Sunday, January 16, 2005
Picasso or preschool?
Telecommunications Magazine's first issue of 2005 was called Painting Telecom's Future Network. It asked
If you could paint a picture of the network of the future, what would it look like? . . . We asked that question to a dozen of the industry’s visionaries — people that are shaping those networks of the future. Were their answers Picasso or Preschool?I was honored to be chosen as one of Telecommunications Magazine's dozen visionaries. Editor Sue O'Keefe's deft rendition of the slapdash prose I sent her sounds more lucid than I coulda done myself:
Q: You’re a huge proponent of so-called “stupid networks.” Why does that model make the most sense today?
A: If you look at the killer apps of the last decade: e-mail, the Web, e-commerce, blogging, instant messaging, VoIP, streaming audio and audio on demand, on-line game play, etc., not one has been brought to market by a telephone, cable or mobile telephony company. The Internet, because it is a Stupid Network, allows anybody to put bits representing anything on it. This leads to a wide variety of very cheap market experiments, and to the discovery of new winner apps.
Further, because you don’t have to construct a new network for each new application, you can even discover niche apps that win big for certain sectors. With a Stupid Network, the applications diverge to fit the markets they serve. If we want to discover what applications serve what markets, then vertically integrated networks will never do the trick. (On the other hand, if you want to extract maximum profits from applications that are already known, you’ll want to stay with centrally controlled, vertically integrated networks.)
Q: Under this model, who are the big winners?
A: Unfortunately, the Stupid Network does not give providers of network services a big win. The real winners are end users, the builders of devices for the network edge (PCs, digital cameras, X-Boxes, MP3 players, BlackBerries, etc.) and society as a whole.
The Stupid Network takes voice, which used to be a worth up to a dollar a minute, and makes it into just another app on a dollar-a-day ($29.95/month) network. It will not be easy for any provider of network services to win. The triple play does not have long legs — voice is already collapsing into the high-speed Internet play, and video entertainment is not far behind — if speed does not increase fast enough, then improvements in compression technology will make it possible. Inevitably the triple play will become a single play.
Without the triple play, there are no good models for how network providers make money.
In mobile services, which is sometimes called a fourth play, walled gardens also lose because they fail to allow for
rampant experimentation and discovery. (Sure, DoCoMo might get one app right in one culture, but to repeat this success at rates equivalent to the Internet, your openness must be equivalent to the Internet.) Shared, open Wi-Fi will rapidly become more useful and cost effective than fee-based, licensed alternatives.
Only old-style regressive regulation will save the mobile sector — left to follow technological improvements according to its own devices (pun intended) mobile networks, like wired networks, intelligence will inexorably move to the network’s edge.
Q: What is the biggest change you see taking shape in the network of the future and when do you see it coming about?
A: Faster, cheaper, dumber, happening now.
Alternatively, legislatively impeded technology, more expensive network usage, rich telcos and poor users. Again, the seeds have been planted already.
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