IT Expo 2019 Recap: Building a Next-Gen Carrier

I attended IT Expo this year, and while I was there, I was able to sit in on the panel discussion DIY: Building a Next-Gen Carrier. SkySwitch’s Founder and President, Eric Hernaez, was a panelist in this discussion that brought to light interesting things carriers are currently doing, what we can expect to see in the future and what differentiates a successful carrier from one that isn’t.

 

The moderator of the panel was Peter Radizeski, President of RAD-INFO, and the other panelists speaking that day included McClain Roth, Director of Sales at Telnyx, Tom Phelan, CTO & VP of Technology at Unified Office, and Jason Byrne, VP of Product and Marketing at netsapiens.

 

Key Takeaways From the Discussion

Although only 45-minutes, the discussion was packed with valuable insights that I’d like to relay back to you. Here is a brief overview with my key takeaways from the discussion:

  • Automating the porting experience is huge and thought to become an increasingly powerful tool for MSPs to grow their business.
  • Voice control is something we need to embrace, primarily because there’s great prioritization in user experience. Carriers will win based on an overall user and customer experience they provide, which centers around functions that enhance ease of use, like voice control and zero-touch provisioning.
  • Robocalling is a huge issue and security concerns will drive innovation towards finding a better solution. The best solutions for enterprise at the time are databases and services like Nomorobo.
  • Service delivery will separate the successful and unsuccessful UCaaS providers. This doesn’t just apply to initial tasks like porting, but also in clear communication about next steps, discussions with users about features and more.
  • Tying different systems together with APIs and automation are the biggest trends we’ll see with leading carriers.
  • On the topic of phone numbers, we are seeing a slow, gradual shift away from it and instead, towards other unique identifiers.

 

What Are Carriers Doing Now That’s Cool?

Radizeski opened the discussion with this question.

 

McClain Roth said, “I think one of the things that carriers are doing right now, which is pretty cool and sexy, is finding ways to turn the porting experience into its own digitized, automated process that you can kinda off-load onto your customers. Actually giving your customers the ability to upload their own invoices, upload their own LOAs, activate their own ports, trigger their own activations. I think that is something that as we get a little better, especially with some of the new regulations around local number portability becoming national number portability, is gonna get more and more powerful for MSPs to grow their businesses and avoid what is usually the biggest pain point in growing revenue.”

 

He explained that bringing in new numbers is at the core of growing your business revenue, which inevitably means going through porting. By automating the process, it doesn’t just make life easier for the carrier, but it also enhances the end user’s experience.

 

Eric Hernaez answered the question by speaking about APIs being huge when it comes to the next generation of carrier. Hernaez said, “You really have to look at Twilio, who has a lot of momentum and a lot of buzz about what they’re doing as sort of the next-generation of carrier. It’s all about APIs, being able to tie different systems together and pretty much automating all the things that used to have to be manual processes. So, that’s happening and we see almost every carrier to varying levels of success or degree going down that same road.”

 

Tom Phelan agreed with looking to Twilio as being a big player. He added, “I think there’s a big shift towards workstream collaboration, like file-sharing, conferencing, contact center…there’s a shift towards additional feature sets – just to touch on the Twilio aspect. Applications are coming on strong and 5G is coming. That’s going to enable them and start to drive a lot more innovation in our space, away from this traditional phone service that we know.”

 

It’s All About Building a Better User-Experience

Peter Radizeski moved forward with how other products and services, like Amazon Alexa and Workplace by Facebook, are becoming increasingly popular. He posed the question of how this increased popularity might affect how carriers operate in their own space – especially since these new services are tremendously user-friendly and have the advantage of familiarity most users are already accustomed to (ie Facebook).   

 

In response, McClain Roth said, “I think one of the things that carriers are doing, and to Eric’s point, what Twilio kind of brought to the forefront is being more than just the transit layer or the IP layer, and trying to actually get into this application layer.”

 

Adding onto that point, Eric Hernaez said, “As APIs become more prevalent, anybody could be able to create an Alexa app that interacts with the phone system. At SkySwitch, we created an Alexa app two years ago that lets customers of our resellers place a phone call using their PBX account. And I’ve seen that many times since then with other carriers. But even beyond that, things like checking your bill or the status of your account…it’s starting to happen on the user-interface side when you’re talking about carriers that deal with end users.”

User-Adoption is a Hurdle We Face With UX Innovation

There was a lot of talk about innovation, and of course, this means there are inevitable hurdles to be faced. Radizeski brought up the difficulties that arise with user adoption. Whether it’s not getting proper training or feeling upset about having to relearn new processes, getting end users to the point of becoming familiar with and actually adopting new technology can be a struggle.

 

For example, Business SMS is huge and it’s been proven that the majority of consumers (those with, statistically, the greatest buying power), prefer this method of communication. Some businesses are hesitant to onboard this technology into their own marketing and communications strategy. This isn’t an issue of how readily available or attainable this technology is, but rather, how open users are to adopting these new methods.

 

There isn’t a clear-cut answer for this issue, other than it simply takes time. Eric Hernaez explained, “It’s all a matter of somebody getting to critical mass.”

 

We May See a Shift in the Traditional Phone Number

While discussing the struggle towards user adoption, the topic of phone numbers shifting towards unique identifiers that are separate from the PSTN was brought up.

 

Although users prefer to pick out names in their contacts list, at the end of the day, the phone call process is still all about the phone number. Jason Byrne said that it’s all about the phone numbers (although he doesn’t know why it still is) and that’s where the carriers have the power right now.

 

McClain Roth chipped in and stated that it’s comical even though we could move away from phone numbers right now, there’s a huge challenge in getting there. He backed up his statement with observations of how modern society communicates, using Apple as an example. Everyone who has an iPhone now doesn’t actually communicate via text message, but instead, with iMessage. iMessage is conducted over the digital internet protocol, completely eliminating the carrier altogether. Now it’s iPhone that has the information about what and who users messaging – not the carrier.

 

And then, Eric Hernaez elaborated with an idea that truly encapsulates how the carrier landscape is changing. Hernaez said, “The intent of this session is, ‘What is a carrier?’ I would say that Apple’s a carrier. The fact that they can communicate completely apart from the PSTN but still allow people to achieve their goal – which is to talk to mom, sister, whoever – that is the next-generation carrier.”

 

He built on this point and said, “You don’t have to be part of the telephone network to make that happen. What you need is the eyeballs, right? You need the critical mass, you need enough people who want to use your network to communicate that way to make it happen. It’s happening with Facetime and iMessage, but it’s happening in other places too, like apps such as WhatsApp and Viber. Different communities around the world really rely on these things instead of sending SMS messages or making phone calls. So, again, once these communities reach a critical mass and people would rather do it that way than the old way, I think you’ll start to see the shift.”

One of the Most Hated Nuisances of the Year: Robocalling

Towards the end of the discussion, the audience had questions about Robocalling. It was expressed that robocalls are now reaching into offices at the workplace and are become totally unmanageable.

 

Eric Hernaez explained, “There is a technical proposal for verifying that whoever is calling owns that phone number – it’s called stir shaken- and how that makes it through into the real world is still unknown. Unfortunately, the best that there is right now are services like Nomorobo and other databases that will allow you to check a phone number. Much as the same way you can do a CNAM dip to find a caller’s name, it will look at the database and say ‘is this a robocall’, and then you can divert a call or do something different with it, like put spam on it.”

 

The audience was concerned about the options made available for enterprise, and Eric spoke about the solution that SkySwitch made available for the enterprise early this year.

 

And although services such as Nomorobo are the best solutions out there at this time, it was explained that this is not yet a complete solution. The downside to these services is that robocallers will pick a valid phone number, which as an example, could be a business two doors down from yours. But once that number gets blocked, that means the next time the actual business two doors down tries to call you, it will be identified as spam.

 

We don’t know how or when a real solution will be developed, but security concerns will certainly drive innovation in the field.