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Large Enterprise as Carrier

Ever since the BYOD/consumerization revolution took hold, enterprises have struggled to do more than simply cope with their users' desire to be mobile on their terms. We've seen various products and approaches, from single number-reach to UC clients, none of which has proved satisfactory. But Alcatel-Lucent's recently announced Rapport cloud-based platform for large-enterprise communications could prove interesting.

Essentially, ALU is proposing that a large enterprise could, itself, become a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), wholesale cellular capacity from carriers, and then use the Rapport platform as the single, cloud-based brains of an enterprise communications system. From that system the enterprise could offer truly native service to any enterprise user on any device, connecting over any network -- corporate WAN or wired LAN, Internet, corporate WiFi, or cellular.

It's not surprising that ALU, the parent company that sold off Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise last year, would propose this model, or that other enterprise vendors wouldn't. The Rapport platform is based on the IP Multimedia Subsystem platform that ALU has been selling to carriers for years now, so it's only natural that when ALU looks at a very large enterprise, it sees something that looks an awful lot like a carrier.

The enterprise communications platform vendors (including those like Cisco that have a carrier business) sell specialized platforms for the enterprise. That's the right model for the vast majority of the enterprise market. But the largest enterprises are the business ALU is going after with the Rapport platform.

The enterprise MVNO model -- buying bulk network capacity instead of bulk minutes/data volumes -- seems like an intriguing idea to me. Obviously, this would require a new set of expertise to be either brought on or acquired by existing leaders in the large enterprise's communications organization. But it's not as challenging as actually being a true MVNO; you don't have to run your enterprise's cellular-access operation at a profit, the way an MVNO that's in business as a service provider does. You don't even have to advertise or market yourself. But you do have to know what you're doing.

Maybe I'm just looking for something more enterprise-focused to happen in the cellular world. I've long believed that the cellular carriers should roll out more comprehensive business services, "Cellular Centrex," as we used to call it. They've shown little interest in pursuing such a business, given the dominance of the consumer market -- and given the willingness of business people to purchase cellular services on the consumer model.

So perhaps it's time for large enterprises to take matters into their own hands. Google clearly is re-thinking the concept of the MVNO, with its Google Fi service, which refines the MVNO model and optimizes it for the needs of real customers. It also, as the name suggests, aims to give users a more seamless fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) experience, which the ALU enterprise MVNO model is all about.

I don't think the carriers are going to change their approach anytime soon. I've never believed it when I've heard carrier execs say that they don't want to be bit-haulers. They make a ton of money as bit-haulers, they know bit hauling, they're reasonably good at it, and they have effectively a duopoly in it. Why get down in the mud and scramble for profits off 99-cent downloads? They're already in a business where the barriers to entry are essentially insurmountable.

They're in the business of selling wireless bandwidth. Enterprises are in the business of buying that bandwidth and providing it as a service to their users. It makes the large-enterprise-as-an-MVNO model an intriguing idea, if nothing else.

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