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On June 20, Telefonica kicked off its 2018 Customer and Analyst Day in Madrid, Spain. Throughout the event, there were several announcements about its UNICA program, comprehensive technology transformation progress, and enhanced customer experience initiatives. A key element of the two-day event was Telefonica's promotion of its platform-based approach to network virtualization. The operator outlined the four levels of its platform vision:

  • 1. physical assets that are 100% virtualized;

  • 2. IT and systems that are 100% automated;

  • 3. products and services that 100% personalized;

  • 4. cognitive power across all platform levels.

Telefonica plans to integrate cognitive intelligence across all levels of its platform to build a network that is agile, programmable, open, and self-aware, driving Telefonica and its customer base closer to the opportunities that the Internet of Things, SDN/NFV-based services, and 5G networking will present. This aspirational goal is similar to those held by Telefonica's direct peers – such as AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, and Orange – but Telefonica is trying to differentiate itself by building its own technology in-house, instead of outsourcing its platform-based technologies to third parties. Ovum has previously predicted that carriers would have to become network system integrators, and Telefonica is intending to live this out with its UNICA program.

This move is reminiscent of AT&T's Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management & Policy program, before it merged with Open-O to form the Open Network Automation Platform open-source project. Will Telefonica eventually go down the same road and hand over its technology to the open-source community? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Telefonica plans to center its own network transformation value proposition on four key principles:

  • building global solutions, with one code/single development, leveraged by all Telefonica opcos;

  • building technology in-house, developing and controlling all standards;

  • fostering open ecosystems through open APIs, so it can integrate seamlessly with partners and customers;

  • building cognitive intelligence into its network in preparation for its fourth and final platform stage.

Telefonica promises that its intelligent platform approach, built on its own technology, will give its customers control of the network and related services. Customers will be able to "own the network, not just talk (or view) to the network," according to Telefonica. Essentially, all customer interface applications will be powered by cognitive intelligence.

However, it's interesting to note that this move happens during a time in which operators are demanding more control of their networks. With its network transformation approach, Telefonica is not only virtualizing its network with built-in cognitive intelligence across all layers, it is also controlling device functionality in the cloud, giving Telefonica ownership of the infrastructure and the enterprise/consumer connected devices at the edge. This is the endgame, because the future monetization opportunity is in "big data," i.e., the analytics generated from enterprise and consumer device usage.

Telefonica is certainly providing a level of control to the customer and improving the user experience through analytics, but with its cloud-based, intelligent UNICA platform, it is expanding its own control of the full networking ecosystem to maximize its big-data revenue opportunity, particularly since the operator will own all its networking technology. The UNICA program is an aggressive and now company-wide program that could provide differentiation for Telefonica, but there is still a long road ahead for complete execution.

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