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IBM tries to break into mobile operators' back rooms

Unseen, but profitable

IBM wants to get into operator's back rooms, leaving the public-facing, stuff to HP and its ilk, and has opened a new research centre specifically aimed at mobile operators.

The new centre is based in Littleton, Massachusetts, where IBM already has a huge R&D campus employing 3,400 people. The idea is to create more software for the intelligent, IP-based, networks to which all operators are migrating.

Mobile network operators, particularly those coming from a telephony background, have enormously complicated infrastructure that has grown organically with new systems strapped on to supply new services. The last big challenge was updating the billing systems to get some revenue out of all those services, but now operators want to shift to IP-based networks to enable more-flexible (and cheaper) infrastructure that will play nicely with VoIP networks and enable a whole range of new services.

4G networks are inherently IP based, and moving to an all-IP core offers operators distinct advantages including the ability to provide a wider variety of services as well as reducing the cost of supplying them.

Which is why IBM is taking such an interest: putting resources into developing systems for power conservation, and network management to handle the seemingly-endless increases in data traffic, while pushing out the message that it's ready to provide the full range of back-end services to operators.

Not that IBM is alone in finding ways to help mobile operators usher in the next generation of telephony. BT has been in this market since its inception and recently announced wholesale integration with VoIP on a pre-paid basis, for the network operator whose credit rating isn't what it should be.

IBM's plan is to create new applications, at the research campus, and use those as a unique selling point into mobile operators. That all sounds reasonable, but those applications are going to have to be very compelling if IBM is going to get a decent foot in the door. ®

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