Eurovision: a history lesson

15 September 2010 | Camille Mendler

The telecoms landscape of today is vastly different from 10 years ago, but we can learn from these differences, writes Camille Mendler

A decade separates the exuberant Enron Era from today’s Cloud Era. And the differences in industry landscape are breathtaking. But smart wholesalers have nothing to fear. That is, as long as they adopt a Darwinist approach: Adapt to change, rather than fight it.

Digital superhighways now possess on-ramps: A fatal flaw of the Enron Era was its obsession with building bandwidth superhighways, neglecting the need to construct on- and off-ramps. Today, broadband, both fixed and mobile, is a tangible reality for many consumers and businesses across the world. Global diffusion of smarter end-user communications devices, faster processors and virtualised computing services are also speeding access to digital resources, irrespective of physical location.

Collaboration is fashionable: A decade ago, regulators had to force service providers to play nice with each other. Today, collaboration and co-opetition are often desirable. Take infrastructure sharing, which is becoming a financial necessity and revenue-generating opportunity, not just a regulatory imperative for fixed and mobile operators.

Upstarts are blitzkrieging old models: Lacking historical baggage, newcomers such as Amazon, Ebay, Google and Youtube don’t care about disrupting existing business models in telecoms or other industries. Compared to 1990s telecoms start-ups, whose primary weapons were cheaper pricing and newer networks, these upstarts operate and make money in entirely new ways. Importantly, today’s upstarts now exert a powerful role in both stimulating and facilitating digital traffic flows for retail consumers.

Industry barriers are permeable: Exploring technology mash-ups, service providers are now developing wider-economy services outside their traditional comfort zones. Remote home monitoring and M2M-enabled logistics services are examples. But the overall environmental impact of doing business in all industries is now subject to strict regulatory oversight and reporting. Energy utilisation is now everyone’s concern, and telecoms has an important role to play.

The nature of demand has changed: Retail consumers did not call the shots in the Enron Era; it was a wholesale, supplier-driven market. But the current generation of consumers is in charge, and expects immediate satiation of its needs. Consumers demand connectivity all the time. The retail consumer is no longer Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, hesitantly asking for more. So hello instead to Homer Simpson gobbling down the beer and doughnuts.

But who is deluded now? The Enron Era believed that supply of infinite capacity could turn a profit, while the Cloud Era’s believes that infinite consumption is fair at a flat rate price. Is it telecoms operators, regulators or consumers who now need re-education?