The Carrier Consortium, Reloaded

B. Washburn
B. Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • The ngena alliance promises to unite 20-30 network providers worldwide, to begin offering a single source for global/local services empowered with SDN, virtualization and orchestration in 2017.
  • Just like Airbnb isn’t Marriott and Uber isn’t a taxi fleet, enterprises using ngena may see a tradeoff between local variety vs. global operators’ unified customer experience.

One of the big news items to hit from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week didn’t have anything to do with mobility. U.S.-based service provider CenturyLink, Europe-based Deutsche Telekom, Korea’s SK Telecom and India-based Reliance Jio have teamed to become wholesale suppliers to a startup company called ‘ngena,’ short for ‘Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance.’ The startup is based in Germany and intends to sign 20-30 providers to the alliance. Presumably, the members will be companies with a strong national or regional presence, but which lack the reach and clout to match the largest global network operators.

For those of us who’ve been in the business for a while, ngena brings back memories of the 1990s. Back in the day, Sprint, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom formed Global One; AT&T, along with KDDI and SingTel, led the WorldPartners program, and teamed with Unisource (KPN, Swisscom and Telia); BT and MCI paired up to form Concert. Later, Concert instead became an AT&T-BT joint venture, while Unisource departed for Infonet, which had its own global alliance of members. There was a lot of shuffling going on in network provider bids, to claim the broadest global footprint and local expertise.

The days of big global carrier consortia came to a quick end. France Telecom inherited Global One, one of the precursors that formed today’s Orange Business Services. BT absorbed Infonet. In other cases, members went their separate ways. There are still group efforts in enterprise services, but they more focused: geographically like ACASIA, or project-oriented like new submarine cable routes.

The ngena story has some new twists. The startup was established as a standalone organization with no network assets. It exists as a wholesale broker for member services through automation/APIs and orchestration, letting its members draw on SDN-based services available across the alliance. To make sure all services are standardized and compatible, ngena’s charter appoints vendor Cisco Systems as technology lead for the venture and mandatory technology partner for its members; ngena makes reference to using Cisco Intercloud.

What does all this mean for enterprises? First, the ngena model could be a serious global-to-local alternative for MNCs. History shows that with the right chemistry, network operators can team for high-quality services. History also shows that what business opportunity brings together, corporate politics and economic shakeups can tear apart. But, that part shouldn’t worry enterprises: while there might be public drama to a consortium divorce, history shows services operating behind the scenes are not disrupted.

What does give pause, however, is how ngena members might cope when members are affected by something outside its scope. Orange Business Services, Telefonica and AT&T executives, among others, have shared over the years their ceaseless efforts to align people, systems and processes to create a consistent customer experience worldwide. The alliance can unite under a single service interface and technology stack, but in the end, there are still 20-30 different companies behind the technology stack, each of them with their own corporate initiatives and objectives.

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