Plivo became a market leader in the CPaaS technology category based on our desire to shake up the stodgy telecom industry and make it easier for businesses to connect with their customers. Today, CPaaS use cases range from banks providing direct access to call centers with one-click calling from within an app, to restaurants pushing out SMS messages updating their customers on the statuses of their deliveries.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way but the most important takeaway for us has been iterating from those learnings in a way that ultimately helps customers. In this blog series we’ll highlight specific challenges we faced and how we changed those into opportunities for success.
First up, the importance of having your own carrier network.
As long as we could gain access to markets around the world, we assumed it didn’t matter what carriers we used. Coverage was the key, or so we thought. Instead, we learned that for our customers to be able to easily and reliably reach their own customers, we had to put together our own network of high-quality carriers. More specifically, we learned the following lessons:
Lesson 1: Strong technology and infrastructure alone can not compensate for poor carrier network quality
While we started by partnering with larger telecom carriers, who aggregate local players to connect calls and deliver SMS messages globally, we soon realized it made a difference which carrier networks we connected to.
Sure, technology and infrastructure are important, but if the carriers we connected to drop calls, fail to deliver SMS messages, have poor call quality, provide unreliable caller ID, and face other issues associated with poor carrier network quality, then we wouldn’t be able to help our customers no matter how sophisticated we made our platform technology.
These carrier quality issues aren’t just inconvenient; they can stand in the way of businesses delivering a high-quality customer experience. We needed to do better, so we realized we had to also build our own carrier layer to pair with our technology and infrastructure layers.
Lesson 2: Relying on aggregators is not a good way to ensure carrier network quality
As we learned early on, large carriers that aggregate traffic and carriers that don’t operate local networks mostly provide coverage based on cost, not quality. Since carrier quality is not a commodity, connecting with cost-focused carriers can turn out to be more expensive in the long run.
That’s because when using aggregators, calls might take a long, suboptimal route through an aggregator’s infrastructure, which leads to inconsistent quality. And inconsistent call quality or message deliverability — which manifests as latency, jitter, dropped calls and undelivered messages — can lead to unhappy consumers and additional expenses for companies.
For example, suppose a company’s mobile app sends an appointment verification SMS to a prospective customer via an API platform. If that platform works with unreliable carriers, then that potential customer might not receive that message and may miss the meeting, leading to a lost business opportunity. In contrast, businesses that leverage our direct connections to local carriers benefit from more reliable service, as they can automatically leverage our real-time routing engine that routes calls and SMS messages over the best possible routes based on quality.
Plus, using aggregators can mean that troubleshooting issues take longer, since there may be multiple layers between the end carrier network and the communications platform. If an error does occur, you want your communications platform provider to be able to get the bottom of the issue as soon as possible so you can get back to serving your customers.
Lesson 3: Building a premium carrier network requires redundancy
Unlike when using aggregators, the benefit of establishing direct connections with local carriers is being able to choose partners based on their ability to reliably and clearly connect calls and deliver SMS messages.
Still, the nature of telecom means that even high-quality carriers have issues from time to time, so we learned to not rely on these direct connections alone. Instead, building redundancy into a network allows customers to have automatic failover options in the event of any errors or outages.
That’s why in almost all major regions we have at least two direct connections with local carriers to establish redundancy. So if one of these carriers goes down, all traffic automatically gets routed to the other carrier.
That means businesses generally don’t have to scramble when an outage occurs. The automatic failover means you continue to communicate with your customers as if nothing occurred behind the scenes.
Lesson 4: The infrastructure and technology layer all need to have the same commitment to quality
As we learned in our early days, the technology, infrastructure and carrier layers all need to pull their weight to ultimately enable our customers to deliver a great experience to their own customers.
Part of building a quality infrastructure layer includes establishing points of presence (PoPs) in strategic locations to minimize hops, and therefore reduce latency, so customers have reliably clear calls. Other areas of infrastructure like network operations centers (NOCs) might seem boring and old school, but they’re used to proactively monitor network performance, which helps us get in front of any carrier issues that arise.
This type of behind-the-scenes work can also occur within the technology layer. For example, we use a dynamic routing engine that can find the best paths for calls and SMS messages in real-time, which helps our customers consistently connect with their users without having to think about it.
All of these layers need to be moving in unison, and we need to continually test how the system as a whole works to get ahead of any potential issues. Even if this commitment to quality isn’t always readily apparent, the absence of quality issues means our customers don’t have to worry about letting down their own customers.
Lesson 5: Building a quality carrier network can’t be done overnight
Establishing a quality carrier network globally, along with the infrastructure and technology to support a premium carrier network, not only takes expertise but also a significant time investment.
Rather than relying on aggregators, we invested more than seven years in building out a global carrier network, because if you want to establish quality connections, you can’t rush this process. Onboarding local carriers takes six-to-nine months each and involves various steps like commercial and legal discussions, interoperability and quality testing, and capacity provisioning. Yet it’s worth the time and effort to ultimately get to a place of helping our customers deliver a high-quality customer experience of their own.
After overcoming our initial mistake in discounting the differentiation amongst carriers, we have continued to invest time and resources into expanding and strengthening our global network, understanding that there are no shortcuts when it comes to continually ensuring quality.
Be Proactive: Don’t Accept Carrier Network Quality as a Given
As we learned early on, carrier quality should not be overlooked. For businesses using cloud communications platforms to connect and engage with customers, don’t make the same mistake and assume that carrier quality is a commodity.
Given how difficult business has been around the world in 2020 due to COVID-19, companies can not afford to lose business over customer experience issues. So, rather than waiting until quality issues start to create a poor customer experience, be proactive. Find out how different platforms connect to carrier networks and assess whether certain providers can help you deliver more reliable, high-quality voice and SMS services through your apps.
The bottom line is: if you want to create great customer experiences, you can’t take carrier quality for granted. Choose a platform that will help you create amazing customer experiences by effectively connecting with your customers.
To learn more about the importance of carrier quality and what businesses should consider when choosing a communications platform, download our whitepaper: The Carrier Network: What Powers Quality in Voice & SMS APIs.