i3forum convinces five wholesale carriers to share big data

wholesale data i3forum
Image credit: whiteMocca / Shuttterstock.com

ITEM: International voice carriers will soon have a way to make use of each other’s big data that could make the wholesale voice business more data-driven.

At International Telecoms Week 2019 this week, the i3forum announced the launch of a new “comprehensive market database” designed and managed by i3forum members for international voice services. Naturally enough, it’s called i3forum Insights. The database is being built and operated by TeleGeography, while analytics firm Tableau is providing the visualization tools.

The database comprises voice traffic data such as geographic data (i.e. termination type, terminating routes, country and region), traffic and revenue data (wholesale minutes, average length of call, margins, etc) and QoS data (service level, answer-seizure ratio, network-efficiency ratio, roaming support, etc).

The idea is that carriers will upload their data into the database, where it will be anonymized and aggregated. Carriers can use Tableau to compare their data with the larger data pool to gain insights that could inform everything from “business and marketing planning and organizational alignment to routing optimization, pricing and procurement.”


Image credit: i3forum

The database is open to all carriers whether they’re members of i3forum or not, although of course members will get a discount on the annual fee ($31,000 for members, $35,000 for non-members for the first year, after which the fee will go down as more carriers sign up).

The database won’t be available for commercial use until the start of next year – for now, i3forum has been busy trying to get as many “Day 1” carriers signed up as possible. The “Day 1” hook is that carriers that commit now get more say in the design, get to test the beta version (which is scheduled for release in October), and get to actually use the service as soon as it goes live.

In other words, while any carrier can use the database, not all will be able to use it right away. An i3forum Powerpoint deck indicates that after the service launch in 2020, the organization will only add carriers “in batches of two or more in order to protect confidentiality”.

As of May, just five carriers have signed on, though all are heavy hitters: BICS, Orange, PCCW Global, Tata Communications and Telefonica. i3forum says eight more carriers have “expressed interest”.

One interesting caveat is that any carrier who uses the service is required to contribute their own data to the data pool. In fact, i3forum lists a number of prerequisites to access the database, including (among other things):

  • Designating a primary data administrator to work with TeleGeography to submit data and review any erroneous data or abnormalities
  • Submitting a 24-month historical archive of data as part of the onboarding process
  • Maintaining a running list of end-users who require access to the solution
  • Maintaining data anonymity.

If all this sounds a little mundane – “hmmm, carriers discover big data, whoop de doo” – well, okay, fair enough.

But it’s actually kind of a big deal in the sense that it’s encouraging wholesale carriers to share data with their competitors – which goes completely against the traditional culture grain of most wholesale carriers. We’ve seen enough digital transformation case studies from TM Forum to know that just getting telcos to share data within their own departments can be like pulling teeth, let alone letting outsiders get a hold of it.

Granted, it helps that the data submitted to the database is not only anonymized, but 100% confidential. i3forum says participating carriers can’t access or download each other’s specific data, just the scrubbed data from the anonymized data pool.

The use of Tableau is also interesting, because Tableau’s visualization software essentially doubles as a community-building educational tool to show people who have no concept of big data just what kinds of insights that data analytics can produce. It’s intentionally designed to let users noodle around with it, discover all kinds of things they wouldn’t have noticed by staring at an Excel spreadsheet and then share those insights – ideally to the point of kicking down departmental silos, at which point they discover that the more data you put into the database, the more insights you can potentially unlock.

Which sounds like just the sort of thing many wholesale carriers could use. So the fact that this database is being launched at all is a good sign.

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