The next 25 years

Telecom Asia

If there’s one thing that can be said with certainty of the last 25 years of telecoms, it’s that few people in 1990 could have predicted what the telecoms landscape would look like 25 years later.

This became strikingly clear as we dug through back issues of Telecom Asia in preparation for this 25th Anniversary issue. The Asia telecoms landscape in 1990 was an era of analog circuits and (mostly) government monopolies. In most Asian markets there were at most two operators - one monopoly for domestic telephony and one for international. In many countries the waiting list for a telephone line was measured in years. POTS networks (as they were known - award yourself ten (10) points if you remember what that stands for) were only just starting to go digital with ISDN. For international connectivity, carriers were debating whether Sonet or SDH would (or should) replace PDH as a way to synchronize long-haul digital traffic. There was no Google. There was no internet (not commercially). There was no broadband. Mobile was rare, and mostly analog (commercial GSM wouldn’t be commercially live until 1991).    

So imagine going back in time to 1990 and explaining a 4G smartphone to a telecoms executive in Asia (or anywhere else, really) - its computing power, its storage capability, data speeds, apps, the 20MP webcam, etc.    

You get the idea.    

So if Asia telecoms in 2015 is fantastically futuristic by 1990 standards, the Asia telecoms landscape of 2040 will appear almost as fantastically advanced to residents of 2015 - so much so that making any predictions of the how telecoms trends will play out beyond 2025 or so is probably pointless.   

But it sure is fun.   

While we may not know exactly what the 2040 telecoms market in Asia will be like, we can point to the key ingredients that will help shape it over the next quarter-century, from technologies, consumer trends and research projects already in play, to external trends and variables that have nothing to do with telecoms and/or technology. Here are the ones that are worth keeping in mind as the telecoms sector kicks off the next 25 years of innovation.   

Rate of tech acceleration   

It’s worth starting with the acknowledgment that we’re currently in a stage of unprecedented technological acceleration, with technology development cycles getting shorter and shorter. As networks become more software-based, and as more services themselves become OTT apps, networks will have the flexibility to roll out new services faster than ever before, and more efficiently. This is going to a key influence on telecoms development over the next 25 years.

Ubiquitous connectivity    

This is the ultimate mission of the telecoms sector, and the current work being done on network virtualization and 5G gives us a taste of where we’re headed. By 2040, there will be no place on Earth that doesn’t have basic internet access, whether that’s courtesy of telcos, OTT companies like Google and Facebook or projects like Internet.org.   

Also, “basic” internet access (which will include voice apps, by the way) won’t mean 1 Mbps speeds. Connection speeds will be irrelevant, at least as a selling point. Service providers in 2040 will deliver as much bandwidth a given user needs for a given app on demand, automatically, whether they’re in the heart of the megacity or the rural outlands.

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