Here’s to Open Gardens

Here’s to Open Gardens

08 July 2020 | João Marques Lima

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Louisa Gregory, CEO of the Communications Business Automation Network (CBAN), tells João Marques Lima why the current time brings a rare opportunity for the industry to shape its future

For thousands of years the walled garden has been a space where barriers coexist with nature. But, over the last few years, the concept has taken on a new meaning.

A walled garden, or closed ecosystem, is a software system wherein the carrier or service provider controls the whole asset portfolio, from applications to content. And that portfolio is only accessible by those approved by the operator.

Bringing down walls — or fostering the emergence of lets call it, open gardens — has been the call for action across the industry, and this year is no different. What is unique, however, is the sort of initiatives that are coming to light, such as the Communications Business Automation Network (CBAN).

“CBAN presents the opportunity for industry players to make history and to have a say in what standards will look like, the settlement in that in the future,” says CEO Louisa Gregory. “And in history that just doesn’t happen very often.”

Briefly, the CBAN’s mission is to ensure industry-wide adoption of trusted and automated real-time operation and commercial settlement of traffic among ICT Service Providers (ICT-SP), for any type of transacted network value.

It was created and launched in early 2020 by the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF) which claims the platform to be ICT’s first major project focusing on automation of operational and commercial settlement.

Open source by nature with a side of blockchain, CBAN was started from scratch with an interoperable business mind-set, open to all.
Gregory explains: “The challenge that the industry has had is what we call ‘walled gardens’, where you end up with a solution that becomes proprietary to somebody, and therefore, you have to have different solutions when I’m transacting with PCCW compared to Telefonica, for example.

“It just gets really complex. And that’s how we end up with manual processes. The whole point of CBAN is to make sure it’s interoperable, that it’s the same standard, that everybody can contribute to the development, that it’s accessible, that it can be implemented and adopted everywhere.”

Inter-carrier transactions rely on a mix of automated and manual processes, the latter of which can be complex, expensive and time sensitive. It relies on human intervention and is prone to manual error, slow dispute resolution, long payment cycles and exposure to fraud.

Existing frameworks are slow to adopt and support emerging traffic types, such as bandwidth on demand, edge network slices or critical IoT, on which future digital services growth will be based. The evolution of an operational and commercial settlement infrastructure at the wholesale level is critical to underpin network innovation.

By creating a standardised approach for automated, real-time, trusted settlement of traffic between any two ICT-SPs the CBAN claims it will accelerate the development of next generation network services while ensuring that the principle of ubiquitous interoperability — which has been critical in driving the proliferation of telephony services and internet globally over the past decades — sustains into the future.

The CBAN will play three roles fundamental to the development of this approach. First, it will govern the selection and adoption of technological standards and certify Technology Provider solutions to guarantee interoperable settlement of traffic for all ICT-SPs in the CBAN ecosystem.

Secondly, it will maintain membership registry, govern and oversee the CBAN network, which will be operated by the members. And thirdly, it will coordinate the collaborative development of the CBAN architecture and services.

“One of the things that is really unique about CBAN is that never before in our industry have we seen carriers and technology developers work side by side to co-develop architecture, reference and standards in this way,” shares Gregory.

“If you think about, particularly the technology development community, these are companies that compete against each other in the normal day-to-day of things.”

ICT providers with CBAN membership include Telekom Austria Group, AT&T, Business Telecommunications Services (BTS), Colt, T-Mobile, IDT, Orange, PCCW Global, Sparkle, Tata Communications, Telefonica, Telstra and Verizon.

As for technology providers, the list comprises Amartus, Clear, Consensys, CSG, Difitek, IMC, ORBS, R3, Subex, Syniverse and Tomia.
“Surprisingly, their biggest challenge has been the coordination across time zones,” says Gregory. “How do we bring the right people into the room at the same time? That fundamentally has been the biggest challenge.

“The technology developers are really excited about this because it helps create an ecosystem for them to sell their product into. Not only can they walk away with having contributed to the development of this standard, it can then be eventually certified as delivering it so that it becomes a trusted system and they can then take that solution to anyone within the ecosystem.”

So how does one become a member of the CBAN? According to Gregory, the process is simple, speedy, and members can quickly gain access and help build the future.

“They [prospective joiners] don’t have to be part of GLF. That’s partly why we spun out CBAN as its own separate entity, because the GLF has a defined number of board seats that it holds. Whereas CBAN doesn’t. And there’s certainly been a lot of interest.

“Whilst we’ve had 11 committed members to the process so far, I’m already having conversations with other carriers who haven’t been a part of it up until now, who are interested in getting involved because we’re all grappling with this issue of automation and being able to get input into what it looks like, shape it. Particularly for a lot of the Tier 1 carriers to make a living with the consequences of that down the track.

Gregory says that becoming a member is “really simple”: they just need to become a member of CBAN. For 2020 there is an annual membership fee of US$$20,000, which gives a seat on the board and access to all of development input and members of the working groups.

When asked about future membership numbers, Gregory keeps it straight forward, saying that if CBAN could have anywhere between 30 to 35 members by the end of 2020, “that would be a great outcome for us”.
She explains those numbers by saying that when taking into consideration the entire universe of carriers or ICT service providers, it’s a sizeable share.

“We expect to have products in production by the end of this year, so 2021 would be the year when you would start to see some more exponential growth as carriers start to adopt some of the standards that we are setting.”