I’ve been thinking a lot about Burger King lately.
It was that something David Hughes, vice president of engineering for PCCW Global, said a couple of weeks ago at the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) event in Washington. He said it’s time for telecom network providers to move to the “Burger King” model — as in, “Have it your way.”
If you think about it, this just about sums up decades of frustration that customers have had with global service providers. The telecom industry is used to setting its own rules, letting you know how you’re going to get it. They will tell the customer how the network’s going to work and they will tell you what it’s going to cost. This is very different from the paradigms that have emerged in the rest of digital consumer society. Think about the plethora of options that consumers have for commerce platforms or cloud services — they are nearly infinite. You go out and get whatever you want when you want it, and it often comes in a neat, customized portal built just for you.
When are the telecoms going to change? People have been waiting for the catalyst to move to a much more flexible infrastructure — the vaunted software-defined networking (SDN) model. The catalyst will be the Burger King model. The reason that SDN has been slow to develop is because the service providers have more risk than reward at this point.
This is why the Burger King model is so important: It’s about customer demand spurring change. They need to start asking for what they want, when they want it. This is coming to telecom land.
The monolithic service provider model of the past, originating in nationalized service providers and Ma Bell, was that you conceived a product, you built a network, and then you offered the service. Nobody ever thought about the customer asking for a new service first. The product ideas came from suits inside the shiny glass buildings, not the customers. A company bought a T-1 because it was the standard offering.
Now, the world is completely different. Cloud services are flexible and popping up nearly every day. Customers are starting to demand a more flexible, customized wide area network (WAN) connection in the cloud. The beauty of Internet Protocol (IP) is that it’s a completely fungible, customizable thing.
You can have it your way. Look at Skype, a communications dream for the end users: Contact anybody you want in the world, basically for free. Want to record the conversation in digital form? Then press a button. These types of Internet-borne communications applications did not originate at AT&T or Verizon.
The cloud model is only just getting started in communications, and it’s likely to follow the path that enterprise software has followed. In enterprise software, the customers were sick of managing a huge installed software platform. Salesforce came along offering something that was cheap, mobile, and scaled with your needs. What about e-commerce? The model there is also flexibility and customization.
The customer gets to set its own priorities and design them on the fly — that’s the biggest revolution from the Internet.
I think this change is coming in telecom. The new buzzwords in the telecom industry are about provisioning and orchestration. Just like in cloud services, the ideal is that a customer goes online, signs up, and provisions a service how they want it and when they want it. Service providers are finally realizing that that’s as good for themselves as it is for the customer: It’s self-service.
It’s likely to be the Burger King model that pushes the service providers forward, just as surging demand for cloud applications forced data-center providers to rethink their architecture.