Telecom Asia: life begins at 20

John C. Tanner
23 Apr 2010

As you may have noticed, Telecom Asia turns 20 this month. And it's hard to look back at the premiere issue of the magazine without marveling at what a different place the telecoms industry was back then.

To give you an idea, when I joined TA in 1996, editorial policy dictated that for the most part, we did not cover the internet industry, which was considered outside of the telecoms sector. We covered data related technologies like ISDN, B-ISDN, ATM and xDSL, but we didn't write about routers, Netscape or anything related to the web.

Clearly we've come a long way since then. The internet has drastically reshaped the business operations of retail, media and content companies ... and, yes the telecoms sector, too. Which sounds obvious in retrospect, of course, but remember that in the mid-90s, not everyone saw the internet as a major force of change beyond its academic origins.

In 1996, astronomer Clifford Stoll - more widely known for helping to track and catch a hacker back when such things were uncommon - wrote a book called Silicon Snake Oil, in which he argued that the internet was way overhyped and that, at the end of the day, who really wants to do their shopping or buy a newspaper online?

To be fair, technically Stoll was right at least in terms of the hype and timing, as the dotcom bust illustrated all too clearly. But to really appreciate the scope of how big a force the internet industry has become in the traditional telecoms space, consider the recent revelation from network security/monitoring company Arbor Networks, which recently determined that Google alone accounted for anywhere from 6% to 10% of global internet traffic by June 2009, and is the third biggest and fastest growing ISP on the planet, if you go by interdomain traffic volumes.

Who would have seen that coming 20 years ago?

Which is the point, really. The telecoms landscape of 2010 looks almost nothing like it did in 1990 in terms of the competitive and regulatory environments as well as the core technologies and architectures that telcos are migrating toward. Even the business model is changing (albeit grudgingly) as telcos become service-driven and customer-focused in ways they've never been before.


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