Pipeline Publishing, Volume 4, Issue 9
This Month's Issue:
New Doors, New Access
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Raw Opinion:
Five Things CSPs Need to Hear
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By Sam Dunning

Let me begin by sharing a strong allegory that was once imparted to me by a Presbyterian minister in Jamaica. He talked about the Swiss watchmakers who made the finest timepieces in the world. They had no rivals, and their timepieces, marvels of springs and cogs, were industry leaders. Along came something called quartz movement. Cheaper, more durable, and often more reliable than traditional clockwork, it was the key to a whole new market share. In fact, the first ever quartz analog wristwatch was developed in Switzerland. Still, many of the Swiss watchmakers saw the technology as simplistic and crass.

Along came a Japanese company called Seiko. They released the world's first mass-produced quartz wristwatch in 1969 and became a leader in the industry. Quartz movement spent decades taking over vast segments of the market. The Swiss watchmakers still had a market, as there is always a market for quality, but missed another boat. Why? Because the Swiss made a mistake. They thought they were in the business of springs and cogs. They were really in the business of telling time.

Stories like this can be found all over. Train manufacturers who ignored the coming automobile revolution. Sailing ship makers who considered steamboats a fad until they were dominated by them. There are many more examples.

We're at a pretty critical time for a lot of CSPs. It's time to decide what business we're in and go for it. Otherwise, we may all be left behind or sent to a niche to remain, bitter and bruised, talking about the glory days when everything was done their way. Allow me to preface the following list by saying that I am not an engineer. I am not a network architect. I'm a know-it-all journalist who hears what goes on in the industry and among customers, which puts me in the position to say way more than I should. Having said that, these ideas are meant to stir conversation, so they may be a touch controversial. I welcome that.

Number 1: Cable needs to get its act together, in terms of QoS.

This stuff is difficult. Anecdotal evidence makes things seem worse than they are. Still, I don't know a single person who doesn't have a history of problems with their cable service. A lot of these cable companies are outsourcing in order to meet demand, and the techs aren't always up to snuff. There, of course, was the instance of a Comcast tech falling asleep on the couch of a subscriber while he waited for help from the call center.

Speaking of call centers, Comcast had some sticky allegations to deal with last year when consumerist.com posted a blog on the

We're at a pretty critical time for a lot of CSPs. It's time to decide what business we're in and go for it.

confessions of a Comcast customer service representative, which included allegations that Comcast’s outsourced call center was unhelpful, at best. That's not to single out Comcast. Many of the other top cable providers have faced problems with service quality and customer care. Tom Vander Well, Vice-President and partner of c wenger group, a firm that helps clients improve customer service, wrote: “There is a sincere desire among many outsource centers to provide good service at a competitive price, but it can be a cut-throat business. The vast do not believe that companies are willing to pay for good service, so they aren’t willing to provide more than the bare minimum required to keep the client’s business. The customer is often left with the short end of the straw.” Still, people are paying hundreds of dollars for bundled service and expect a level of quality in keeping with that hefty price tag. Something needs to be done.

Number 2: CSPs may be on the way to becoming “merely” bitpipes.

I know it's the thing executives are railing against. Service rollouts from CSPs are focused on applications and value-added services. The network continues to grow, especially with FTTx in play, but CSPs have shown resistance to third party providers, from over-the-top VoIP (such as in instances of intentional degradation of call quality during third party VoIP calls) to worries expressed over the future role of Google, Sony, or any other content company moving into the space traditionally occupied by telecom companies. Still, it looks like consumers might prefer third-party services, which may cause the CSPs to become little more than an expressway for other companies' bits. And is it really such a bad position to be in? You own the network. You provide the pipe on which everyone else's information rides. If you figure out a way to make money on that, you'll do well. I don't think content and device companies want to own the network. Running the network and supporting it well is a noble and potentially lucrative goal.

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