Life on trial and the death of telecommunications as we know it

Monday, June 1 2015


‘Life on Trial’ is a compelling short film about a content provider but it got me thinking about the implications for my area of focus – carriers, operators and data centers.

Trials are primarily about justice – a verdict is delivered and consequences decided upon. But aside from this serious and necessary process, almost by accident, trials introduce new, big ideas. Some trials become historic milestones and their disruption changes the world’s direction. Think Galileo Galilei, Nelson Mandela or even the on-going ‘trial by media’ of Edward Snowden.

So what of the implications of “Life on trial”? The prosecutor argued that life-online is not stand alone. Connectivity services are no longer ‘nice to have’ or ‘best effort’. Rather, being connected is now an integral, vital part of everyday life for everyday people. If being connected is not already life critical, then it soon will be. For billions!

First implication? It’s fabulous! Data centers, operators and international carriers, together with over-the-top (OTT) players are the home and highways of modern communications. Together they are emerging as essential communications service providers (CSPs), shaking off the dated and dusty telecommunications label in the process.

Operator emerge bubbleAbsolutely fabulous because more really is more: more ways for end users to access and consume communication services, more time is spent using them, changing behaviors and attitudes all putting communications more squarely at the center. More disposable income spent on the services. More demand for what only operators do so ubiquitously and well – local access for the new mobile mindset as well as high speed ‘tethered’ access. That leads to a virtuous circle of more and busier servers in data centers. More traffic on the carrier’s network.

The expanding communications market has also brought new competitors and disruption. Operators finally get it. Other, competing operators, even virtual ones, are no longer the big issue. It’s substitution by OTT provided services that is slicing “their revenues” at the rate of whole percent(s) year after year. It’s not just long distance or best efforts anymore. OTT service reliability is the stuff of legend. A mere 45 minute outage on Facebook in Europe made it the lead story in news bulletins, along with their business, both local and global. Such is the surprise, interest and concern that end users had.

Next and most importantly, the trial makes clear the point that the challenge operators, and indeed all CSPs are all being set, is coming from the end user. With new behaviors and their changing valuation of our services end users are the disrupters. Not the OTTs. After all, we’ve served them everything they’ve ever clicked on. So, why should they go back?

EndusersAs online life becomes part of just life, so life becomes part of online. Online security is just part of your everyday security. Just as you wouldn’t leave your front door unlocked nor should you leave the door to your online bank account unlocked. This leads me to a final implication and my call to action.

Will operators continue to develop and manage network assets? Or  go beyond this to regain the loyalty of end users? Operators have a unique opportunity to recover goodwill into their brand. Let me explain: Operators have seen the forward looking and technology leader brand values steadily erode. Now they are more likely are now perceived as protectionist and slow. In short, part of the problem rather than solution. But one brand value that never went away was trust. I see health, security, money transfer and other personal ‘life assistant’ (contextualized) services as real opportunities for where operators canto become next generation service providers.

So ‘Life on Trial’ is a short film that introduces a big idea. ‘Just Life’ is a milestone in communications history. I’ve offered some humble  foresight to a few of the possible directions. Where we go comes down to this: will operators merely live through this amazing period of communications history or (again) rise to the challenge and define it?