Cisco plans to acquire Tail-f Systems, the Swedish vendor known for its multi-vendor network management software, for $175 million, the company announced on Tuesday. Tail-f’s A-list service provider customers include AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG and other Tier 1 service providers.
The acquisition stands to put Cisco in a position to provide a holistic network service management and orchestration product that offers a single pane of glass for Layer 2 through Layer 7 that includes a view into hardware, virtual appliances and OpenFlow switches.
Tail-f’s orchestration software is designed to help service providers automate management and provisioning. One twist to the Cisco acquisition is that in September 2013, AT&T launched its Supplier Domain Program 2.0 (Domain 2.0), which is designed to simplify and virtualize its network and utilize Network Functions Virtualization and Software-Defined Networking. Oops, Cisco wasn’t on the first list of Domain 2.0 vendors announced in February, but Tail-f was, which may get Cisco in the game.
Like AT&T, most service providers are moving toward replacing their legacy systems and simplify operations. Tail-f has multi-vendor capabilities and interoperates with Cisco competitors that include Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper Networks, F5 Networks and Riverbed. Cisco isn’t known for its interest in interoperating with other vendors, preferring the all-Cisco shop. Following the acquisition announcement, however, Cisco said it plans to maintain the multi-vendor capability. Tail-f will be part of Cisco’s cloud and virtualization portfolio.
The deal is expected to close in Q4.
Fixed-line telephone services have the happiest customers, but more customers are abandoning landlines in favor of wireless phone services, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index report.
The report shows not only customer attitudes toward Internet and telephone service providers, but where providers are succeeding or failing in their services. The report indicates customer satisfaction in several areas including customer service, quality of service and performance.
Fixed-line telephone services had a mixed bag of ratings from customers. While it had the highest ratings among telecommunications service providers, customers are abandoning landlines.. Nearly 4 in 10 households now rely solely on mobile phone services, according to ASCI. But customers that keep their landline services tend to be the most satisfied and loyal.
Customers reported satisfaction with the variety of services available at 82% for both 2013 and 2014, ease of understanding their bills (79% in 2013, 81% in 2014) and website (74% for both years).
While customer satisfaction was high overall, service providers saw scores drop in other areas. Call quality in terms of clarity and strength, and the ability of providers to keep service outages to a minimum both saw a drop from 84% in 2013 to 82%. Reliability of phone service also saw a drop to 82% this year from 83% in 2013. Customer service also took hits, as ratings for the helpfulness of operators and information services decreased from 79% in 2013 to 78%. Call center satisfaction also dropped from 68% in 2013 to 66% in 2014.
Wireless telephone service providers fared the best when it came to providing customers with satisfactory service. Customers reported satisfaction with the ease of understanding their bills, call quality in terms of clarity and strength, speed of purchase and the range of available wireless voice and data plans. Satisfaction in terms of wireless network coverage increased to 79% from 78% in 2013; data upload and download speed and reliability satisfaction increased to 75% from 72% in 2013; and satisfaction with call quality, measured in terms of the frequency of dropped calls, increased to 77% from 76% in 2013.
On the down side, customer satisfaction dipped in customer-service-related areas. While customers report that in-store staff are courteous and helpful, the satisfaction score dropped from 82% in 2013 to 80% this year. Call-center satisfaction also dropped to 66%, down from 68% in 2013, which was below the average call center score of 70.4% aggregated across all industries.
Internet service providers (ISPs), however, saw customer satisfaction decrease in several service areas. ISPs saw a big jump in satisfaction in data transfer speeds, 71% in 2013 to 76% in 2014, but ACSI said the improvement was muted by downturns in other areas.
ISPs also saw major decreases satisfaction toward performance and customer service. Customer satisfaction with ISPs’ ability to keep service outages to a minimum dropped from 74% in 2013 to 71% this year. Satisfaction in terms of performance during peak service hours decreased from 70% in2013 to 66% in 2014. Satisfaction toward the quality of other services like email, data storage and security decreased from 72% in 2013 to 68% this year. Customer satisfaction toward the consistency of speed and service also dropped to 69% this year, from 72% in 2013. Call center performance had the lowest customer satisfaction score at 58% this year, down from 62%, and was the lowest score among all telecommunications services surveyed.
Anyone who rides Amtrak up and down the busy Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston knows how great it is to get work done on the train, complete with Amtrak Wi-Fi connections for email, Internet access and chatting. Great, that is, until the heartbreak of wireless dead zones in Delaware, Connecticut or anywhere else along the route grind your work flow to a halt.
Amtrak wants to change all of that for those Type A Northeast Coasters and has issued a Request for Proposal for a wireless trackside network to provide broadband Internet connections between Washington and Boston. The plan for trackside Wi-Fi is lacking in specifics, but Amtrak is accepting proof-of-concept proposals as part of its RFP until July 28. Anyone needing more information can find it here.
Amtrak’s goal is to increase available bandwidth per train from 10 Mbps to a minimum of 25 Mbps. The results of the test project will be used to decide if it is both technically and financially feasible to construct a network like this along the 457-mile corridor. Amtrak said the network would close existing coverage gaps along the Northeast Corridor (NEC for those in the know), which would enable Amtrak to drop restrictions on streaming media and large file downloads.
Anyone who saw the season finale of Silicon Valley on HBO knows that this is where the engineers get out the white board and drink too much Red Bull.
“It’s not clear just how it will ultimately work at the technical level, but my guess is that they’ll have Wi-Fi hotspots per car and will feed the train with an RF or wireline connection along its route,” said CIMI Corp. president Tom Nolle. “This connection probably won’t be Wi-Fi, and the stuff they use will handle any roaming so the user won’t see a Wi-Fi change.”
Amtrak defines a trackside wireless broadband network as a “wayside communications system specifically designed and built for use by both conventional and high-speed trains.” To make it work, Amtrak’s background information says base stations located in the right-of-way would be installed in or close to the wayside with antennas oriented to provide continuous coverage along the rail tracks.
The issue with in-train Wi-Fi is that you have to feed it with something. If it is in the train, you need wireless connectivity to feed the hot spots (kind of like the way in flight Wi-Fi works), according to Mike Jude, program manager of Consumer Communications Services at Frost & Sullivan.
“Or you need to provide Wi-Fi access externally, the way Amtrak seems to want to do it. This will be hard. Wi-Fi hot spots don’t currently hand off traffic like cell sites do, so you’re faced with the limitations of Wi-Fi generally — number of users, bandwidth constraints, etc.,” Jude said. “Think of trying to support literally thousands of mobile users along a continuous track a couple of hundred miles long. (e.g., one continuous hot spot along the track) Will it be possible? Well maybe, but I am not sure how well it is going to work.”
If enterprise customers want the convenience of Ethernet everywhere, both retail and wholesale carriers have an opportunity to make that possible. How? By offering both on-net and off-net carrier Ethernet services that can be deployed in a timely fashion today.
Enterprise cloud service adoption, increased mobility and the desire to move away from carrier time-division multiplexing (TDM) services are driving the need for Ethernet access everywhere. But to make end-to-end Ethernet-based wide area network (WAN) services a reality, a lot has to happen in the next year or two. This includes streamlining standardized Carrier Ethernet 2.0 (CE 2.0) service and equipment buying practices, testing and implementing faster multi-carrier deployment with well-understood performance service level agreements.
At a webinar last week, Infonetics Research co-founder Michael Howard projected that customers will pay operators $238 billion for Ethernet services between 2013 and 2017. But the wholesale carrier-to-carrier Ethernet services segment that enables end-to-end Ethernet connections will grow its revenue to about $11 billion by 2017, up from $7 billion now. Infonetics also projects that carrier Ethernet equipment bought by operators will drive $147 billion in spending from this year through 2018.
So what’s holding back the carrier Ethernet market? Metro Ethernet Forum representative Bob Mandeville, president and founder of network testing company Iometrix, said that service providers today sell the majority of carrier Ethernet services to customers whose sites are on the provider’s own network. “This is depriving service providers of additional business they could do by extending their carrier Ethernet services to off-net sites that aren’t on the service provider’s own network.”
To make that connection easier, MEF in 2012 created Carrier Ethernet 2.0 standards, adding the specification to the carrier Ethernet certification program MEF launched for providers and equipment vendors in 2005.
More recently, the organization wrapped up an interconnection standard to help carriers further accelerate their end-to-end carrier Ethernet service.
The goal is to push the idea of both carriers and vendors getting Carrier Ethernet-certified, thus streamlining and shortening the Carrier Ethernet service procurement and testing process. If service providers buy certified CE 2.0 equipment and do business with other carriers for locations they don’t reach with their own networks, the carrier Ethernet service deployment process could go from months to weeks, Mandeville said.
Comcast Director of Product Management and Data Innovation Chris Connor represented both carrier Ethernet buyers and sellers during the discussion. He emphasized that one of the challenges Comcast faces is being able to deliver technically robust Ethernet services quickly enough to meet customers’ internal requirements.
“One of the biggest challenges is the lack of standardization for implementing agreements between the buyer and seller, so each relationship is really kind of customized. That made it difficult for us to deliver a consistent set of services,” he said, adding that it’s been easier to do business since CE 2.0 created standardized ways of doing business.
The certified provider database helps locate providers that can deliver standardized e-access services, so Comcast, now a certified CE 2.0 provider in the United States, knows it can deliver consistent services with a high level of confidence, Connor said. “We can deliver the service quicker than we could in the past, which helps grow revenue faster.”
In a recent survey of MEF-certified professionals, 65% said they expect RFPs to ask about carrier Ethernet 2.0 certification in the next 12 months, as opposed to only 20% now. At the moment, however, only 56 service providers across 22 countries are e-access certified.
“It’s just a matter of time before CE 2.0 is what carriers are asking for. Not everyone is certified now, but it won’t be long before you won’t be able to do business with people unless you’re compliant on the buy and sell sides,” Howard said.
A column in today’s Boston Globe highlights a new mobile app and service, Shopkick, which rewards consumers with points (or “kicks”) for entering, browsing or making purchases at retail stores that partner with Shopkick Inc. Consumers can eventually trade in their points for gift cards, movie tickets, designer jeans and even HDTVs.
Boston Globe tech guru Hiawatha Bray explains:
“One of Shopkick’s coolest features is based on some delightfully geeky technology. Drop in at Best Buy with the Shopkick app running on your phone. Walk through the door and wait for a few seconds. With a happy little jingle, the phone informs you that you’ve gotten 60 kicks just for crossing the threshold.
GPS signals usually won’t penetrate buildings, so how does it know where you are? Shopkick has persuaded Best Buy and other merchants to install a network of small speakers that broadcast high-frequency sound, the kind that’s too high-pitched for human ears. I don’t know whether dogs can hear it, but the microphone in a smartphone can pick it up. The sound tells the Shopkick app that you’re inside the local Best Buy, and so you get your reward. You can collect kicks this way once a day, so Shopkick gives users a reason for return visits.”
Shopkick, which is backed by Citigroup, is making deals left and right with not just big box retailers such as Target, Macy’s and Best Buy. But they’re also now offering free installation of their boxes to smaller local merchants, according to GigaOM.
No word on exactly how lucrative these deals with retailers are, but at the risk of sounding obnoxious: We told you so.
As we reported earlier this year, carriers could be delivering–and profiting from–these same kinds of location-based services using WiFi and small cells alongside partnerships with retailers and shopping mall owners.
Contactless mobile wallet services based on near-field communications (NFC) has taken off in two types of geographies:
- Densely-populated markets in Asia, such as Seoul and Tokyo, which benefit from seeing quick ROIs simply due to the sheer volume of transactions.
- Emerging countries throughout Africa and the Middle East where wired infrastructure is scant, so it makes more sense for carriers to enable subscribers to use their smartphones to buy something at a fruit stand in the middle of nowhere than it does to trench fiber out there.
By contrast, service providers in North America have been much more skittish about launching NFC mobile wallet services. The big question mark has been less around the technology itself and more about how to monetize NFC mobile wallet services.
But there’s another unknown that North American carriers must confront: What’s the actual demand?
Well, according to one consumer survey, it’s not pretty.
AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson was selling managed chaos theory in Dallas Wednesday in his keynote speech at the TIA’s “Inside the Network” conference. His kind of chaos theory has nothing to do with applied mathematics, unless it’s projecting wireless data growth in the next five years. And the numbers are big.
His message was that service providers won’t have time for traditional long-term planning and carefully controlled rollouts in the brave new world. So he advocated for the role of managed chaos provider. To back up the predictions, Stephenson cited 8,000% wireless growth since 2007 when the iPhone hit AT&T’s network. His conservative estimate of data traffic growth by 2015 is eight to 10 times what it is now.
To get to managed chaos, Stephenson linked a chain reaction of LTE network deployment to high-def video to tablet adoption to the cloud to cloud storage and finally to new services delivered to anyone just about anywhere. What’s coming at the industry in the next five years will be a different phenomenon than it has ever seen before, Stephenson said. “The next five years are not going to be planned and deliberate. The next five years will be characterized by chaos.”
So when it comes to handling this growth and the need for innovation, Stephenson’s message to the vendor and service provider audience was that he needs more spectrum now, and he needs a tax policy that offers the right incentives for investment in the AT&T and hopefully in the T-Mobile wireless networks, and oh, he needs an AT&T-friendly regulatory environment too.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. He was among friends asking the equipment vendors for help, because if the chaos gets too chaotic, the whole telecom ecosystem will fail together – or something to that effect. And besides, many of those equipment vendors are extremely effective lobbyists when it comes to a having a Washington agenda. This is a time for friends.
Stephenson is pleased that Obama administration (along with the FCC) has identified more wireless broadband spectrum to be released in the future, but indicated that it would be much better if the future were now. With more spectrum, AT&T could better encourage innovation and work with developers who will come up with those unplanned services we can’t imagine yet.
AT&T has already pledged to invest billions in its broadband networks, but Stephenson is willing to throw another $8 billion into LTE networks if it acquires T-Mobile’s spectrum and licenses. It’s a simple request, really. All he needs is a little cooperation.
And so Stephenson laid his wireless “city on a hill” message at the telecom industry’s feet. “I think time will show that when we have large amounts of spectrum and an environment conducive to investment, every facet of the ecosystem will drive the demand for bandwidth in a 10 to 15-year cycle of investment. That’s what we’re in for if we get this environment right.”
We’re all in it together, right?
Only a year ago, mobile network offload solautions were pretty much considered the last resort of a wireless operator that couldn’t manage its bandwidth. Now using Wi-Fi and femtocells for mobile network offload is legit, acccording to a new study by UK-based Juniper Research. Juniper projects that by 2015, 63% of traffic generated by smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices will be offloaded to fixed networks via Wi-Fi and femtocells.
In terms of great big numbers, Juniper report author Nitin Bhas estimates that the annual mobile data traffic offloaded to operators’ fixed networks using Wi-Fi and femtocells will reach almost 9,000 petabytes by 2015, which is more or less equivalent to 11 billion movie downloads (give or take a million here or there). The total mobile data traffic generated by mobile devices is estimated to exceed 14,000 petabytes by 2015.
Wi-Fi currently accounts for more than 98% of offloaded traffic, but Juniper expects femtocell deployment to increase, particularly in NOrth America (which we’re sure makes the Femto Forum happy). Still, Juniper believes Wi-Fi traffic will account for almost 90% of total offloaded data.
Offload technologies will work largely because a high percentage of mobile data consumption occurs while indoors or in a fixed location like a home or or at a hotspot. The report suggests that operators look at offloading solutions as being complementary to their 3G/4G network investments to extend their reach and increase revenues.
In terms of a different kind of offload, Infonetics Research recently released a study that says IP and Ethernet connections will increasingly be deployed to lower the cost of mobile backhaul from cell towers to fixed networks. To that point, 89% of the money spent on mobile backhaul equipment last year was for IP/Ethernet gear.
Infonetics says that almost 1.5 billion mobile subscribers and 1.6 billion mobile broadband subscribers will be added by 2015, growth that will require more base stations, more cell site connections, higher backhaul capacity and new equipment for each cell site connection.
No point looking for the half-empty side in this slice of the market. Maybe take a moment to enjoy.
Just when you thought the buzzards had stopped circling around what’s left of Nortel’s remains, the bankrupt data networking and communications giant announced Monday that Google placed a “stalking horse” bid of $900 million for intellectual property rights to about 6,000 of Nortel’s patents.
Google’s top lawyer claims that Google made the bid for Nortel because it wants its corporate frenemies to stop suing it:
“Some of these lawsuits have been filed by people or companies that have never actually created anything; others are motivated by a desire to block competing products or profit from the success of a rival’s new technology,” wrote Google General Counsel Kent Walker in a blog post today. “But as things stand today, one of a company’s best defenses against this kind of litigation is (ironically) to have a formidable patent portfolio.”
Bloomberg News reminds us of some of the context:
‘Oracle filed a patent and copyright infringement lawsuit against Google last year over its mobile Android software, citing technology gained from the acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc. Apple Inc. (AAPL) filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission last year against HTC Corp. (2498) for alleged patent infringement with its Android-based phones.’
Stalking horse indicates that this is the first of what will probably be many bids for Nortel’s treasure trove of patents, which BetaNews says includes everything “from integral 4G wireless technology to semiconductors, to search and social networking.” The blogosphere has suggested that Google will be up against Apple, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE and potentially even Microsoft.
What’s going on here? Is this just an expensive legal safety cushion for Android and Chrome development? Is it somehow related to Google’s fiber broadband project (for which Kansas City was just announced the first city for deployment)? Or does Google actually intend to start selling data networking gear? The latter is hard to imagine for a number of reasons–not least of which being its embarrassing Nexus One flop.
Chime in with your conspiracy theory in the comments section below or send us an email.
I’m not sure enterprise “corridor warriors” are going to camp outside Best Buy with their Herman Millers to get the first BlackBerry PlayBooks when they go on sale on April 19 — this isn’t a new iPad launch, after all. But the PlayBook tablet buzz is in full swing, and the critiques are piling up. And wireless operators selling them need to be clear on why the PlayBook might appeal to the enteprise buyer beyond traditional BlackBerry IT acceptance.
In short, the PlayBook will definitely not make your BlackBerry smartphone obsolete; you’ll need it for native email, calendar and contacts until a future software update extends those capabilities to the larger PlayBook. That’s vexing to many reviewers, even though the evolving smart device market indicates that having one device for everything is a concept that has gone by the wayside.
But for its particular business-oriented audience, it appears that RIM definitely got the size of the PlayBook right. If the PlayBook is to be used as a business tool (in addition to a personal entertainment device while not on the job), size definitely matters.
Enterprise uses for tablets are just beginning to develop, and will no doubt proliferate in the coming months. According to recent surveys, it is the form factor of the 7-inch PlayBook, not the 9.7-inch iPad, that appears to be perfect for tucking into a coat pocket, back pocket or some other kind of pocket.
Seven-inch tablets are for “corridor warriors,” which, as I understand, are roaming office workers without the wheels of a road warrior. CIMI President Tom Nolle, whom we have already deemed a mobile behaviorist when it comes to tablet use, says these corridor warrior types roam hallways, not highways.
According to Nolle’s enterprise surveys, collaborative processes slow if corridor warriors aren’t routinely at their desks. “It’s not a good assumption that people in the same office can get together, so a 7-inch tablet would give a worker the ability to read and approve a document,” he said.
But tablets may work best for people who are “approvers” rather than “producers,” because approvers have to look at documents, but not necessarily type in a lot of information. Soon we’ll see how the corridor wars play out with enterprise IT PlayBook support.