Open Range moves to LTE using cloud-based billing and CRM
For greenfields, smaller vendors are key enablers to innovation and beating out bigger competitors
While the big guys talk LTE, it’s the greenfields that are moving ahead to do what Tier1 companies encumbered with legacy systems cannot do so readily in terms of building 4G networks. Open Range, for example, is a wireless broadband provider focused on unserved and underserved communities in the United States. The six-year-old company is now in the process of switching from WiMax to LTE with the help of LightSquared, and partners like Zuora and salesforce.com, which are working side by side with each other and the service provider to create a cloud-based architecture for impending and simultaneous deployments in 13 states and 147 communities.
Connected Planet talked to Q Saeed, executive vice president at Open Range
about the pros and cons of being a smaller player relying on cloud-based architecture and newer OSS/BSS technology.
Connected Planet: In terms of growth and scalability, what do you expect for yourselves in the next few years?
Saeed:We are expanding what was the nation’s first 4G LTE wireless network and we expect to cover about 6.8 million people over the next five years now that we have raised $100 million in private equity and closed a loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Utilities Program, thus helping to fulfill the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.
We want to be seen as a “mom and pop” by our customers in terms of personalization of services, but to be a 21st century company in terms of the architecture through which we connect up from CRM through to billing.
Connected Planet: What is this 21st century architecture comprised of?
Saeed: Cloud-based order-to-cash is what we are building, with billing, CRM, and business intelligence that is built around modern, next-gen needs. We need to leapfrog ahead and have the agility to provide products and implement systems quickly rather than wait 12 to 18 month in terms of the planning horizon needed with traditional systems.
Connected Planet: What are the pros and cons of going with a cloud model?
Saeed: Being a greenfield a couple years ago, we needed agility to launch wireless 4G in many states suddenly and simultaneously, so the speed to billing and speed to product, as well as scale, was very important to us. We didn’t want to cut into our capital by going from one small system to another, so we got executive sponsorship from the Zuora CEO right away to dedicate their resources and invest into the telecom vertical, as they wanted to become a serious player as a cloud-based provider in telecom.
The key is how the code in the systems is written, and Zuora has worked side by side with us so that the time to implement is much shorter by getting systems to integrate more readily. With newer APIs for integration, it’s quicker and easier, though by no means is it pain free, as we still had consultants come in to help us with certain aspects.
Connected Planet: What’s the downside of working with newer, smaller players?
Saeed: Well, it can be a double-edged sword in that what you gain in speed and innovation and technology, you risk losing if your partners are learning a new industry. Something like telecom billing is very complicated, so there is going to be a learning curve.
Because the cloud model can enable a real-time feel for services, you have to make sure your systems are integrated so that they synch up at different times of the day. Right now, for example, there is a lot of buzz about usage-based billing, but most systems are not really capable yet of usage-based billing, which will possibly be a necessity in 4G. We have to figure out what usage-based billing means and how it will evolve so we know how to charge—whether per megabyte, or by time, by product, or by service. We need the flexibility to accommodate whatever the answers become.
If you are a parent driving down from the ski slopes in Colorado back into the city and you have three cranky kids in the back of your car, you might be willing to pay $20 for an instant download of the Incredibles, so we want to provide people these types of services. It’s finding the best way to bill for them and then ensuring your systems can accommodate what you decide instantly that is the challenge.
Connected Planet: So how do you plan to do that?
Saeed: We are working with Zuora to build flexibility into the platform, so the billing system does more than just act like a billing processor. You want to make sure the code built into the system gives you the intelligence to see what is being requested by the network so you can understand your subscribers and their usage. That has to be built into the platform with code.
The traditional billers are too big to work with someone like us on coding, and we don’t have an army of IT people to work on this, so we think that working with smaller, motivated players will help us to accomplish these goals. We are also helping them to improve their multi-tenant cloud-based system, which they will want to market to other telcos as well.v
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