Is .99999 an Outdated Goal for Operators?

I’ve spent a lot of time supporting; watching and monitoring operators roll out a variety of programs and services lately – new app stores, new networks, APIs, new and improved developer programs.  It got me thinking:  Is 99.999% (.99999) or ‘five-nines’ an outdated goal for operators?  I think it might be.

Five-nines is the standard for measuring the network availability, which is pretty close to always on, never down.  It equates to about 5 minutes and 15 seconds of downtime per year.  According to Tomi Ahonenand some banter we had on twitter this week:  “mobile phone network serving millions cannot go down for half a minute per year, unacceptable.. grin hence five nines needed”.

The fact is a network down or a dropped call is already a reality.  Rogers was down for an afternoon in Vancouver last week; and if you travel to London, New York, San Francisco you expect to have a few calls that won’t connect; and SMSs that go nowhere.   Interestingly, consumers have already accepted this lower standard of quality.

I think some of this acceptance stems from the software industry, which Microsoft really helped initiate on a large scale.  It doesn’t matter if there are bugs in the application, just start selling it – we can always ship a patch next week. 

Now that operators have entered into the apps game, it has placed them into the same category as the software companies; where quality is less important.  So why tear your hair out trying to be perfect if you don’t have to?

So where am I going with this?  Of course I don’t advocate that we settle for a complacent industry where we accept ‘just good enough’.  However, I do see the five nine mentality permeating the decision making of operators as they roll out new programs, and in how they work with the third party developers, to the detriment of everyone.  They tend to work away in silence until they are ready for the big reveal that then is usually late in coming, and without any input from the developers, one of their most important stakeholders.  They also put a lot of barriers in place (regulations, certification, lock downs), that slow down the developers’ process and often stifle innovation. 

It is ok to not be perfect out of the gate.  What is important is the ability to communication early and often; and engage your stakeholders, whether it is developers or customers, in the process.  Then have a team and process that can be agile in your next iteration.  A quote from an unnamed operator recently proclaimed, “Operators can’t move fast enough for the market”.  If that is a given – then just don’t be a barrier for everyone else who is running fast.