In recent discussions with colleagues, the topic of convergence came up. Years ago, Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) would have dominated such discussions as the prospect of seamless connectivity across wireless and wireline (i.e. convergent) networks excited experts and enthusiasts alike. Today, a discussion around convergence is typically about the telecoms world getting closer to the IT world, for example in the context of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).
For some, this is as natural as the evolution of unrelated species living in similar environments (known in biology as ‘convergent evolution’). Others believe that the ‘convergence’ term is potentially misleading as the telecoms world is simply borrowing successful IT ideas for service provision, operational efficiency and cost reduction. Also, unlike species such as insects and birds (both of which have wings), telecoms and IT should not be treated as totally unrelated entities.
Irrespective of the terminology used, the demarcation lines between the two worlds are becoming less pronounced. Of course, there are differences and challenges to overcome. Some are culture/process related. Some are technical: for example, years of technology standardization, silo-based evolution and hardware specialization have made mobile network operations extremely challenging, while the gap in user expectations – the 5 9s (99.999%) versus best-effort availability – also adds to complexity.
If we focus on Network Service Assurance, it is not clear whether the brave new – physical and virtual network – world will favor specialization over versatility. Some industry experts expect operational teams to comprise individuals with IT/virtualization skills as well as individuals with physical network infrastructure know-how. Other experts favor the multi-skillset scenario with ‘superstar’ individuals (likely to have a telecoms background) managing service quality end-to-end. In either case, there will be a need for Network Service Assurance solutions that are backward-compatible, facilitate automation and can make the most from deploying IT ideas in the complex telecom network environment.
Whatever happens, it is important to keep the end goal in mind. Most customers of Communications Service Providers are not interested in how a service is provided (on 4G/LTE or WiFi, using physical or virtual network resources, etc.) as long as the service meets their expectations. Optimal customer experience is what convergence is really about.