Redrawing the broadband map

06 Jul 2007

If there's an idea that lingers from last month's broadband conference in Beijing, it's that broadband resembles the world geopolitical map of the mid-20th century, where small bands of independence fighters took on long-established colonial regimes.

Anette Schaefer, a director of consumer research at Yankee Group, says the broadband battle is being fought between the guerillas - the Googles, Skypes and Vonages - and the imperialists - AT&T, NTT and BT et al.

It conjures up the image of the powerful with feet of clay, under attack from teams of highly-motivated rebels with the ability, as Mao put it, to swim like fish among the sea of people.

I don't want to take this analogy too far, as it is pretty unflattering to both groups.

Yet both imperialists and modern telcos share a common complaint: that their challengers have made, or are making, use of the tools that they had provided them - education, in the case of the colonies, and broadband infrastructure in the eyes of the carriers.

From the telco perspective, the threat from asset-light application and media companies is today just one among many.

But if fixed-line network players have a future, it is in broadband, and the "guerillas" challenge them at their most sensitive points - voice and VAS revenue, content and even incumbency itself.

Schaefer rightly notes that the jury is still out on this contest. Last year the imperialists defeated the guerillas in the initial skirmish over net neutrality.

The incumbents and the challengers are playing out a similar scenario in Asia. As delegates heard at last month's Broadband World Forum Asia in Beijing, the vulnerability of the broadband carriers is very much an issue in China.

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