If you want to know how carriers choose equipment providers to partner with look no further than the mating habits of the Sumatran Rhinoceros. Before you ask me if I am willing to share some of my medication with you, please hear me out. You see the male rhino has to fight off other rhinos and then chase the female for potentially long distances until mating is allowed.
And this is exactly the sort of thing that happens when carriers decide to partner with an equipment provider. First, smaller providers to the carriers fight it out and then chase the carrier until they say yes (thankfully for all our sakes I have decided not to add a related graphic to this post). For decades I have gone to shows like ICA and NATA – events which took place in the Jurassic period by today’s standards and died off in the mid-nineteen nineties.
At these events I would meet company after company with a slew of innovative products which were designed to be resold by carriers. Hundreds of them died on the vine over the years. Maybe thousands. Carriers dragged them out for years until investors got tired and moved on.
Perhaps the challenge was an extreme lack of carrier competition in the early nineties. But when the CLEC market started to take off, some people knowledgeable on the matter will tell you that carriers preferred to deal with Lucent and they typically waited for Lucent to purchase the innovative company in question or come out with a similar product. This is an idea which Acme Packet CEO Andy Ory mentioned to me a while back. He gave an example of a new vendor coming out with a stapler which is cheaper than other units on the market – the purchaser has an existing relationship with the supplier and will ask the current supplier to match the new lower price and perhaps new features. Ory explains it really takes an innovation like tape to unseat an incumbent provider.
Certainly much has changed in the telecom world these past decades. Telecom was once a monopolistic/duopolistic business where marketshare didn’t shift that much. In the world of wireless however it has become apparent that devices, quality of service and services matter and they can make or break a carrier. Billions of dollars in sales are linked to products like smartphones which the carriers do not directly control.
For some reason I always think of how long carriers can take to make decisions when I meet with FMC provider Tango Networks. While a slew of FMC vendors focused on selling to the enterprise, Tango focused on the carriers. As a reminder, I have written about the company’s trials, text messaging initiatives and interviewed the company’s CEO Alastair Westgarth in the past. TMCnet has also featured many articles and a past video interview with the company discussing mobile UC with company founder and CTO Andrew Silver. For a long while all my conversations with Tango were about trials but more recently they have picked up customers like Sprint and NTELOS, a wireless carrier serving Virginia and West Virginia. Moreover there are customers expected to come online soon in Hong Kong, Europe and Cincinnati.
Tango Networks CEO Alastair Westgarth describes his company’s success in the carrier FMC space
I caught up in Dallas with Westgarth and as you can expect, the company has made it long enough to gain momentum and become a player in the carrier FMC space and as such they continue on their mission to allow all devices to work with just about all enterprise voice systems without changes or software needing to be installed on the devices. What they’ve found now is behavior has been changed as a result of FMC adoption. For example, users would often use their cell phones to call knowing that if they went into voicemail the calling party would likely just redial the number which called them when returning the call. Now, users don’t have to worry about these issues as the desk phone Caller-ID is always transmitted and rules determine where the call should be sent and when.
Law firms are particular keen to use this sort of service because it allows them to more accurately bill for client calls – whereas before they might have been underestimating the amount of time lawyers spent on cell phones. Other areas where FMC has helped is gate agents – allowing them to be more mobile and work easily in different areas of an airport while remaining connected.
A hypothetical use is in social work or child protective services where a social worker may not be comfortable sharing a cell phone number and as such they won’t call after hours. Now they can call from a mobile device knowing the Caller-ID of the office will display. I asked Alastair if there were drawbacks to having a carrier-based solution and he said the one challenge is the missing eye candy or GUI. To alleviate this shortcoming the company has a thin client which runs on Blackberry’s and Android devices as well as the web with the goal being to allow users to have that warm and fuzzy graphical feeling. It seems one problem this software or web-based solution solves is giving users constant access to the corporate directory.
Other important ideas to share are how the company helps carriers extend telephony beyond the femtocell and how they have APIs which can hook into scheduling and notification systems to allow more seamless work experience.
The females of many species look for the fittest partners and carriers – whether they know it or not mak
e the vendors they choose jump through hoops and chase them for years – just like many animal species. For the vendors that make it through the process, the result is that their products are able to survive and evolve – just like the offspring of animals in nature.