The Maker Network: The Potential and Perils of Building Block Marketing

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich

There’s been a lot made of the ‘maker movement’ over the past few years. Combining technology and a do-it-yourself ethos, ‘Maker Faires’ have popped up all over the world, fueled by advancements in software development, robotics, and 3D printing. For anyone upset by rampant consumerism, the maker economy is a cause for hope.

But, does it have any place in a telco network?

On some level, the answer has always been ‘yes.’ Vendors and carriers alike pull together network solutions from disparate components and disparate suppliers. Yet, recent messaging from vendors suggests that we’ll see a good deal of maker-ism injected into Mobile World Congress this year. Consider a few of the launches that have already taken place.

  • Ericsson Radio System. Billed as an “innovative modular system,” the new product family consists of diverse building blocks – baseband units, radios, power modules, cell site routers, backhaul links – aimed at speeding deployments and tailoring the RAN to an operator’s needs.
  • ALU 9926 eNodeB. While lacking the breadth of Ericsson’s ‘system,’ a combination of two baseband units and a ‘radio platform’ supporting multiple bands and integrated or standalone antennas carries with it a similar build-to-suit theme.
  • Nokia’s Telco Cloud. Over the course of a few days, Nokia Networks announced a spate of diverse launches, including OSS and CEM delivered from the cloud (sold as software, as a service, or as a solution) and the Nokia Radio Cloud featuring a “layered approach with different deployment models to optimize performance.”

To call any of these do-it-yourself propositions is obviously a bit of an exaggeration; none of them assumes a ‘build your own network’ strategy. Still, you get the idea. In the name of architectural flexibility, vendors are serving up solutions which might be delivered on an end-to-end basis, but don’t need to be. In some instances, this type of positioning should resonate with service providers: instances when the technology is mature and understood well enough where operators know their needs and pulling together disparate components isn’t that risky. Think the radio access network. In other instances, it’s going to be a tougher message to sell. Think newer technology shifts like telco cloud migrations. Sure, an operator could pull together myriad vendors (or components from one vendor) into a SDN or NFV migration, but the natural tendency for many operators may be to rely on clearly architected, end-to-end solutions until telco cloud requirements and capabilities are better understood. You need to walk before you run, right?

Of course, there are two ways to solve for this problem.

One is simply about product positioning vs. sales. Portfolios might be positioned as modular or multi-layered, but that doesn’t mean they can’t (or shouldn’t) be sold as complete solutions with specified architectures. The other is about services. If portfolio flexibility allows an operator to build solutions perfectly suited to their specific needs, professional services are there to help figure out how to put the puzzle pieces together. In the end, as much as vendors might talk up the value of modularity, it’s this service component which may help to make it sale-able while helping generate additional business consulting, network planning, and integration revenues in the process.

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