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Amdocs’ Anthony Goonetilleke on network slicing, apples, eSIM -- and the digital divide

"During Covid I saw two kids, sitting almost on the footpath outside Starbucks in Dallas, and they were doing their homework on its Wi-Fi. It broke my heart. Not creating a digital divide is super important..."

Anthony Goonetilleke has been with Amdocs for over two decades. As Group President, Technology & Head of Strategy, you can find his fingerprints across most of the SaaS provider’s offerings – which span 5G network deployments, low-code, microservices management, and more.

His de-facto CTO role also makes him ultimately responsible for the company’s overall technology vision, strategy, and product execution – overseeing products that are designed to help service providers monetise the 5G investment cycle, build on network virtualisation efforts and more.

Those products are evolving fast. "Ten years ago we used to release a product once every 18 months or once every two years. To say that the agility cycle has been shortened is a very soft term. The cycle has been turned upside down” he tells The Stack; something that means customers downstream can benefit faster from his own R&D shop at Amdocs.

Gooenetilleke is particularly fascinated by how connection-centric the globe has gotten in the last decade and the expectations that come with that: “Today people just don't care how they connect. They just want to connect; it doesn't matter how that happens. You find that in the office, and at home, and even if you're at school, the 'how' doesn't really matter. There's an expectation of connectivity, whether it be 5G or fibre or even satellite today – it is simply about just the best connectivity."

Gooenetilleke credits the lockdown days for bumping up global connectivity and an ongoing telco focus on transformation. This read is backed by numbers, according to the 2022 Global Connectivity report, the pandemic resulted in an immediate internet use spike of 30%.

Amdocs specialises in digital capabilities for communication service providers (CSPs) and media firms. Gooenetilleke notes: "This environment is starting to get very complicated. The question is, how do you manage it and how do you make [bundles, services, promotions etc.] seamless? The last thing you want is to have consumers worry about things like how much data they're using on one device versus the other. We work on the technology stack to help service providers, with monetization in terms of billing and the customer experience side; whether it be how you get a new service, or how you bring new offers to the market."  

It’s a rapidly evolving and critical industry niche that includes work to help telcos modernise core systems. (Amdocs’ strengths here have seen it grow to record quarterly revenue of $1.22 billion in May 2023) and offer application layer capabilities on top of whatever they choose to do at the infrastructure layer; where it is now also offering a managed service.

As Amdocs CFO and COO Tamar Rapaport-Dagim put it during a recent investor call: “For the first time, with the 5G capabilities, you can actually slice the network and provide a dedicated quality of service that is committed, which is meaning that you can define certain services based on who is the customer and what is the service that they are acquiring, which means there is an opportunity to monetize for that differently.

“It's not about best effort anymore. It's about something that you can commit to. So that means that there is a big opportunity here to really launch and market services in a different way that are taking advantage in that. Of course, it's up now to the service provider, how they want to do it, whether they want to do it by selling directly those use cases, whether they want to do it by creating a partnership ecosystem and gaining their share out of this enhanced value. There are different ways in which they can go about it. Our job is to provide them the tools to enable them to do it…”)

All critical work, but Gooenetilleke also loves to see the more avant garde Edge use cases: "One of the really cool use cases we’re working on is in Washington, US. There is a farmer who has acres and acres of orchards and what he used to do in the morning is wake up, drive around his farm and map out – based on his experience – the areas  where the fruit is ready to be picked out. Then he would send a workforce out to those areas."

"What we did was work with him and a couple of third party companies.

“Now every morning there is a bunch of drones that go out. They take very high-end 4k images of all of these acres, and they do this in like 10 minutes, whereas before would take hours to drive around. The drones upload all of these to some edge computing resources, which is funnily enough, is a red barn that has computing resources. Then the systems analyse these images, upload then to the cloud, and when the farmer wakes up for his cup of coffee, he has a map of his farm and a bunch of data that says ‘hey, start here! Here is the pH level and here is  where you have the best yield of the fruit.’And it's all done automatically on one dashboard when he wakes up…”

The company’s eSIM platform also gets him fired up: “This provisions eSIM very quietly in the back-end. So instead of popping that physical SIM with that little pin – that I’d always lose – you just press a button, and your SIM information is downloaded onto a phone. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona we allowed people to just try a local SIM service. They would simply scan a QR code, and suddenly they get a local Spanish number over there! These are some mega technology trends in the back-end…”

See also: Bad developer UX? Look out for breakages, burnout, and "biological single points of failure"

He is also quick to note his awe at how previously ill-connected parts of the world are cashing in on what improved accessibility can do for them.

"I was talking to a startup based out of Sri Lanka; two guys that had this amazing IoT system that they had built. They had the same access to technology and connectivity that someone sitting in Silicon Valley does.

"The world has been democratized: They have the same access to AI. They have the same access to cloud technology. They have good broadband connection from their house. And so people are getting opportunities. Rewind this back 30 years. If you wanted access to this cutting edge, next-gen AI technology, you'd have to be in in the heart of Silicon Valley."

But there are gaps, even close to home: “One of the things that I saw during Covid – I live in Dallas, Texas –  and it broke my heart was that that were these two kids, they were probably very early teens, sitting almost on the footpath outside Starbucks and they were doing their homework.

“It turned out that they didn't have very good broadband at home so they were sitting outside Starbucks doing their homework on its Wi-Fi…

"If we don't address this, there's going to be this digital divide that we're creating with the people that have technology and the people that don't have technology. In the same way that we look at diversity, I think that not creating a digital divide is super important. We're very focused on it with many of our customers [because this digital divide is not just about] rural connectivity; it also happens in big cities.”

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