Spearline Podcast Episode 18: Telecoms – Then and now with Ola Budak

 
 
 
 
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The Spearline Podcast
Spearline Podcast Ep. 18 : Telecoms – Then and now with Ola Budak
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In this episode Mike and Kees are delighted to be joined by Ola Budak.

Ola is a Technical solutions architect here in Spearline, she has a wealth of knowledge around all things testing and WebRTC.

We talk to Ola about the future of voice, we reflect back to how things have changed in the telecoms industry over the years, the trend towards WebRTC and we cover the acquisition of TestRTC, the Israeli WebRTC testing company.

Tune in now to catch up with all the latest Spearline news and developments!

Be sure to subscribe for future episodes of the Spearline podcast and you can also listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all your favourite podcast platforms!

For more information, please get in touch with us.

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Transcript of Podcast : 

Kees
So welcome to the podcast Ola. Mike and I are delighted to have you here today.

Ola
Thank you Welcome, everyone.

Kees
So to start with, let’s reflect back. So way back in the day, the telephone used to be a community thing, and was traditionally accessed by going to the post office, then this will be the term today, remember, the telephone became a household thing. And phone numbers were solid as a street address, then they went mobile, the phone number being attached to the person and being carried around everywhere a person goes. So they started out as a big brick, but quickly, they became smaller with greater processing power. And with access to data networks, the mobile phone became the smartphone that we know today. With that data network applications have sprung up to support communications that don’t incur per minute billing. And we’ve all adapted to using apps like WhatsApp with some groups, fibre with orders, etc. So these days younger consumers don’t dial, they use apps, and they may not even know their own phone numbers. So do you both agree that things have changed?

Mike
I would say they have for sure. And, and I’d say I’m the oldest around in this particular group anyway. But I did not necessarily live in the era, but my grandparents would have lived in the area where to make a phone call was to go to the post office or to go to the shop where the kind of local telephone was. But I certainly recall, you know, travelling, and going into the post office to make a phone call back home and let family know that I was safe. You know, and you’d go in and you’d pay your money in advance. And you’d only have so many, you know, minutes or seconds on the call. And you just say I’m fine. Everything’s Well, I don’t need the money, boom. And then you get dialtone. Again, because the car would be terminated. Things have changed an awful lot since then, for sure.

Ola
Yeah, I do agree to I live in Ireland and my family is way in Poland. So previously, we would communicate with each other via phone. But at the moment, you know, it’s all either Skype or any other meeting that we can interact with each other. So yeah, I do agree, everything changed so much. And it’s, you know, evolving very quickly. We don’t know how the communication is going to look like in the next decade, you know, there may be something completely new. Coming up.

Mike
Yeah, yeah, for sure. And it’s changing at a more rapid rate now, you know, potentially than ever before. But I remember when the telephone was in the house, and it was in it still is in many houses, but they’re there, they’re fading as well. But when it was in the house, initially, when I was young anyway, it was it was either plugged into the wall and therefore stuck on a on a kind of corner table in the hallway, or it was kind of hung on the wall, in the kitchen typically or something. And, you know, you you were tethered to that particular spots. So whenever there was a conversation, everybody kind of gathered around that one spot. And then we have the advent of, you know, battery powered cordless phones that you can actually take into a different room for a bit of privacy. And that was a huge technology leap. And then there was suddenly, you know, cheaper phones, and you could have a phone upstairs and a phone downstairs or, you know, multiple phones in the house was a concept that just gave particularly younger people kind of freedom to have that. Okay, I want to go and talk with my friends over in the other room. Now with the smartphone in their hand. Obviously, it’s a completely different world, you know, young people today wouldn’t have been able to cope with you mean that I have to stay here in the kitchen and sit on this particular chair and talk to my friends in the presence of everybody.

Kees
Yeah, i’d say they couldn’t even imagine something like that. No, no, yeah.

Mike
And unfortunately, I think that means the art of conversation is changing. Though a pandemic might have kind of reignited some conversation. So who knows? And definitely the pandemic has changed the way we all have communicated, because we all went into these lockdowns and semi isolation.

Kees
Yeah, definitely, definitely. Since the pandemic started, it has forced the remote working model for many businesses. And there’s been a huge shift from PSTN minutes to device to device communications. And there were multiple dramatic situations such as networks adjusted to changes in demand. And there were situations where faults could not be addressed due to restricted movements for engineers during lockdown and governments quickly prioritise networks as essential. Would you’ve noticed situations like this,

Mike
what we’ve certainly found with with our Spearline, customer community, that networks are essential, absolutely essential, and even businesses that would not have said so two years ago, that that kind of relied on footfall into their premises or whatever. They’re now doing transactions that are remote and they’re engaging with customers over the phone. And not every transaction requires a voice call. But when you’re talking about anything that is high value, or technically complex, or you know it needs a bit of explanation support, you know, absolutely people, people still want to talk to people. So that they can understand that they’re making the right decision, and investing in the right product or the right service. So there’s really, really important that the networks are available, that they’re supporting businesses and what they’re trying to achieve. And they’re connecting them to their their consumer markets.

Ola
Yeah, I agree. And, you know, with with the pandemic, as you mentioned, case, before it came, obviously, suddenly, we knew that, you know, this kind of remote working will become a fact. But it was it was coming in gradually, it wasn’t coming in, you know, at once. But at this time, we all did not have a choice but to adapt to the new situation and kind of new style of leaving new style of communicating. So working from home before it was an option available for some, now it became a fact.

Mike
Yeah. And, you know, I go back years ago to the days of kind of mainframe computing, and water cooled computers, and whatever. In those days, some of the manufacturers actually designed their systems, with the idea that if something failed, there was a backup. So there was redundancy in the design, but they didn’t design those, then. So that, you know, systems were completely available. And there was like belts and braces everywhere. They designed it so that when a service engineer had to go to the site, that service engineer would do five things or six things, they would wait for the number of faults to accumulate, to justify the cost of sending an engineer to the site. In the telecoms world, we’ve built in all of these redundancies and self healing network technologies. Not so we could avoid sending engineers but so that the flow of communications was always kind of there. And as soon as there’s a fault, we would send an engineer to the site to address the problem, or at least at the nearest convenience, depending on you know, the severity of the fault itself and the potential exposure. But it’s always been go and fix it and, you know, fix it as soon as possible. Because there, there is a kind of a natural waterflow fall demand on the telecoms network. And you just can’t wait for faults to accumulate. But with the pandemic and the lockdowns and the lock outs from data centres where all this, you know, fancy telecoms equipment is residing, there were faults accumulating, and that meant capacity was reducing, and there was problems. We certainly saw that in some of the early areas they can in China and Italy, where the the early pandemic stresses were felt, now that I suppose now that there’s a clear recognition, that we’re all reliant on this, and networks are essential. I think that the, the doors are open. And if we are, hopefully, we’re not heading back in any further lockdowns. But if we were to, you know, those those engineers and technicians that have to go and do that work, would be treated with the same respect as our healthcare workers and others. It’s different, but let the same kind of, you know,

Kees
essential, would you see networks ramping up their capacity, so that, you know, if something if another lockdown did happen, there would be more availability?

Mike
Yeah, that’s hard to say, you know, back back during the big tech boom, there had been a lot of capacity build out, this is my estimation, anyway, there’d been a lot of capacity built out on speculation. And when the kind of.com Boom, became the dot bomb. And the market fell kind of asunder. Businesses were very the telecoms businesses were very cautious to over invest in capacity. So they were working their capacity models very, very tightly. And then at the same time transitioning from, you know, older technologies into more IP based core networking. So I would say, there’s a level of cautiousness about over investing. But something in that technology space certainly has to be available to us that that that can shift the demand as we saw demand, went from the big commercial centres and shifted into these residential centres. So people went from the office, where they had to find broadband connection to housing a state where they had their private connection. And that might seem like a big change, but from a physical network delivering services into a place. It changed the demand pattern on all that network equipment. And there was a lot of adjusting that had to take place. So you know, how can we make that that adjustment to be more fluid and more automated, more elegant and less painful? I think there’s some technology changes to be had there, but I think we’ll still see a level of you know, economic concern about over investing in capacity prior to its need.

Kees
Yeah, yeah, and Speaking of demand and capacity, I’m sure the pressure was felt when everyone started using Zoom calls, as everyone seemed to call it, be it for work, or at the weekend with friends. Regardless whether they’re using the zoom app or another one, like Google Hangouts or Skype, the term has become zoom calls. And they’re largely done via computer communications. Would you agree?

Ola
We don’t know what is ahead of us. So you could be right. It may be, you know, everything would rely on computer communications, but there may be something new, you know, there may be something very futuristic. You, like we all are unsure, you know, it’s nearly like, I always laugh because I like science fiction books, and so on. And it often happens that whatever the author was writing about, if it goes about, you know, technology and so on, it’s becoming a true, you know, so so they, they became visionaries, you know, even with Touch, touch parts, and touch screening, and so on, I read it in some of the book, I cannot remember the title now, but now it’s becoming reality, you know?

Mike
Yeah. Do you remember the the Motorola flip phone, so that Motorola flip phone was, you know, the Star Trek communicator, and it became, like, you say, the reality, you know, we had it in our pockets. So I suppose that the next step is maybe the Star Trek badge, where, you know, you kind of just touched on the panel, and they’re talking, but I don’t know, okay, so it’ll be computer to computer communication in the sense that we believe a computer now, but you know, like, we’ve got one in front of us each, but the application specific computing is, you know, maybe that thing in the lapel has all the computing power, like we never, we never dreamed years ago that the smartphone would be there. And if you compare the smartphone to a, an IBM PC, you know, XC or 80 type device, it is far superior. So that smartphone, and all of its power is quite critical. And younger people. You know, as we’ve been saying, Before, younger people don’t really use that as a traditional telephone, you know, the, the Gen Zed, or Gen Xers, whatever they might be, they use it as a communication device through applications, other apps, you know, WhatsApp, Viber, you know, Microsoft messenger, that kind of thing. For an older demographic, they would still use that kind of a phone to, to dial across the network. But the way pricing plans are, and all of that kind of stuff, you know, the more savvy look to, okay, I can get unlimited data, or I’ve got data access via an open Wi Fi network. And I can make all of my calls and have all of my communications in that way for free. So I think it’s gone from going back to the the device that was hung on the kitchen wall, we now have the freedom of a smaller device that fits in our pocket. And take it one step further. The younger demographic is certainly recognising that actually, it’s a device I can fit in my pocket. And rather than that device now being attached to me, the actual communication is now attached to multiple applications, because I’ve got some circle of friends, or hobbyists, or whatever it might be, you know, professional communities that operate out of Viber. And I talked to them via Viber, other ones out of WhatsApp, and I talked to them via WhatsApp. You know, there’s different applications for for different communities of communication. And, you know, I think that’s, that’s an interesting change. Yeah.

Kees
And I suppose it’s similar with, you know, the standard conferencing service providers that are seeing their minutes to PSTN minutes, rapidly convert to IP connections. And that

Mike
was a trend. And I think, as you pointed out, all, certainly that the trends were there for remote working and all of that, and they just accelerated the trends were there in conferencing, weren’t they? And they just accelerated?

Ola
Yes, I do agree and like with with conferencing in general, and I, and I’m pretty sure you would agree with me, too, is loads of service providers would, let’s say offer only outbound from the conferencing breach to the computer. Like it would use only voice connection to the device, rather than, you know, the mobile or PSTN services. So so everything, everything is changing, you know, yeah.

Mike
And it’s probably changing at a greater pace than ever before, which, which is pretty exciting in so many ways,

Ola
because it’s easier to you know, it’s all about the time efficiency, too. If you think about it, if you if you were to call into the meeting, for example, using your phone, you don’t have to grab your phone type in let’s say, if you were doing it manually, not from the app from your device, you have to still you know, enter the form. Then you get the prompt to enter the passcode and you have to do everything manually. While when you’re, you know, joining the meeting directly from the app. We talked You know, having to dial into the meeting it just within the second, you don’t need to do loads of clicks, it’s all about the time to, you know,

Mike
yeah, yeah, it is about the time but also add. So in the simple days of pick up the telephone and dial, your connection was much more complicated in the middle. But at the end points it was you dial your dial, you know, somebody picks up at the other end, and you have a conversation. Whereas for us right now, all three of us are speaking via our respective laptops. And in doing so, like I’ve elected on this occasion, to use a wired microphone, I would often during my business day, use a wireless Bluetooth headset. And and I know that, you know, if I’m walking around and moving within my office space away from my, my laptop, that becomes a factor in terms of my own quality of communication. I know today as well, that, you know, we’re sitting here in Ireland, and our audience hopefully can’t hear the wind howling out around all of us. But we’re in the face of storm bearer at the moment here in Ireland, and it’s one of those what they’re calling a Weather Bomb, which is a huge drop in atmospheric pressure over the course of a few hours, and I believe we’ve also got astronomical tides where the gravitational pull between the Moon and the Sun, the Earth is at its max. So there’s flooding, there’s wind, there’s torrential, and that’s impacting our, our internet services as well. So on a normal day, I would be out my office, which is connected via a microwave internet service. And I’ve chosen now to be in here where I’m in my house, and on a fibre connection. So all of these little decisions, kind of feed into the quality of the conversations that we have. And then obviously, once we get on to the internet, all of our packets need to be joined up into this conversation somehow. And I guess a lot of stuff can go crazy in that middle point, as well.

Ola
And the other thing is, you have the options. So you can choose between them. Where in the past, perhaps you wouldn’t have that options to choose between, you know, whether you’re going to stay in the house and use that type of connection, or whether you can, you know, be in the office and use different type of connection. If you get me

Mike
That’s true. That’s true, we’re spoiled. And I know if everything fails around me, and I was ready to kind of brave the elements, I could drive not too far. And I would pick up on a solid, hopefully on a solid 4g connection. And I could still communicate from a business perspective or private perspective with whoever I needed to. The trend is definitely I think toward device to device, maybe not call it computer to computer kind of communications, but whatever those smarter devices happen to be. And those might be, you know, unique depending on the application. So particularly this time of year, as we face into Christmas couriers have these little, you know, handheld devices, that that scan barcodes and whatever, you know, the Uber style app that has inbuilt communications, you know, could find its way into those devices as well. So that, you know, they’re able to communicate with whoever is the recipient of a parcel. So lots lots of developments that can and probably will happen and a lot of it is now driven via, you know, web RTC. And that RTC the real time communications just kind of emphasises there are kind of unique challenges with any real time application, particularly in a packet environment.

Kees
And I suppose, when you think of contact centres as well, I suppose the traditional support lines, a lot of contact centres do a lot of support over social media and over chat or email, kind of minimising exposure to poor connections at the agents home workplace, which could be a kitchen table for all we know, it seems to be contact service providers, you know, for inbound toll free, that once our dedicated speciality sales teams didn’t know offer inbound as a menu item. So would this be the future for contact centre support?

Mike
I think so. And I think every business probably has its own strategic debate going on about about how to approach Customer Care. I seen businesses that absolutely Shepherd visitors through the website in such a way that they avoid contact with an agent because as soon as you bring an agent into the equation, you know, you’re you’re consuming labour hours, and that costs money whereas customers if they can self help, it’s better. But again, there are certain products you know, if you’re if you’re selling life insurance or or whatever, you know, somebody wants again to have a conversation,

Ola
it sort of hybrid model to and it’s not only you know, via social media, but it all it also this human interaction aspect as well as you can see more and more bots, this AI assistants that are able to, you know, help us that are able to assist the customers.

Mike
That’s a good point. And I think there’s, there’s probably a growing acceptance of those because you know, so many people are used to these home assistants now the series or the Alexa or whatever that that help them play music or look up recipes in the kitchen. And that kind of conversation with a system interface is now being much more warmly welcomed in a customer service process. So if you phone into the bank, and you have a conversation, which is a human like conversation with a system interface, and check your account balance, or get a new credit card, or whatever it might be, it’s very acceptable where that wouldn’t have been a few years ago, and a few years ago, it would have been a very robotic kind of voice experience. And some of those voice bots that are out there right now are very, very impressive.

Kees
Yeah, yeah, it’s interesting, because I was looking at getting a voiceover done for a video recently, and came across a lot of AI voice over technology, text to speech type software. So it’s not fully there yet. But it’s really progressing very quickly. And they’re getting the proper inflections and tones of a voice to make it sound natural. So I think the future will be aI talking to people on support lines.

Mike
Yeah, I suppose that they have to find they have to find a way to make sure that AI isn’t talking to AI or something. And, yes, there’s been little, little episodes where bots have been talking to bots and get conversations.

Kees
But yeah, that seems to be where the future is going. So, you know, if we look forward, it seems one future might be that the smartphone holds a range of applications, each with their own embedded communications,

Mike
I do think that consumers will still want to, and enjoy a conversation with a business at some point. So and we know, certainly that while you point out case that you know, the the inbound services is no longer the specialty area and big business that it once was for contact centre services and all of that it’s still very, very relevant. And 800 numbers are really important. And they give the market a sense of comfort and confidence that okay, this, this is a legitimate business, and I can get through to somebody should I need to, if I decide to make a purchase with them? Yeah, so it’s still there. And look, there’s also we’ve talked about the young generation, and they’re young, and they may not have the spending power, you know, yet that another demographic that’s out there today does. And it’s the older demographic that have perhaps the greater level of spending, and that older demographic are very much grown up with the concept of a phone number. And that concept of a phone number is going to probably go to the grave with all of us. We know what it is, it’s comfortable. Whereas the younger generation, just look at that phone number as a device registration number, they don’t use it to dial one another. If they do, they don’t know about it, because it’s from a phone directory that’s plugged in, you know, when I was young, we used to, but actually, my parents would aggrieved into me, you know, memorise this phone number, because if you’re ever lost or found in you need to say to somebody, you know, Return to Sender by going to this phone number. You know, we used to remember everybody’s phone numbers.

Kees
Yeah. Because we were just saying, Yeah, you do remember all your friends, everybody that you needed to know, you’d know their phone number off by heart. Yeah, that’s good. No, we

Mike
can’t remember anything anymore. But that, but that’s the that’s the difference. I think the concept of the phone number is still there. And there are businesses who are serving demographics that will cling to the phone number, and they will want to use that. I’ll call it the PSTN network, though the PSTN network is transitioning, isn’t it? It’s it’s kind of blending and blurring with the internet with the advent of sip and ISDN kind of being phased out and the original switched telecoms network be becoming now packet switched. But those those people who want to have that comfortable experience of dialling a number will certainly continue to do that. And there’s a lot of life left in that concept. But in another generation or or two, certainly, that concept of a phone number will, I think change drastically. But also it’ll disappear. But it’ll change.

Kees
Yeah, I agree. Definitely. Which PSTN and IUCN? Would it be a long time before something like that will be phased out? Because I presume there’s still a lot of legacy technology that will still rely on those kind of things. It’s not like it will just be phased out completely straight away

Ola
from the user perspective. Well, you know, we can we can look at it from two different perspective. So it’s going to be provider perspective, that will be you know, offering anything that is not PSTN or ISDN networks, but from the user perspective, you know, the older generation again, they They will think that they’re using a phone. But the way the call travels is going to be completely different than, you know, than it was. If you get me.

Mike
Yeah, actually, from the from the providers perspective. I know, Jason had gone back over the last number of years, investment in telecoms networks has been significant in, in countries where the network needed the investment. So what you find now is places like, like Portugal, have a fantastic mobile network, that that reaches rural communities, coastal communities, you know, everywhere that it needs to, and they have not invested in the fixed line infrastructure. And then you look at you look to places like, like Germany that had very strong fixed line infrastructure, and they’ve been kind of swept in the assets, you know, trying to make sure they get every every drop out. Now, at the same time, they’ve been investing in IP core and mobile telephony, but all of that whether it’s mobile, or fixed IP kind of stuff. It’s it’s all converging into this thing. That is the internet and communications are becoming an over the top application.

Ola
Yeah, yeah. And in some countries as, as my accent in some countries, you’d have, you know, the preference to there will be countries that mobile is, is widely use, while fixed line isn’t, you know, and and vice versa. I’d say in Brazil, for example, mobile is, you know, highly popular, while the fixed line fixed line isn’t. And it’s because of, again, in country infrastructure, and then also, you know, the user experience, and so on, as we know, from our testing, and all

Mike
you were saying there recently, I think BT you mentioned, we’re putting an end if that’s the right word to ISDN connections by 2025. Was it and everybody’s moving to sip?

Ola
Oh, yeah. Bt is phasing out the ISDN. By 2025. I read some research and some prognosis, that PSTN and ISDN will be phased out by 2025. I know Germany, there was a big change to the communication move to sip.

Mike
Yeah, others are in that mix as well. So you know, that they might have one of the first ones to announce it. But I think everybody is deprecating some of that older technology and encouraging investment, and that that transformation into sip, and communications at a country level. You know, countries are competitive entities themselves. And it is seen as a very competitive thing for foreign direct investment, and just the maintenance of business and the economy. So every country is looking to make sure that they get their own competitive edge by making sure that communications networks are up to scratch. And

Kees
I suppose it all shows that there. There is a trend towards device to device or in app communications. So you touched on it earlier, Mike, web RTC, so web RTC has been around for several years, but it’s central technology today. And Sperling had just have just acquired test RTC as part of our web RTC strategy, what will this acquisition mean, for Sperling,

Mike
I would say it extends our value, you know, because our customers are very actively obviously, using inbound services are there they’re doing dial outs to connect to their customer base. But as mentioned, you know, more and more, they’re offering other channels to communicate with their customers. And that includes application based avenues. So we’re there to support them in whatever their communication needs, might say, there will be a growing, you know, suite of applications in that web RTC space. That that we’ll get, you know, very excited about. And it’ll be very interesting to see how, how that kind of blends with what we now see as that public network capacity and capability.

Ola
Yeah, well, like, if I can add here, we are incredibly strong now in test offerings. Because, as Mike said, it extends our, you know, standard offerings for PSTN SIP testing. Now, we can also, you know, offer web RTC testing for, for our customers.

Mike
And we we think, a lot about this type of communication, you know, the conversation that we’re having right now, but the real time communication, the RT and the C that come together, there’s a lot more that goes on in the world that demands real time performance and video as an AVI Just one. And certainly in the last couple of years, there’s been more webcams open than probably ever before. But in addition to that, with the growth of telemedicine and other applications, there is a need for right now, instantaneous kind of real time communication, passing data from system to system, or site to site or whatever it might be to ensure that, that, that critical services are kept online. So all of those things become applications that again, because because we’re going out into this very complex, global network, and commerce is happening from one corner of the globe to the next, and it’s going through different jurisdictions and regulatory environments that communications are, it’s really important that all of those paths, and network connections are tested and verified on a regular basis. And that businesses know that what they’re trying to achieve in their business process is achievable with the service arrangements they have in place.

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