The defining debate on telcos' future

17 Oct 2014

This article originally appeared on the BillingViews blog

The one thing that strikes you when coming across Chris Lewis for the first time is that he doesn’t mince his words when discussing the direction he thinks telcos are heading.

It’s not that he thinks his theories are infallible; it’s more about provoking a response from you so he can get a broader understanding of what people are really thinking.

This is no shortage of articles, theories, blogs, analysis and events covering the state of the communications industry. And let’s not forget the countless repetitive and often inane presentations we have sat through in conferences.

Chris reckons that a better way is to get people debating the issues publicly, much the same we he does in private conversation and it is this thinking that has brought about The Great Telco Debate to be held in London November 7.

The timing is ideal. Convergence of many markets, fixed/mobile, voice/data, telecom/media/IT all contribute to a blurring of definitional and market lines. It’s all digital and it’s all out there in the cloud and in our hands!

The core of The Great Telco Debate will question whether operators should be delivering services directly to customers or, as the ‘service’ becomes more about the applications and content, whether true retailers should be the interface to the customer and the telco takes more of a back office role. Connectivity is an essential part of the digital value chain, but only a part.

Chris recalls that during a recent series of interviews with industry executives one cruelly summed up the telcos as companies with data centres and a bunch of fibre and antennas sticking out of them. Is this indicative of the shifting dynamics of the telecoms industry?

Data has undoubtedly taken front and centre stage when it comes to network design. Combined with the virtualization and commoditization of so many of the underlying components the future ICT infrastructure will look very different to what we see today.

The telco has to shift from its old inside out model to an outside in one where the customer drives the innovation. This is a major cultural change for the telecoms industry.

Is there a single answer to the converging elements of the digital marketplace, who is going to win and who is going to make the money? Digital, by definition, brings together formerly separate supply and value chains and inevitably destroys value.

In short, all players need to look very closely at how they work with their fellow suppliers in the emerging digital eco system and how it all lines up to support future customer needs. The good news is that there have never been such high levels of demand for services to support the digital lifestyle. The bad news is that there are many more potential players out there attempting to address that demand.

The temptation, as telecoms revenues flatten and shrink, is to venture into adjacent unfamiliar markets and include digital services, media and business ICT offerings like cloud. Unfortunately, the very same commoditization and virtualization mentioned earlier are also impacting those sectors and they are venturing onto the telecoms patch with or without the operators’ involvement.

Chris has attracted an impressive lineup of enigmatic and eclectic debaters to argue the pros and cons of these issues in a compact, fast-moving one day format that is sure to attract many industry leaders.

BillingViews has a limited number of seats to offer at a substantial discount. Please contact me, [email protected], if you would like to be part of this unique event.

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