The past Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday I attended my first Canadian Telecom Summit – where Canadian telecom carrier and vendor executives have an opportunity to provide an overview of their goals and directions encompassing both recent accomplishments and future plans. Overall many of the speakers succeeded; however, there are still a few telecom executives who want to preach motherhood. The audience comprised a mix of participants in the Canadian telecom ecosystem including both national and independent carrier management personnel, telecom business consultants, regulatory body staff, financial analysts and service providers amongst others.
Building out a national broadband infrastructure (wireless and wireline). While the country can be considered “covered” with broadband and 3G wireless access, there are a multitude of private companies who have invested several billion dollars to build this infrastructure. Bell Canada, Rogers, Telus and MTS Allstream are the major carrier players but there are several regional or local private operations providing backbone to vertical or regional markets, (Atria Networks, Hydro One Telecom and Internetworking-Atlantic are some examples.)
But doing the interconnect between these players, especially at the wholesale/retail interface, is governed by CRTC regulation. A “regulatory blockbuster” forum, encompassing the heads of government relations for four major carriers and a public policy advocate, brought out several of the issues and conflicts from the participants’ perspective. Multi-billions of dollars are being spent this year to build out fiber and wireless infrastructure. Shareholders want to see return on investment; business and consumer customers simply want value for their charges independent of how the connection is routed. CRTC personnel were in the audience but there was no indication as to whether they heard anything new.
Customer Expectations: Simply put, several of the presenters focused on the customer as the primary consideration and marketing target when it comes to developing services. Lots of talk about how the user experience is changing and will change with the range of new services available via mobile data/Internet. However, execution is the challenge.
From comments by various Rogers personnel related to Net Neutrality (separate post) through to the demonstration of user-friendly interfaces that aggregate local and cloud-based personalization of a mobile device the conference covered a range of end user issues. Both the Palm Pre and Comverse demonstrations provided specific examples of how such aggregation can work to the user’s benefit. Microsoft’s “Surface” table demonstration was pretty amazing but it can only become a consumer experience with a significant price drop from the stated $12,000.
It’s about bringing broadband speeds to mobile services: One common theme across most of the presentations was the exponential growth of user demand for mobile services across the data networks. RIM co-CEO Mike Lazardis used physics as the basis of his talk about the future need for more wireless data network capacity through not only additional spectrum but also scalable applications and, based on an inherent strength of BlackBerry devices since their introduction ten years ago, effective wireless data compression to reduce bandwidth demand.
Rogers Chief Strategy Officer Mike Lee pointed out that current investment in wireless and fiber infrastructure dwarfs all other investment in Canadian ICT combined. Four outcomes that I have experienced this year as a result of these investments: launch of their 7.2 Mbps HSPA wireless service reaching 75% of the Canadian population; fiber-to-the-node installed to my neighborhood cable head, 3G service to two central Canada resort areas which I frequent and, most importantly, a robust, stable 3G service compared to my AT&T 3G roaming experience.
The disconnect: However, I also felt a major disconnect with the emerging communications opportunities being discussed at conferences such as Lee Dryburgh’s eComm Conferences and Jeff Pulver’s recently launched HD Communications Summit. Innovative applications, communications enhanced business processes and the productivity benefits of HD Voice were amongst the subjects NOT discussed at Canadian Telecom Summit. Innovative yet profitably successful services such as Voxeo and Jaduka ride over the carrier networks. Yet the Canadian Telecom Summit was an opportunity missed; it had the audience that needs to hear these stories and to build awareness of the services required to facilitate sustainable revenue streams at the carrier level.
Friend Thomas Howe, CEO of Jaduka and more commonly known as Mr. Mashup, puts it succinctly in a recent post, The Sophomore Slump, concludes with:
My suggestion is simple: instead of putting out another solo album, today’s operators need to team up with other musicians. They need push out of their current ecosystem and into others, showing how voice and communications can make other applications better.
The challenge? Operators need to step back from the spotlight, and give somebody else a turn at the microphone. Operators need to admit that they are not expert at anything other than real time communication. The most rational path is for the carriers to partner with others companies that bring other talents and values to the table, [rather] than to use what operators do best to extend their partner’s offerings.
Bottom line: Canada continues to lead the world in delivering communications over a large geography but with relatively small pockets of population. But, instead of hearing oft-stated platitudes about the need for increased business communications, let’s hear about specific examples where enhanced communications applications and services can deliver true productivity enhancements to the both enterprise operations and the end user while bringing significant benefits to our social communications.
Suggested reading: Thomas Howe’s various posts on The Jaduka Exchange – a primer on new telecom services in action. Especially relevant: Unified Communications? No, CEBP.
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