In 1990, the planet had only ten cities of ten million people or more. 2G GSM networks were in final testing for launch and the first “smart” phone was still some three years away from being introduced.
There are few evolutions that compete with the telecoms industry over the past 25 years. We now have previously unimaginable technologies in our hands, on our desks, into our homes - and even onto our bodies.
We’ve evolved from a period when large fixed wireline incumbents dominated the space - when a highly regulated industry meant investors were guaranteed a return and the customer was guaranteed an affordable service. During the mid-nineties, people accessed the Internet using copper phone lines: squealing modem sounds resonated across workplaces worldwide, pager services served as text-message-proxies, and call-waiting was the “killer app” for people who talked on their phones constantly.
Flash forward to 2003, when VoIP arrived. Phone calls could now be transmitted using Internet protocols, changing the nature of long-distance charges forever. And now consider that, at present, some firms with dotcom-boom era evaluations have actually realized those valuations - the majority enabled by telcos’ platforms and technologies. And it’s predicted that half the world’s population will be connected to the mobile internet by 2020.
As this transformation continues, what challenges has the telecom industry tackled, and what will its future bring?
Through the years, telecom companies have confronted shifting business models and competition between and from cellular, traditional landline, and cable TV services. With the rise in digital services, CSPs also needed to innovate and fulfill data traffic demand, and transform themselves from “telecom companies” to “integrated digital services providers.” Also essential: improvement in service quality and reduction of operational expenditures.
25 years of challenges
Telecom services have changed the way we interact on a personal, workplace or social level. They’ve also had a fundamental impact on global development. Telcos have provided services that increase awareness of political and social challenges, support disaster relief, opened innovation to wider groups, changed behavior patterns, and have fundamentally altered the culture of many nations.
Expect 25 years of changes crammed into the next five years. Telcos will continue to improve the speed of internet connections and the quality of consumer services. Competition from disruptors such as Google is a factor, but strategic partnerships with these new players may ensure they stay in the game.