've heard a few times over the past couple months that this latter goal (operators hoping to incentivize/drive more data roaming and not leave any money on the table) has made roaming more strategic. More to the point, it has made data roaming something that more than just the operations or finance guys care about. Vendors selling business consulting, roaming management or analytics tools clearly stand to benefit. But, just like the promise of policy solutions that are so simple that even a marketing guy can get in on new tariff creation, there's an inherent worry in letting too many people touch something that so directly impacts a revenue-generating service--especially one that has become more strategic. Getting more people engaged around a revenue generating activity is all good, in theory. If it jeopardizes revenues or customer experience, however, this is easier said than done.
- Customer Experience. We recently ran a survey on customer experience management (CEM)--talking to a bunch of operators in North America and Europe about their hopes, fears, thoughts, perceptions etc. You'll recall that we flagged CEM as a key theme for 2012. Yet, when the topic includes everything from customer care and analytics to BSS/OSS, policy control, service delivery platform and deep packet inspection tools, it's fully understandable that operators wouldn't be of a single mind around how to move forward. It was somewhat surprising, then, that nearly half of our respondents (45 percent) said that a single person in their organization was responsible for overseeing CEM. That's a good thing for vendors trying to sell CEM as a set of cross-cutting organization-wide tools, right? Sure. But it cannot obscure the fact that "organizational challenges" also ranked as the number one barrier to CEM adoption or that traditional IT vendors (you know the ones) ranked highest in perception.
If CEM is one of the best examples of how an evolving wireless landscape requires coordination (collaboration?) across multiple parts of an operator, it's also one of the best examples of how this is far from simple. It is also a great example of how vendors looking to sell these types of strategic solutions need to get buy-in at the highest level and, even then, position them in the narrower interests of every part of the organization touched.
Peter Jarich is the Service Director leading Current Analysis telecom infrastructure practice. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.