A new hope for products in telecom

By Marius Waldum - Head of Product, 2020-08-28

This blog post will cover technology driven products that rely on telecom infrastructure, and not price plans, bundles, or marketing gimmicks. Anyone who has created a product and brought it to market more than once will tell you that it is hard.

The prerequisites for a great product is that:

  1. It is valuable to the user and customer
  2. It is easy enough to use so that the user can actually realise the value
  3. It is feasible to build given the restraints you have on technology, legal, etc.
  4. And on top of that it needs to make sense for your business

Even if you succeed at all of this, you still have to market, sell and support it. I don’t know anyone - nor have I ever heard about any company - that is able to get this right every time.

Remember that one?

Even Apple (with Steve Jobs still at the helm) had their flops. Remember “iTunes Ping”? No? Exactly.

Maybe you’re more into social products, so you bought “Facebook Home”? No I’m not talking about your Facebook wall or anything you see on a screen, but an actual screen produced by Facebook that you place in your home as you would a framed photo.

Well, those products were bold bets. A tech giant launching a smartphone wouldn’t be that risky, would it? Pull out your Amazon Fire Phone and Google it! Ah.. that’s right! That one got discontinued just 13 months after launch.

Oh the pain!

It’s never fun to see a product fail. When it happens, not only do the customers miss out on something potentially great, but it can end in billion dollar write offs and laying off thousands of employees.

Operators are often hit hard by these failures, but companies like Apple, Facebook, Amazon and many others can have product flops regularly and still grow and become even more successful. Why is that?

Learning from failure

It’s easy to make fun of big companies that launch products that flop, but we really shouldn’t. Products that flop aren’t a symptom of something that’s wrong. Like Edison put it “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Companies like Apple, Facebook and Amazon have figured out how they can continue to find 10,000 ways that won’t work so that they can create that one light bulb every now and then - and by doing so totally dominate their market.

They do this by empowering teams to

  1. Assess new opportunities
  2. Discover new products
  3. Build quickly
  4. Test and learn early

This is how 10,000 small bets are made.

Failing to learn

Big traditional companies used to pour tens of millions of dollars into 1 big bet with a few years apart. This is the opposite of Edison’s approach. They never say it out loud but their quote could have been “I have failed, and I’m still clueless whether the other 9,999 ways could have worked”.

These days though, most big traditional companies have moved away from the “1 big bet approach” and created “digital departments”.

They hire people who have had success in companies that make many small bets, and they give them the freedom to organize themselves so that they can use the same methods. Some time goes by and there are few - or no - small bets placed.

Often the teams in these digital departments are empowered to:

  1. Assess new opportunities
  2. Discover new products

But the technology fundamentals are not in place yet, so they are not able to:

  1. Build quickly

Which makes it impossible to:

  1. Test and learn early

This is especially true for companies with systems that rely on telecom operators. A company that wants access to, or change part of, a solution that has to do with telecommunication has to contact their operators, then the operator typically has to contact their vendor, then the vendor typically creates a change request ticket in their system, and then finally they get back with a fix.

Adding that long wait to what should have been “built quickly” is exactly how they go from many small bets to 1 big bet.

Giving up

The end result, be it from the 1 big bet approach or a failed digital department, is that the big company decides to “get back to basics”, “stick with what they know”, and “strengthen the core business” - meaning that they have entirely given up trying to create new products that people love.

The customers miss out on great new products, employees leave, and the business suffers.

A new hope

Our company got started because of this pain. Getting access to a mobile core network to create even small products is hard.

If you are lucky enough to actually get access, what you will see is a closed, uniquely configured core network built on top of nodes from external vendors. Add to the mix that you need people who actually know how to build anything on top of old telecom protocols and you have a perfect storm. If you have all of this and somehow are able to build a successful product, guess what? It doesn’t scale to any other operator because they also have their own uniquely configured core network. And the privilege of getting access is reserved for employees and an exclusive list of vendors. If you are an independent product company who wants to build something cool you can forget about it!

This is why we built a mobile core network from scratch on top of AWS. Long story short this means that every operator using our core can use any product that is built with the wgtwo developer portal.

We believe that subscribers will start to expect that they can add a range of valuable products to their subscription. This means going from a world where everyone gets the same standardized service from their operator - to a world where subscribers are treated as individuals who are free to activate the products that they want.

The way we do this is by enabling 3rd party developers (you!) to create products, and matching these products with operators so that the products are brought to the market for subscribers to enjoy.

In short, with the wgtwo developer portal, it is possible to build quickly, so you can test and learn early, making it possible to reduce the size of your bets, and increasing the chance of building great products that people love!

Try it out and join us

We hope to get your feedback so that we can keep our bets small, and keep learning!

Want to read about the first product we created, and how you can do the same using the developer portal? Check out my teammate David’s post on Building software for a telecom core network.

Join us at TADHack remotely or at one of our locations in Trondheim or Stockholm on October 10 and 11. It’s completely free, and you will get to play around with our APIs, meet some cool people, eat, drink and have fun. Hope to see you there!

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