The case for a single access network

Tony Poulos
21 Feb 2013

When people talk about telecom services becoming commodities they probably don't realize just how close to reality that is becoming. It's not just about providing affordable access to every living soul, it's more about the way those services are being delivered, now and in the future.

If you take the definition of a commodity that describes a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market, you will start to get my drift. Consumables like water, electricity and gas are commodities essential for modern life. Although there may be a fine line in describing communications as a good rather than a service, but shouldn't it also be on the list?

Essential service

It may be extreme classing communications as an essential of life, but there are many consumers that actually feel this way, and as our dependence on the internet increases the more this will become the norm.

But the commodity analogy goes much deeper than that, especially in this data-centric world. The delivery of anything digital over copper, fiber, cable or wireless is startlingly similar to the delivery of other commodities like electricity and water with the network replacing the grid and pipelines. Simplistic as this may sound, if you think of it, the flow of data is very similar.

Like those other commodities, telecom networks started as public utilities, initially because of the cost of rolling them out and also because of national security concerns. In recent times those same governments have privatized their PTTs and deregulated markets to encourage competition. This was the driver for innovation, upgrading and big investment in comms infrastructure, culminating in the phenomenal success of mobile network introduction and expansion.

The sale of those assets and the revenues generated by the sale of mobile spectrum were a short-term boon for governments, but it has created other issues that no amount of regulation has been able to address. Network operators today constantly have to invest in innovative technologies and new services to remain competitive, and traditional services like voice and messaging are being eroded by over-the-top players.

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