I truly enjoy living out here in Silicon Valley as there are innumerable opportunities to network with innovators of technology and enthusiastic entrepreneurs. One of the recent networking events I attended, which I enjoyed is the Wireless SIG meeting of TIE (www.tie.org) held on the 19th SeptÃ¢â‚¬â„¢06. It focused on Next Generation Wireless, where they had a good mix of speakers. There were 2 venture capital speakers, 4 vendors of wireless technology (Qualcomm, Intel, IP Wireless and TelASIC), and one speaker from Yahoo.
I found the moderator did a great job of bringing the issues to light quite pointedly, e.g. addressing head on whether the Next Generation Wireless world will be a Wi-fi mesh, or Wi-Max or 3G world, etc. The vendor and VC speakers focused their comments on the pros and cons of the various wireless or mobile technologies, on seeing wireless as an alternative way to offer connectivity where there was low teledensity; or for business backbone or last mile; and to see mobile and wireless as a new way to offer greater bandwidth for applications such as mobile TV, Internet browsing, etc. They also discussed the problematic world of spectrum regulation (including pros and cons of licensed versus unlicensed bands), carrier inefficiencies and the costs of the end user device as being several factors determining which technology may prevail. There was also a discussion about how service providers need to look at service provisioning to keep or increase ARPU (average revenue per user), either through advertising, bundling of services, etc
Having a Yahoo representative on the panel though, brought in what I thought were some refreshing elements to assess next generation networks. He highlighted that the future of communications will be a future of social networking. Thus, he felt it will not be so much about bandwidth in the network, applications or CPE that determines which technology prevails, but about of USABILITY, DISCOVERABILITY and RELEVANCE.
I will add one more element to his list. And that is Ã¢â‚¬Å“interconnectivityÃ¢â‚¬?. This is an old standard for service providers in the wired world. If you look at the history of wired communications, the International Telegraph Union (now known as the International Telecommunications Union) was formed primarily by the initiative of private telegraph operators who knew they needed interconnectivity and interoperability to make their networks utilized and needed within and across borders. Unliked the wired world, the radio or wireless world, started out trying to create de facto rather than de jure standards. Today we are so used to lifting up any wired telephone bought anywhere in the world, and dialing up to connect to any other wired telephone in the world, Yet we still accept the fact that we have to use different TV or cellphones in different countries or buying multimode systems to make things work. The mobile world is full of its own alphabet soup of jargon and standardsÃ¢â‚¬â€œTDMA, AMPS, CDMA, GSM ,etc.
These have also been called Ã¢â‚¬Å“walled gardensÃ¢â‚¬?, and the only level of coordination is to ensure no harmful interference between the various services. Despite the promise of IP-enabling their networks, the moderator of the session pointed out that service providers have no incentive to go IP (to glue their services together). Much of their apprehensiveness stems from fearing a revenue loss (e.g. using free skype phone calls instead of paid airtime on their cellphones).
Well, they will have just have to, as their users will come to demand interconnectivity and interoperability in terms of seamless roaming as well as ability to reach others using other networks. Users will not be satisfied to paying just for connectivity or bandwidth and having to figure out themselves means to get this interconnectivity through applications or CPE. The new generation of users will want to be able to have access to communication to communicate to a world greater than their own. Users I think, will no longer be happy to pay just to make a phone call or send data messages only within the same standard network. Interoperability and interconnectivity, the standards which made the wired world so successful, will become and is becoming the new standard for the mobile world as well- hence to move to IP, IMHO. The need for interconnecitiy will drive the IP equation for service providers faster than before for the wireless world. IP in many ways is the glue for interconnectiyity and interoperability within the alphabet soup of the mobile and wireless world and with the wired world. In fact, many countries are already IP enabling their 3G systems and some are calling this 3.5G.
Thus, I think the social networking element as the future of communications is THE important revolution or evolution of communications technology, that not everyone gets. Traditional players are the least equipped indeed to understand this as they are more used to a world of person to person or one way publishing communication. It is this very new world of social networking, which others call the Ã¢â‚¬Å“participation ageÃ¢â‚¬?, which will create a new demand or standard from the wireless or mobile service providers from users. It is a brave new world of communications, and we are only seeing the beginning of this new revolution. As someone who has been in the communications industry for the last 20 years, I have seen many Ã¢â‚¬Å“evolutionsÃ¢â‚¬? andÃ¢â‚¬Å“revolutionsÃ¢â‚¬? promised of a Global Information Infrastructure stemming from the wonders of ISDN, ATM, Internet, LEOs, HAPs, Wi-Fi, etc- the wonders of new applications and devices (smaller and cheaper video and digital cameras, etc), the wonders of everything getting cheaper and cheaper, and easier and easier to use and own, etc.
However, today, it is the whole concept of who the publisher of content is, who controls the network and who makes money on it, has fundamentally changed today like never before.
If regulators and policy makers focus on the bigger picture impact on the economy and on society, rather than focusing on just preserving the monies of the few or the incumbent players, then a brave new world of communications will finally truly unfold. It is the human divide or mindset divide not technology divide, that still holds us back from being able to bridge the digital divide of today and fulfil the underlying human desire to communicate with others.