As many of you know, I'm launching the Emerging Communications (eComm) conference — taking place next month in Silicon Valley, at the Computer History Museum.
Communications innovation has been stagnant, in my opinion, for nearly a decade. Telecommunications and Internet communications both seem to be at somewhat of an impasse. The communications industry needs a forum to help break through the stagnancy and highlight the huge opportunity space that is emerging.
The stagnancy has been strikingly more so in telecommunications. For all the talk about IP based next-generation networks (NGNs), there have been no proposed services with any shed of credibility of garnering lucrative customer traction.
The best that the industry has been able to muster up is either triple-play, which has been happily delivered without IP for over a decade and is more a marketing construct than an innovation; fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), although the desire to provide services regardless of network access has merit, the services are again undefined; "user" Telephone Number Mapping (ENUM) is dead in the water already not least because the anticipated success of consumer based SIP phones did not materialize; Voice over IP (VoIP), it's not a new service but just a change of transmission. The operator future roadmap shows little if anything else.
Such telecommunications stagnancy should set alarm bells ringing because the two core products which support the industry are clearly non-existent medium to long term. The two core products are telephony and short messaging service (SMS). The cost of voice transmission will reach near-zero although this is not the only telephony service killer. Voice will become just another mode within a multi-modal offering. The multi-modal offering (be it device/client/site) will itself be integrated with content sharing, commerce, search, discovery and possibly most prized of all — "relationships" (what we call "contacts" today). It makes no sense then to imagine much of future for standalone discrete audio streams known as telephone calls, rather voice will become a supplement. SMS will be replaced by instant messaging long term.
In the Internet communications space there has been a decade long obsession with transmitting voice over IP. The desire was to re-create telephony over IP or for the more visionary, a multi-modal communications client. Re-creating an existing service but changing the means of transmission may be interesting from the technology point of view, but the consumer couldn't care less. The decade long planned protocol basis for delivering a multi-modal client into consumer play (SIP/SIMPLE) has shown little traction; it should be noted that this is the same protocol basis that operators are now hinging their future services around. Instead four years ago a single private company (Skype) delivered a multi-modal client which was architecturally novel (peer-to-peer based), using their own proprietary protocol and which has went on to be the most downloaded program in Internet history. So the SIP/SIMPLE vision to "re-engineer the telephone system from the ground up" is off course at best. Furthermore the World Wide Web (WWW) has largely failed to integrate communications aside from website based messaging. Of course there are plenty of website bolt-ons so that you can click to call or convey a presence status but it's anything from integrated or with appeal. Part of the problem seems to be that the Web development community has focused on pages and content rather than relationships and communications. The last few years have shown the wide recognition of relationships (under the "Web 2.0" banner) so it's most likely a question of time. With the mist clearing up on the opportunity space (recall the telecoms industry is cited as being 1.4 trillion) an exciting race has begun but only for those who understand the communications industry has been asleep at the wheel.
Disclaimer: The above views are solely my own personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of conference speakers.
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Minds + Machines