Published on January 10, 2019
Waking dreams of mobile network operators
Many mobile industry journalists, analysts and vendors have been sharing their predictions and expectations for the new year. But what about mobile network operator (MNO) hopes or “waking dreams” as Aristotle would describe them?
This blog outlines five high-level MNO hopes for 2019, based on various inputs. Of course, what is presented here does not form an exhaustive list and cannot fully represent every MNO worldwide (for example, hopes related to regulation, specific network/operational challenges or the financial climate).
Making (radio) waves
Imagine a large shop with wide aisles and goods stacked so that people can easily move around and pick up products. But to enter (or leave) this seemingly ideal shop, there is only a narrow corridor, as wide as an airplane aisle. What would you think of such a shop?
The need for transformation, including virtualization, seems to have steered attention away from a fundamental fact. Mobile networks rely on a precious, finite resource: radio spectrum. This resource is limited and must be managed efficiently so that it does not “narrow” and compromise user experience. If radio is ignored or underestimated, promising initiatives and concepts—including cloud RAN or 5G end-to-end network slicing—will never reach their full potential.
So, the first MNO (particularly RAN teams) hope is to keep sight of radio.
No blank slate
Years ago, I read an article about the challenge of transforming the center of Athens after decades of architectural design mistakes. The realistic approach, given that the ideal goal was unattainable in the short run, would be a mixture of targeted small interventions and drastic improvements.
MNOs face a similar evolution, or transformation, challenge today. They cannot ignore their legacy network and operational architecture. At the same time, there are areas where a more radical “greenfield” strategy is possible. MNOs hope for a realistic short- and long-term plan to minimize disruption to operations and customers, and to maximize the return on new and past investments (for example, virtual and physical infrastructure or 5G and legacy technologies).
So, the second MNO hope for 2019 is to follow the optimal (hybrid) strategy.
A fruitful comparison?
Many people love apples. Others like oranges. Well, you may have guessed where this is going. Trying to compare apples to oranges can generate interesting debates without clear or objective conclusions.
MNOs have been rated unfavorably in comparison with other companies, especially digital service providers and over-the-top (OTT) players. Indeed, the agility, innovation and customer experience focus of MNOs have been repeatedly criticized. Yet, although there is much to learn from other companies, are fixed-line or data center challenges identical to mobile network challenges? Is it fair to glorify those who use a complex and costly (mobile) network infrastructure they are not responsible for? Or to praise companies operating under a less strict regulation framework?
So, the third MNO hope is for critics to compare apples to apples.
To help children understand how the world works, adults share their experience. They provide advice on how to act, sometimes reprimanding children for not following the communicated norms. Parents in particular must fulfill this important—advisory and supervisory—role.
What does this have to do with MNOs? It appears that many journalists, analysts and vendors have decided to assume a “parenting” role. In their eyes, MNOs are immature, prone to mistakes, and ultimately incapable of making correct decisions on their own—just like kids, in effect. Even successful MNOs have been reprimanded about their strategy. While open to advice, MNOs hardly appreciate supervision or “orders” that ignore the full breadth of mobile network challenges.
So, the fourth hope for 2019 is to stop treating MNOs like kids.
Fast or far?
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This proverb has been (too) frequently used in 5G presentations and articles. To be fair, the proverb captures a key concept underlying 5G: partnership.
Partnerships are essential for MNOs to address complexity and prepare for 5G. The unique 5G profile has created sky-high expectations, but also significant uncertainty. It is therefore no surprise that MNOs are actively seeking advice from expert vendors. But unlike the “parent-child” relationship described earlier, this is about two-way communication and cooperation that goes beyond short-term solutions or just what MNOs explicitly ask for.
So, the fifth MNO hope is to work better and go further—together.
To conclude, this blog may not describe every hope of every MNO. Still, there is an unquestionable common thread linking all these hopes: the need for relevant players to walk in the MNO shoes in 2019, and to help turn (at least some of) the MNO “waking dreams” into reality.