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Pokemon Go – a cautionary tale

By July 14, 2016 No Comments

Here is an important question: What happens if you run a huge international infrastructure serving billions of people upon which anything can happen and the rules can change overnight? 


Pokemon Go was formally released less than two weeks ago in four markets, two more markets have since been added, but it is still in its infancy. Concrete usage numbers are impossible at this early stage, but the app appears to have passed social media giants whatsapp and Facebook in usage rates – all within its first fortnight. I live in Ireland, a country where it has not been released yet, (in fact it was only released in Europe yesterday) but already there are huge numbers of users engaged, all willing to bypass security on their phone to get there. Finally our teenagers have found something to make them smile.


Thankfully for our service provider friends the impact of Pokemon Go seems to be quite benign for them. Data consumption is not dramatic, a large amount of the input is gps driven. But what if there were large video streaming components? What if we were two years down the line and there was an optional VR element to the app? What is to stop the people at Pokemon Go adding this type of feature to the app in the coming weeks? Would service providers have the tools required to deal with a dramatic change in usage? We saw a similar traffic spike when Facebook began autoplaying video about 2 years ago, with dramatic effects on data consumption. How do we know where the next change is coming from?


Service provider agility has been a watchword for the last number of years, but the sort of agility they require to respond to the new digital world. But true agility is still a pipe dream for most. Their networks, software tools and even sometimes their business models restrict them from exerting any influence over their carefully curated offerings. They are slaves to a fickle consumer mob, always looking for the next bright shiny app.


Consider the business model challenges. Many service providers still offer unlimited packages – the impact of a streaming VR service on an unlimited package could be absolutely detrimental to the network experience of every other user sharing that service. Service providers offering data packages on that basis will be severely hamstrung if data usage is given a reason to explode.


Now consider a service provider who has built consumption limits in their offerings, now they need to facilitate the new service usage with some carefully constructed service offerings to match the demand – we don’t want our subscribers to cry foul as they burn through their consumption, or to churn to another service which offers a tailored Pokemon service. They the need to personalize that offering out to those who appear interested. But how long does it take to enable such a service in their legacy BSS? Worse still, what if they have already committed to a 3 year transformation project – hamstringing the business against change in the interim?


For years we have been imploring service providers to prepare for this agile future. They are going to need modern software tools to enable the sort of change we are seeing in the marketplace today. And you know what – in the near future they will need better tools and greater flexibility again. NFV and SDN are the only reasonable path towards that truly agile future, and cannot come soon enough. Lets hope the service providers can turn these ideas into reality before the next Pokemon update is issued or we may be faced service unavailability and a planet of even grumpier teenagers.