The REAL Firehose, and Securing the Value of Telcos with Alcatel Lucent

I posted the other day about the twitter firehose and specifically the announcement that Gnip would be selling access to a trimmed version of the feed. I intimated about the “other firehose” an aggregation of data that even makes the 1000 or so Tweets a second that the full Twitter feed provides look puny. Today I wanted to talk some more about that and look at the opportunities.

Recently at the defrag conference, IBM Chief Scientist Jeff Jonas talked about (and later Marshall blogged about) the firehouse that is estimated to be some 7000 times bigger than even the complete Twitter firehose, that is the aggregation of geo-tagged data created across all mobile devices. As he wrote in a blog post:

Mobile devices in America are generating something like 600 billion geo-spatially tagged transactions per day. Every call, text message, email and data transfer handled by your mobile device creates a transaction with your space-time coordinate (to roughly 60 meters accuracy if there are three cell towers in range), whether you have GPS or not.

It’s really worthwhile comparing this to the Twitter feed. Twitter is regarded as the golden child and the mother lode for aggregated data, it seems ridiculous that a source so much larger than Twitter should be forgotten or not even recognized. How does that occur?

Quite simply, this data is stuck behind the walls of carriers who, despite having an absolute wealth of information about customers, have a very closed attitude towards data, not seeing the value of opening up data to the outside world and, more specifically, outside developers. It’s worth recounting the presentation that Ross Turk from Alcatel Lucent gave earlier this year at the Glue conference. In his presentation, Turk pointed out that carriers have a wealth of information about users; who they are, where they are, what device they are using and a host of information relating to payments, billing and authorization. However, given carriers traditional approach towards data ownership, this information is locked within the network and inaccessible to developers except for the rare occasion that developers are given access to this stream when process and pricing conspire to make it almost impossible to create a viable product.

The other barrier to creating third party offerings of value from this data is that the information is locked behind 700 different carriers, despite Jonas’ assertion that he knows of an organization in the US that has access to 80% of this data, aggregations of data from disparate carriers is rare. Which is where Alcatel Lucent comes in. More traditionally known for being the company that provides equipment to power the carriers networks, one small but influential team within the 80000 person organization is embarking on a mission that, they’re calling a quest to save traditional telcos. The OpenAPIService is a business unit within Alcatel Lucent that seeks to:

give developers access to network provider assets through easy-to-adopt RESTful APIs. OAS is a development environment complete with developer sandbox, bundle API solutions with no upfront investment, a Dashboard to manage applications across all major app stores, and an ecosystem of millions of potential users.

Essentially they want to create a series of unified network APIs, a platform on which they sit, and an opportunity for that will provide two benefits. Firstly developers will have access to carrier data with which they can build new offerings and secondly the carriers themselves will garner a new revenue stream – less hyper-profit but (hopefully) more sustainable than their current streams. It’s well worth taking 15 minutes or so to watch these entertaining and thought provoking videos details how Alcatel Lucent intends to help the carriers to “smart the dumb pipes”.

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