Three mega-trends revolutionize telecom in 2009

Upcoming telecom changes are nothing short of revolutionary, or at least evolutionary, as 2009 trends emerge to create a single business model ecosystem out of telecom and the Web, content players and service providers find a workable balance of power, and social networking features gain in importance.

Few will be upset that retrospectives on the very problematic year are best left to historians. There's nothing

good to look back on, so let's move on instead. What will shape the telecom industry in the new year? Forget the traditional talk about what a new administration might or might not do and focus on the big three technology trends.

1. An emerging online ecosystem joins telecom and the Web into a single business model

This will be absolutely the hottest new trend in 2009. In December 2008, Alcatel-Lucent announced a company strategy based on creating the tools for this new ecosystem. Cisco CEO John Chambers had similar comments about binding the tools of the Web into a single, cohesive development framework.

In addition, articles about how Google was looking for a "fast lane" from access providers to speed its content to users seemed to make it clear that the old face-off between the over-the-top players and the telecoms might be ending. We've had years of "over-the-top" versus the carriers, and now we're heading for a future where the distinction will become very fuzzy indeed -- not through mergers and acquisitions but through cooperation.

To know where we're going, review where we've been
Check out our 2008's Editor's Picks on BGP, MPLS, flexible service provisioning, optics and wireless broadband to prepare for the year ahead.
For three or four years, telecoms and Web companies alike have been working to gain support from application developers to enrich their services. The iPhone and Android models were compelling because they generated a cottage industry that has driven the core product and service set to much greater utility, as well as greater adoption rates and revenue generation. The problem is that while everybody seems to want to support developers, everyone supports them differently.

No one has solved the question of how all these cooperative players manage to combine their efforts to create something stable, easily supported and capable of generating revenue for all through cooperative settlement. Standards have been marking time in this area, and now it looks as if equipment vendors are stepping in to create the framework for the new ecosystem. Why? Because capex is usually pegged to revenue, so if you can't help your carrier customers raise their top line, their spending will languish and so will vendor profits.

Service providers tried to solve this problem of cooperative ecosystem-building with standards, but they moved too slowly. They then started to pressure their equipment vendors to come up with a solution, and the Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco announcements are the result. There will be others; and by the end of 2009 it will be all about "service mashups."

2. A CDN/cloud computing model emerges for settlement for online services

This is why the new ecosystem is suddenly developing. For decades, the Internet has suffered from a basic problem of lack of settlement among the providers. Everyone pays for access to their ISP, but nobody pays for transit. Where there's no revenue, there's no investment.

On the other hand, content providers are happy to pay for content delivery network (CDN) caching, and Software as a Service (SaaS) providers are eager to find good cloud computing resources. The access carriers are putting money there, and these new resources link not to the Internet core but to the access networks. Telecoms worldwide have seen the opportunity to create a link between investment and revenue, and that new link threatens the whole legacy model of the Internet. It's bringing the Web guys to the table.

If every piece of content and every application were cached or hosted in metro centers, there would be no core traffic on the Internet at all. That extreme isn't likely, but what's certain is that the valuable stuff is migrating to the metro area. That forces the big players like Google to transport their own content via fiber to each access provider, which further bypasses the old Internet peering model.

You can't create a new ecosystem without having the pressure of the old one breaking, and that's what's happening. In the new world that starts in 2009, content and application players will join with search and portal companies and telecoms to fight out a new balance of power.

The most significant winners will be the content/application giants, because getting commercially valuable content via a network connection is the stock in trade of the future. Studios and networks will flex their muscles in 2009.

3. Integrating social network features and relationship knowledge into communications is a trend in the making.

Yahoo launched an advanced email system that illustrates the value of relationship-managed communications, and this new notion will be incorporated into an expanding notion of presence as the central framework for communications and collaboration.

Presence-centered personal communication is the most "tactical" of the major trends because it will have an immediate impact on a number of emerging technical and product trends in 2009. Collaboration and telepresence both work better, and justify more investment, if they're mediated through social-network-like frameworks. This is likely to be one of Cisco's major areas of focus in harmonizing all of the Web 2.0 APIs into a new ecosystem. It's also likely to be a focus for unified communications and even things like IMS, femtocells and fixed-mobile convergence (FMC).

What technologies will benefit?

The technologies that will benefit from these major trends are:

  • Fiber access, including FTTH and FTTN, because access providers will continue to fight speed wars with one another as they look to leverage their role in the new ecosystem.
  • Metro Ethernet and optics, since all of the bandwidth created by the major 2009 trends will be within metro areas. Look for new interest in hybrid Ethernet/optics products as well.
  • Femtocells and FMC, which will probably benefit IMS. Mobile service competition and the need to integrate mobile and wireline features will be a big boost to this area.
  • Operations software, particularly service management, abstraction, componentization, composition and third-party access via APIs.

The broadest impact of the trend on vendors will be promoting a more integrated product strategy that offers telecoms a link from revenue to investment. For many, this will involve partnerships supplemented by selective development or acquisitions that are intended to make each vendor's offerings unique and thus more likely to be accepted by buyers.

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About the Author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is a member of the IEEE, ACM, Telemanagement Forum, and the IPsphere Forum, and the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal in advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Tom is actively involved in LAN, MAN and WAN issues for both enterprises and service providers and also provides technical consultation to equipment vendors on standards, markets and emerging technologies. Check out his SearchTelecom networking blog Uncommon Wisdom.


This was first published in January 2009

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