Ever since the invention of the telephone, testing and data management have been crucial for success – from the engineers who made sure circuits worked for the first phone calls, through to the complex systems deployed in 3G networks today.

The telecommunications industry is now on the edge of a revolution that will see sophisticated data manipulation and reporting techniques applied to every aspect of telecom companies’ business – from relationships with individual subscribers through to large corporate accounts, and management of the network itself.

The implications of this revolution are every bit as significant as the first GSM text message sent by Motorola engineers in 1992, or the first satellite phone call in the 1960s. And just like those earlier breakthroughs, we have yet to fully realise what improving data collection and management will mean for the telecoms industry as a whole.

Mobile network operators have performed brilliantly in selling the advantages of mobile telecoms to the public, so much so that there will soon be more mobile devices in many European countries than there are people. These devices possess true 21st-century sophistication, with the capability to download e-mail, voicemail and data services such as presentations, video clips and internet access.

Traditional voice services look Neanderthal next to today’s super-capable devices, with network statistics from all providers suggesting an increasing take-up of new services as consumers become familiar with the power and range of their mobile phones and PDAs.

So far, so good. But now the industry must satisfy and retain its increasingly sophisticated customer base. If today’s average customer expects to be able to make voice calls, send text messages and perhaps to access e-mails via their mobile device, then the average customer 10 years hence will expect to be able to deal in their share portfolio with 100 per cent accuracy over the network; to videoconference with their families from 8,000 miles away, and to edit sales presentations and send them to customers with fully encrypted security.

Technically, today’s devices can cope with all of these functions in terms of processing power and memory capacity. Now certainty, security and speed – the qualities that will enable commercial transactions across the mobile network – are coming into focus. The integrity of data transfer between mobile devices and the network must come as close as possible to broadband internet’s standards if consumers are to realise their mobile devices’ potential. What’s more, both consumers and the organisations that deal with them – from stockbrokers through to mortgage lenders, insurance companies and e-commerce outfits – will expect 100 per cent security of transaction and processing. They will also expect these services to be delivered quickly and efficiently, just as they are today over broadband connections.

The key to delivering services more quickly and with 100 per cent security is innovative data management. Whereas at one stage good data management meant a green light on all network operations systems, and the knowledge that a service could be provided, now it will mean constant measurement of the quality of delivered services – right down to the level of service received by an individual handset, anywhere on the network.

The concept of service in the telecommunications industry is shifting from servicing and managing a network to managing the experience of individual customers and groups of customers.

The benefits of this customer-centric service management model are immense. Consumers will be able to access and send encrypted data across the mobile network, enabling a wide range of financial and other services in a completely secure environment. Telecommunications operators will be able to increase the amount of time people spend on their network as the range of uses for mobile devices widens – and increase their revenues and profitability in the process. Finally, the companies offering services across the network to consumers will also see their revenues soar. Better data management will enable the telecommunications network for e-commerce and could be the second phase in the e-commerce revolution that began six years ago with the provision of faster, safer internet access by ISP’s.

Customer-centric service management will mean that problems experienced in the delivery of services to an individual handset can be resolved quickly and effectively. Large corporate customers for mobile telephony could see how their subscribed services are being used, by location, handset and service, as well as having access to accurate measurements on network performance that will demonstrate the value for money they are receiving from their network service providers.

As telecom service providers implement advanced data management techniques, the effect will be even wider take-up of mobile services than we have seen in the 25-year history of mobile communications. What was once a means of staying in touch will become a bank, a shopping mall and an office – all held in your pocket.

New and more sophisticated data management techniques will enable this, helping telecom service providers and their customers to access faster and more secure operations across the mobile network, as well as allowing for better reporting and management of faults.

Despite all that we have seen so far, and all that is remarkable in today’s telecommunications industry, there can be no doubt that the best is yet to come.

Tom White is UK Managing Director of Agilent Technologies

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