The telecom industry has been on the cusp of a major upheaval for as long as I can remember. In the late 1990s, the chatter was often about the boom in mobile voice services and what that meant for providers of fixed-line telephony. Then the dotcom bubble inflated and parts of the industry went crazy about fiber optics. Still later, of course, we had the arrival of "high speed" mobile data, when operators spent billions on 3G licenses in the expectation consumers would flock to pricey mobile Internet services.
So why a "Telco Transformation" website now, you might ask. Hasn't the industry been in a process of transformation for years? Isn't "upheaval" just a cliché that analysts and reporters trot out whenever they want to dramatize their latest editorial offering?
Indisputably, the telco of today is a different creature from the one that catered to your communications needs 20 years ago. Organizations in few other industries have changed quite so radically over that period. But the transformation we are discussing now will make earlier ones look like the foreshocks preceding a cataclysm. It will reshape the sector entirely. (See Incumbents: Do or Die.)
Indeed, it is the confluence of those growing forces that is effecting this transformation. With their global, data-center capabilities and brand appeal, Web-scale players such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) have emerged as a clear and present danger to operators in numerous markets. At the same time, the extension of data connectivity into devices besides mobile phones, tablets and PCs heralds the prospect of a new industrial revolution.
Telcos will have to invest in new 5G and fiber-optic networks in order to support all this new traffic. Yet many do not want to play a peripheral, utility-like role as the connectivity provider, leaving the juiciest business to the web giants and others. They know that commoditization would leave them on the margins of the industry in future, overtaken as communications players by the likes of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT).
This transformation, then, entails more than investment in high-speed access infrastructure. It will force operators to adopt the data-center technologies being used by Google and Amazon, introducing virtualization and software capabilities into their core networks. Without those, operators will struggle to replicate the service agility and "fail-quickly" formula of their web rivals.
But it will also require telcos to evolve their modus operandi -- arguably a far trickier transformation. Ensuring that sales and marketing functions are properly aligned with the needs of the more agile operation is a priority. Having the ability to think and innovate like a web player will be just as important for a telecom executive as the deployment of technologies that have already sprung up across the web landscape. Attracting talent and luring young engineers who would typically be drawn to the next Facebook may be the greatest challenge of all.
For the telcos that succeed, the future looks bright, as communications services become even more critically important to consumers and businesses worldwide. But the process of transformation will be fraught with risk, and there are bound to be casualties. In Telco Transformation, we'll be keeping keep track of the ups and downs as operators take their fledgling steps in the brave new world. Tackling stories from a service-provider perspective, and featuring interviews with telco executives in the frontline, we aim to explore and analyze the moves that companies are making as they look to survive and prosper. Stasis is not an option.
— Iain Morris, , Editor-in-Chief, Telco Transformation, and News Editor, Light Reading