A few months ago I talked about “What’s Next for Content” and we touched on the topic of experience and how the telco should become the gatekeeper to delivering a quality viewing experience for OTT video services. We found that new alliances will be forged between OTT content owners and the telco who will control the delivery and support of HD and 4K broadcast-quality video over their increasingly intelligent dumb pipes. Now, let’s expand on this idea and look at how only the telco can leverage cloud, big data, and AI technologies to deliver an excellent customer experience for all the OTT services swarming over its fixed and mobile networks.
I like to break experience into six domains:
The telco can be king in each of these domains without being the provider of a single service in much the same way that bricks and mortar stores sell third-party products. So let’s take that analogy. A consumer electronics store retailing TVs will aggregate screens from multiple manufacturers like Sony, LG, or Panasonic. It will display them logically with all the 50″ screens next to each other alongside product information that enables the customer to discover and choose their preferred TV set. The store takes payment and if something goes wrong, then the customer returns to the same shop for support to get it fixed. The bricks and mortar analogy with physical products only falls down when it comes to guaranteeing the quality of the product itself, which is firmly the responsibility of the manufacturer.
But it is here that the telco’s network should provide a leading role when guaranteeing the quality of third-party OTT services whether they are video, gaming, communications, IoT, or future services like the remote driving of vehicles.
The good news is that quality of experience can be monetized. This is often confused with the contentious debate about net neutrality, but experience monetization is actually a very different issue and telcos should not allow the net neutrality debate to confuse (and ultimately shut down) their efforts to forge partnerships with third-party service providers and offer their end users differentiated experiences at different prices for various products. After all, it is perfectly acceptable for a telco to charge different monthly subscription prices for different connection speeds or different packs of data. So it should also be perfectly acceptable to be able to charge different subscription prices for quality SD, HD, or 4k gaming experiences over that network.
But before we look at the experience monetization models, let’s look at the prerequisite: the intelligent network. Here’s the model: every device, every terminal, every node on the network is connected, sensing, and producing data. That data is collected into a single data lake in the cloud. An analytics engine makes sense of that data and real-time applications display performance dashboards or produce alerts when something needs fixing. But this is not yet intelligent. The final step is to introduce AI. You see, all these nodes on the network are not just sensing but they can also be controlled and configured remotely in software. Everything down to the individual OLT port in a Central Office (or Exchange to us Brits) on a 10G FTTH connection or a single Wi-Fi booster in a residential home network. Now, we can use cloud AI to analyze all the historical network usage and performance data that’s stored in the cloud data lake and build predictive models that anticipate and rectify experience issues before the end user becomes aware. Unpredictable faults can be detected and fixed remotely by AI in real time to ensure service continuity. At Huawei, we call this the Network Cloud Engine and it’s a key component in our discussions with telcos these days.
Once we have such a granular view of the end-to-end network and are able to configure every node automatically in software using AI we can create configurations, or products, that offer different levels of experience for different types of traffic and we can put a price on that. So, end users can be offered different gaming experiences over the same fiber or 5G connection with lower prices for SD image quality and higher prices for guaranteed HD or 4K image quality for subscribed services. If you are the third-party cloud gaming company that’s already trying to charge your customers differentiated subscription prices for different gaming experiences then you have little choice but to collaborate with the telco to guarantee that 4K image quality all the way through the pipe to the games terminal. And if something goes wrong then only the telco can offer the granularity of network information that the customer service centre will need to troubleshoot and support this premium experience product.
Go back five years and there was little discussion about differentiated experiences. But the expectations of consumers have risen rapidly with the arrival of HD and 4K on OTT video services and experience is becoming the new battleground. It will only become more critical with the launch of cloud gaming and AR/VR video services that rely on the low latency and high bandwidth of 5G access networks. But an exploration of this topic is for another day.