Don’t tell your other half but Dunlap thinks you should love your billing provider

Jim Dunlap, Cycle30 president Jim Dunlap, Cycle30 president

London, UK. March 5, 2014 (IN PROFILE) — “What did I notice in Barcelona? Well, for one thing,” says Jim Dunlap, “everyone seemed to have a take on M2M.” That probably suited Cycle30’s president just fine. After all, he has just restructured his whole company around two business streams, Telco/Cable and machine-to-machine (M2M) services.

From the get-go Seattle-based Cycle30, Inc. has been a little different from other billing system vendors, starting life as a back-office department of Alaskan cable network operator, GCI. It remains a wholly-owned subsidiary, and Dunlap says it benefits hugely from this status. Talking exclusively to M2M Now, he said, “We’re fortunate to have a public parent. I’m not having to sell my soul to private equity or venture capital. It’s not altruism because we are profitable, but our parent company wants to give something back. They know that the telco and cable market is underserved. We say, ‘It’s time to love your billing provider’.”

Having looked for a billing provider when he was at GCI, he knows what that’s like. But he’s scathing about the big billing system vendors. He rattles off a list of the Big Names in the space (who we shan’t mention, as we’ve no wish to make their lawyers any sleeker). I was a potential customer with 150,000 wireless subscribers and I couldn’t get the time of day from them. I spoke to one who told me quite politely, “Thanks for your call but you’re just not big enough for us.” Dunlap grimaces at the memory.

Fast forward three years and Cycle30 – the name comes from the 30-day cash-based billing cycle that underpins most network operators – is now focusing on two distinct business sectors. “We now have two different code streams for Telco/Cable and M2M, and two different funding models,” says Dunlap. We’ve split the platform into two streams and, apart from myself and a few other executives working across both, we have distinct organisations in product development, sales, support, in fact throughout the business.”

“We put out new code functionality every few months in BSS (business support systems). But M2M needs something new every few weeks in terms of extra features. Telco/Cable has greater complexity of feature functionality, for example in customer care. When you’re ordering a triple-play product from a telco, delivery is obviously more complex than when I onboard 10,000 M2M devices. There’s not as much customer care required in the M2M world – although that will surely come.” This enables Cycle30 more quickly to develop and release new M2M functionality.

This billing, IT operations, consulting and service delivery company is working closely with M2M service provider, Device Cloud Networks (DCN – more on them in our print review of Mobile World Congress). Cycle30’s M2M platform combines service provisioning and device management with application enablement tools to simplify the process of DCN bringing worldwide wireless connectivity to products of any type.

Also into this relationship Cycle30 adds service diagnostics, inventory management, reporting and billing on their cloud platform. But for business partners like DCN and Arrow Electronics they are happy to ‘white label’ their platform.

M2m lifeline for some cable companies

“We see significant new interest in M2M from cable companies. No operators can use their existing infrastructure (for M2M) and existing BSS; it’s too siloed. We offer a low cost, low capital intensive solution. We also see distributor models to big OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) as very interesting for the future. Delivering multiple devices in multiple industries is not something that the majority of operators do very well,” added Dunlap.

“Is M2M a big opportunity for cable companies?” asked M2M Now.

“Cable operators have the bandwidth, the networks and connectivity to offer services in M2M. No, it’s not confined to North America, it’s in Europe too. About 75% of our conversations (at a cable industry trade show) in Amsterdam next week will revolve around M2M.”

“Is that because cable companies have nowhere else to go besides M2M?” we ventured.

Dunlap smiled. “Partly,” he said. “They went down this route with broadband internet but have learned how to serve embedded commercial customers. If they don’t (tackle M2M) they’ll be a dumb pipe again, adding no value to the service. Many M2M solutions don’t have to be mobile or even wireless, so they can offer the big advantage of bandwidth. I don’t know when they’ll get another opportunity like this.

“Our way into M2M is through DCN, Arrow and other distributors, then secondly with mobile network operators. Distributors keep our costs low and help us focus on customer requirements. They bring a ready-made customer base that we can help them close on. It lets us focus on the platform. We’ll offer advanced diagnostics by the end of March. We have an agile model for M2M, with modification, enhancement, and new feature functionality,” he said.

“Where do we hope the business will be in two years’ time? Well, it may be two businesses. Telco/cable and M2M are different industries in terms of pace of change, and I’m glad we’ve split the two.”

Dunlap is clear about his goals, “I’d like to be the global leader in two years, and I’d like to unseat some of the legacy (billing) vendors in the telco/cable sector.”

Somewhere out there is a billing vendor who may be wishing he’d answered differently all those years ago.

Jim Dunlap was in conversation with the editor, Jeremy Cowan

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