21 MARCH 2017

A discussion with Stephen Saunders, founder and CEO of Light Reading, and Atul Jain, founder and CEO of TEOCO, on the opportunities and challenges the communications industry is facing.

At Mobile World Congress, Stephen Saunders, founder and CEO of the online industry news channel Light Reading, sat down with TEOCO’s CEO Atul Jain to discuss the future of communications and what challenges he sees his customers struggling with today. Click here to see the full video interview.

Stephen Saunders:  I understand you are the CEO and founder of TEOCO. Tell us about your company.

Atul Jain:  TEOCO has been in business for 22 years and we are a provider of assurance and analytics solutions to communication service providers all over the world. When I started the company 22 years ago, we were focused on providing cost management solutions in North America. The industry has evolved a lot over the years, and so have we. We are global now and have a customer base of over 300+ CSP customers in 100+ countries around the world.

Stephen Saunders: Technology and the demands on CSPs are changing so rapidly. What is your big opportunity now?

Jain: There are 2 main areas we focus on for our customers- reducing costs and increasing revenue. The marketplace is evolving where CSPs must deliver more for less. If there are areas where we can improve their revenue streams or reduce costs, that is interesting to them. Our analytics solutions give them insight into their business. We are one of the few companies that provide analytics insights across both OSS and BSS realms. This also incorporates radio access network (RAN) data. Our solutions also involve security and assurance. We help our customers deal with emerging technologies like NFV, SDN, virtualization, IoT and 5G.  We want to be their partner for innovation in the connected world.

Saunders: How do you help them with IoT?  There is a lot of buzz around this, but suppliers still struggle to tell you why we should be excited about it. If you had a customer that was worried about IoT and how to monetize this, what would you say?

Jain: The number of devices in the market today is nothing compared to what there will be 5 years from now. Maybe 1%. IoT will dramatically transform the world. For example, New York city transport is our customer. We are managing and monitoring their subway and rail networks. As NYC evolves, they will need to provide more and more transportation services. We have the privilege of helping them evolve into a smarter city. Similarly, we just acquired a company called Pre-Clarity, and they use analytics to understand smart meter data in power grid networks. This is still in in its infancy, and I can’t tell you everything we will be able to do in the future, but we are beginning to help our customers in this space. We can determine fault and performance of power networks. There are real opportunities here, and even though we have a long way to go, we have the beginnings that will help our customers be real pioneers in this space.

Saunders: It sounds like you are right on the forefront of helping build the connected planet. Communications technology is indivisible from society and business. This is an exciting place to be, but it is a crowded space and you are not alone there.  You also have other huge companies competing in this space – who else are you seeing?

Jain: We are admittedly not very deep into the IoT space yet. We anticipate moving more heavily in this area over time. I think everyone wants to be in this space and just like them, we are still trying to figure it out ourselves. At the moment, our core business is more impacted by the emergence of NFV/SDN than 5G and IoT.  Some of our customers, including ATT and Orange, are pioneers here and are moving quickly into this area- while others are being more cautious.

Networks in the future will be hybrid, combining both on-premise and virtualized components. Our goal is to help them manage these hybrid networks. They will continue to have infrastructure components that are hybrid and our experience in dealing with these networks will play a huge role. Today, we are deployed in these types of solutions, not just for virtualized networks, but for over 100 different customers. Some are more focused on being virtualized and we can lead with our solutions. We are evolving our portfolio and are part of the TM Forum, where we have led NFV/SDN catalyst projects for the past 3 years.  We are prepared to be cloud based and I think the experience we’ve gained over the past 20 years will be invaluable.

Saunders:  Are your applications that you sell VNFs now??

Jain: Yes, to the degree our customers are integrating virtualization into their network now. A lot of orchestration components are not there yet.  We are still developing orchestration assurance, but for fault performance and customer experience for the virtualized network, we can do that today.  We have not expanded into the orchestration component quite yet.

Saunders:  Your timing is great, but it seems to me that there is a problem in the industry right now in virtualization in that there are no clear standards in NFV and how it interoperates with the MANO. Do you agree?

Jain: Yes, and this will be driven by the large customers. ATT for example. I feel most of these initiatives are driven by customers as they demand that their suppliers work in a unified manner and with a similar interface- like China mobile. This forces their suppliers to interface with their requirements.

Saunders:  It would be better if we had one common standard though, right?  I blame open source. Personally, I think we need to consolidate as an industry to make things easier for the suppliers and for the providers, especially the smaller guys. Not everyone is ATT.

Jain:  Yes, it will happen. If you look at things like UNIX. Everyone had their own way of working with it and standards happened over time. Linux is now a unified standard. I don’t think it will take as long with NFV though.

Saunders: I noticed that around August or September of last year, many CSPs stepped back from NFV once they realized it was much harder than expected and more expensive. Do you think they are regaining their confidence? How do you think they are tracking for the next 3-4 years- are they bullish?

Jain:  Bullish isn’t the right word. It is a tough economic environment. The question is- can you find new revenue streams and reduce costs so that you can stay relevant and make money? Things that don’t have a business case won’t get funded. It is my view that virtualization is critical. The amount of time it takes to reconfigure networks is humongous. I think the evolution will happen, but it will happen more slowly than we thought just a few years ago.

Saunders: So, we won’t have to turn back time- you feel it’s still going to happen?

Jain: Yes, that is my belief.  I think it must.

Saunders:  For TEOCO, it seems that your specialty is in helping service providers with the pragmatic business of managing their networks in a hybrid virtualized and non-virtualized environment.

Jain:  Yes, let me give you an example. When 4G happened the roll out was much faster than expected. That was because there were some real challenges 4G helped solve. Once Verizon moved to 4G it forced others to do the same, at least in North America. Now it is all over the world. 5G is not here yet, but it will have the same transformative impact that 4G does today. Our solution, called ASSET, is able to help with this transition. We are part of a 5G innovation lab in Surrey U.K., where we are deployed in a 5G environment.  It is our challenge to stay ahead of these technologies for the benefit of our customers. For example, assuring a quality end-to-end experience for ViLTE and VolTE is not as easy as it seems. CSPs are being forced to examine how to deliver high quality services in this space. In the same way CSPs have taken a step back on NFV, the same has happened with VoLTE. We have launched a solution called INsync and it helps our customers ensure a quality end-to-end experience. VoLTE will soon come on much stronger and we will be well positioned to help CSPs over the coming years.

Saunders: It sounds like you are covering all the bases of innovation right now- and this is your company!

Jain: While innovation is something we are focused on today, I wish we had been more innovative in the past. With some of the M&A activities we did over the last few years, we were forced to take a step back, but we are looking forward to being more innovative in the future.

Saunders:  It’s fantastic to meet you. Thank you for hosting me.

Jain:  Thank you Steve, it was my pleasure.

Click here in see the full video interview