October 28, 2021

Market View: how are carriers going to breathe in 2025? Big tech’s convergence on the carrier

Understanding the macro and micro-environments in which we operate is crucial to my role as Atmail’s Director of Product Innovation. Politics tell us the rules of the game. Economics tell us what people value. Trends not only dictate what is hot (or not) right now – they also indicate where the world is moving; and technological advances and convergence result in faster, lighter, cheaper, stronger hardware, software and services that we can leverage to build better products. 

These forces create the opportunities and the challenges, or the tailwinds and headwinds that we need to navigate, to ensure our customer’s, and our own, continued (and intrinsically linked) success.

When I speak with the executive teams and the business owners of email platforms within different carriers, I frequently hear them voice their regret that they would value this information but they simply don’t have time to perform the research. 

With that in mind, I am pleased to start a regular topic on Atmail’s blog – “Market View”. Every two months I will publish some highlights, insights and commentary regarding news topics relating to general tech, carriers, the email market, and anything noteworthy that our competitors have been doing. 

Outside of a general commentary, this will be delivered in a short, punchy headline with a link to a source or more information to allow you to get through content quickly and dig deeper where you want to. The order will flow from the more abstract general news through to news more specific to the email market. 

1. General News

  • A novel way of delivering high-speed Internet using airborne light beams has successfully transmitted data across the Congo River – transporting 700TB of data with three 9’s availability over 20 days. (Read more)
  • Judge rules that Apple must allow other forms of in-app purchase. (Read more)
  • Following moves earlier in the year to change the licensing of Elasticsearch and Kibana in defiance of Amazon, Elastic cut off access to programming language libraries for developers using Python apps for the AWS-led OpenSearch fork of the Elasticsearch Project. (Read more)
  • Apple’s proposed CSAM detection and prevention system was met with mixed reviews. Not because of the intent, but due to the possibilities of how the mechanisms the firm use to deliver the functionality could be expanded and how little can be done to safeguard against this. (Read more)
  • Backblaze, which offer an object storage service called B2 that is known for being significantly cheaper than S3, filed for IPO. (Read more)
  • Palo Alto-based startup SambaNova Systems has announced a new language service model of the Generative Pre-trained Transformer model (GPT) variety. SambaNova offers DaaS (Dataflow-as-a-Service) to sell a suite of AI offerings for start-ups as an alternative to OpenAI’s GPT-3. (Read more)
  • Microsoft and Nvidia have created the largest AI ever that mimics human language. The new neural network (known as the Megatron-Turing Natural Language Generation (MT-NLG)) has 530 billion parameters – which is notably more than triple the neural network offered by OpenAI’s GPT-3. (Read more)
  • After doubling revenue and customers in 2020, Data integration startup, Fivetran, announced the acquisition of HVR for US$700M – which is likely to cause a ripple of concern among rival vendors like Informatica and IBM. Fivetran provides a critical service for enterprises – it combines data from siloed systems into a common repository to provide options for analysis. (Read more)
  • To avoid excessive fibre replacement costs, British Telecom is urging the British government to let it retain Huawei within its fixed broadband network until the early 2030s. (Read more)
  • Verizon’s pre-paid self-service brand Visible has had users’ username/passwords breached. (Read more)
  • Amid the Taliban government take-over of Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence exposed the email addresses of fifty-five Afghans, including soldiers, who are attempting to relocate to the United Kingdom. Earlier in the month, the email addresses of dozens of Afghan interpreters were also exposed. (Read more)

2. Carrier News

The playgrounds of traditional telecom service providers are being increasingly encroached upon by big tech and public cloud players. 

First reported in 2019, rumours that Apple will bring Low-Earth Orbit satellite connectivity to their flagship product, the iPhone, continue to grow. The LEO feature is expected to only be available in some markets. Reportedly because the world is not ready for and because it will impact partner carriers. Reputed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo speculates that it will not be long before LEO capabilities are present in other Apple products, like the Apple AR headset, the Apple Car and Internet-of-Things accessories.  

Once the capability is widely available, it is inevitable that it will develop rapidly and that Apple products will communicate with each other without a dependency on a traditional telecommunications carrier. 

Add to this that, after purchasing notable 5G software developers Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch last year, Microsoft announced this week that they will start selling traffic transport and routing services to 5G operates in its “Azure for Operators” product line. 

At the same time, Google unveiled a distributed cloud service that allows telecom operators to run their 5G core and radio access network (RAN) functions on Google systems. Notably, AT&T, Bell Canada, Telus, Telenet and Orange (among others) have already migrated some workloads to Google Cloud. 

Taking it a few steps further, Dish Network will entrust all of its IT workloads and network functions to the public cloud through AWS. If this arrangement proves to be successful, telcos resisting the market drivers and associated technological changes will find their position even more difficult to maintain.

Even email, the traditional stalwart of customer stickiness within a telco’s product line-up (and the only service that cannot be ported to another provider), is being explored by Apple, with Apple now supporting custom domains with “family sharing” for up to a total of six users. 

With widespread switching from CAPEX to OPEX while competing to provide commodity services in a low-margin world, how does a telco retain customers, introduce new revenue streams and increase ARPU?

Reminiscent of the challenge faced by Libraries a few years ago, the question all Telcos are either secretly asking themselves or tackling head-on, is one of adaptation. How do they stay relevant? How do they differentiate and offer a sense of value? 

The strategic response must have multiple prongs and it has a strong dependence on an end user’s trust in their provider. (I am, of course, very happy to discuss those strategies with you. Contact us to set up a meeting).

3. Industry News & Competitor Activity 

3.1 General Headlines

  • Microsoft raises pricing for Microsoft 365 by US$1 to US$4 per user (depending on product bundle). This is the first substantive price rise in a decade. New prices to go into effect in March 2022. (Read more)
  • In a move that adds the email to its API-based communication platform, Sinch acquires Pathwire (Mailgun and Mailjet) for US$1.9B. (Read more)
  • A bug in the email “auto-discover” features of Microsoft Exchange are exposing thousands of account passwords. (Read more)
  • Substack evolves their subscription email newsletter platform offering creatives funding and the opportunity to effectively publish themselves. One notable play was to attract award-winning comic book writers and artists away from their contracts with DC Comics and Marvel to instead create content exclusively for delivery through the Substack platform. (Read more)
  • Titan (formerly Flock Mail) raise US$30M in funding from Automattic and are valued at US$300M. (Read more)
  • French ministries issue a doctrine preventing the use of Microsoft 365 cloud services, instead communication and collaboration services must be run on state-controlled internal cloud available to the ministries. (Read more)

3.2 Synacor Zimbra

  • Released product patches updating Nginx, OpenLDAP, Postfix, added a Bulgarian language pack to their “Modern UI” and resolved a bug that saw all custom imported certificates and associated authorities overwritten and lost.
  • No other notable updates this reporting period.

3.3 Synchronoss

  • Announced their strategic priorities for 2022 and beyond, including expansion beyond the telecom sector to grow existing relationships and obtain new customers in the insurance and education sectors. Core focuses include: 
    • A concentration on developing the best software possible to help service providers engage with customers and generate new revenue.
    • Leveraging 5G technologies to enhance engagement and user experience with software solutions. 
    • Double-down on the provisioning of “Personal Cloud” solutions for telcos and education providers. 
    • Ensure the health and wellbeing of employees. (Read more)

3.4 Open-Xchange

  • OX is demonstrating a focus on the promotion of their DNS products having only published DNS-related content to their blog since May.
  • OX also released several bug fixes and new features for the App Suite, Documents and Guard product lines, including: 
  • OX App Suite
      • Federated folder sharing
      • Drag & Drop desktop folders into OX Drive
    • Automatic saving of email drafts [A standard feature of Atmail Suite since 2017]
  • OX Documents
      • Support @mentions in comments and text
      • Introduction of a slideshow toolbar
    • Support for settings images as a background for a presentation
  • OX Guard
    • General improvements to integration with App Suite

3.5 Atmail

I want to take the opportunity to also share a couple of the things that we are busily working away on in our Product and Engineering squads. 

Those of you who have been engaging with us know how strongly we believe in a user’s privacy and the importance of privacy as a product feature. This is not only a fundamental human right but it is also an opportunity to differentiate your business. We’ve pored over research from the likes of McKinsey, Microsoft, Cisco, PwC and Gartner that highlights:

  • Privacy has become a critical issue for individuals worldwide. 
  • Consumers will recommend a trusted digital service to others even if the cost is higher.
  • Privacy is becoming a reason for consumers to purchase a product in the same way that labels like “cruelty-free” or “free trade” or “organic” drive sales; and
  • 92% of surveyed end-users feel that they should be able to control the information that is available about them on the Internet. 

So, I’m pleased to report that our roadmap is action-packed with privacy and security features, from blocking tracking pixels, to warning a user if their email address is detected in a data breach, to creating a private-relay address on the fly. As always, these features will be released under “feature toggle” and with Class of Service support, allowing you the freedom and flexibility to choose when and how to make these features available to your customers.

We’ll be ready to ship App-Specific Password support to enhance our 2FA by the end of the calendar year. Importantly, our App-Specific Password function will not have a dependency on Atmail’s auth, so if you are using an external SSO provider with its own 2FA component, you can still offer our App-Specific Password feature to your users. 

We’re also overhauling our accessibility and inclusive design within the interface. Our improvements are undergoing an external audit against Level AA of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines right now and we expect to ship these improvements to our Cloud before the end of the Calendar year and push the updated packages to our repository for our on-premises customers in January. 

Finally, if you watched our webinar on Atmail’s Innovation Process, you will have some background on how we manage ideas. We are working to open up our internal Ideas Portal to our customers early in 2022. This will allow you to add your ideas, review and vote for other ideas and, importantly, track their progress through review, development and release. 

Please reach out to me to discuss any of the above in more detail.

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