From switchboards to motherboards: The evolution of telecommunications

Industry Marketing Manager - Communications, IBM

Let me begin with a story from my childhood. I grew up in India and, back in the early 80s, when Indian telecoms did not have a direct dial for international calls. My family used to call my uncle who was studying at M. I. T. and the call process was fairly complicated: we would call an international operator from our landline in India, provide my uncle's phone number to the operator and the operator would then call us back (typically after 20 minutes to half an hour) when they had called up my uncle in United States and had him waiting on the line. That was my first experience with a switchboard and I always wondered: why can’t I pick up the phone and call my uncle direct rather than going through an operator? I always felt the operator provided very little value (aside from connecting the call manually between international and local calling circuits in India), and also I believed this job could be automated by machines; in just a few years, it was!

Communications service providers are at a similar crossroads with the rapid advent of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, four over the top (OTT) providers that drive massive data volume over existing network infrastructure owned by service providers. If you look at what you do currently on your smartphone, whether it’s looking up directions with Google Maps or finding the best restaurant to eat at using Yelp, Zagat or Zomato, the bulk of the value of that interaction is captured by the mobile app or site provider, while the communications service provider (CSP) is simply providing transport of the data, often at rapidly reducing price per megabyte. CSPs simply can’t continue to be passive switchboards of this data ecosystem; they must figure out how to become active participants and beneficiaries, the motherboards of mobile data eco-system to compete and thrive in the new world order.


So, how does a CSP tap into immense value of customer data going through their networks? How do they leverage every customer interaction—at the call center, at store or online—to build a comprehensive picture of subscriber lifestyle preferences and needs, and drive highly effective marketing campaigns? Service providers have a unique advantage over Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and other OTT providers: they know where the subscriber is and what the subscriber is doing with their mobile devices (such as smartphones, tablets and laptops) at all times. Each OTT provider (for example Google or Facebook) only has a piece of the total picture while service providers have the big picture.

Service providers can drive highly targeted mobile offers based on real-time location tracking, subscriber usage and behavior monetization. Watch this video to learn more about big data and big opportunities for CSPs.

Service providers can also analyze customer experience data to identify and resolve customer issues, reduce churn, define new offerings to increase revenue and reduce costs to improve profit margins. Walk through this customer journey map for telecommunications to experience the full cycle.