By the time you read this, you will have heard the results of this magazine's tenth annual awards. (And if you haven't, you can visit telecomasia.net to find out who won what.) And because there's just something about the number ten that triggers some involuntary reflex to regard it as a milestone, it's hard - at least for technology junkies like me - to not reflect on how much the telecoms industry has changed since our first awards in 1998.
As you might imagine, much of it is humorous - such as the fact that CDMA, which had been commercial for only a couple of years in 1998, won two awards: one for Hottest New Wireless Technology, and one for Most Overhyped Technology. It has since gone on to prove the latter naysayers wrong by bravely limiting the GSM juggernaut to a mere 80% global market share.
(To be fair, SK Telecom - the world's second commercial CDMA operator, which launched service in 1996, following Hutchison Telecom in Hong Kong, which launched CDMA the previous year - won both Best Mobile Carrier and Best Asian Carrier this year.)
There's more fun to be had, of course. Ten years ago, wireless broadband technologies like LMDS, MMDS and MVDS were going to liberate the fixed-line monopolies of the world. Iridium and Globalstar were going to make mobile truly global. You could never have too much subsea fiber capacity, although some skeptics did wonder if we really needed OC-48 pipes - a fair question when you consider that the vast majority of Internet connections at the time were dial-up and everyone thought 56-kbps totally kicked ass.
Sample quote from an Earthlink press release after they installed K56Flex in its modem banks: K56Flex is 'ideal for graphics-intensive Web pages, online gaming and collaboration, and streaming audio and video.'
No wonder Wall Street thought the Web was going to make us all billionaires.
Joost do it
Now we're on 'Web 2.0', and it's forcing telecoms operators to reinvent themselves. When I joined Telecom Asia in 1996, we had an editorial policy of not covering straight Internet stories (apart from data transport technology) because they were considered 'off topic' for a telecoms magazine. Now the headliners are companies like Google, Yahoo, Skype and MySpace, while telcos and cellcos are getting into the pay-TV business.
And even that business isn't what it used to be. VOD is no longer the Holy Grail of pay-TV but a preliminary step to a broader concept of video that ranges from added interactivity and multiple screens to sharable user-generated content and time-shifted video routed to any terminal you want, including your handset.
One of the more fascinating experiments in that regard is peer-to-peer video, currently being rolled out by Joost, a start-up from the guys who brought you Kazaa and Skype. The Joost proposition is that P2P TV would create an architecture of media servers that serve up the programming you want from the most available source. Crucially - seeing as how both the recording and movie industries snarl at the term 'P2P' the same way IDD operators used to snarl at 'callback' and 'refile' - Joost doesn't allow user uploads and only hosts content from providers it has signed contracts with.