Ten years gone: A brief history of the great 00s telecoms mash-up

John C. Tanner
14 Dec 2009

Time is an illusion and decades not nearly as self-contained as people like to think of them in retrospect. But if the 00s will be remembered for anything in the telecom world, it will be for the phenomenal pace of change and disruption that has pushed Asia to center-stage and transformed the industry so drastically that it's still reeling from those changes - and in many ways still struggling to keep up.

To really appreciate just how much things have changed, it's worth looking back at the state of play in the year 2000, which was ushered in with fear and loathing over the Y2K bug that could cause computer clocks worldwide to reset to the year 1900 - and thus destroy modern civilization.

Which, of course, turned out to be the least of everyone's worries.

To be sure, the Y2K bug still proved to be a headache for plenty of telcos and enterprises - not in terms of failing networks but in terms of CIOs being forced to justify the money spent on Y2K fixes after it was revealed that some companies had spent millions while others had spent considerably less, regardless of network size.

But that was nothing compared to what was to come.

In 2000, the telco sector was riding high on the dotcom boom, with new players like Global Crossing, Level 3, Qwest, Williams, 360networks and others working alongside the world's incumbent carriers to build ambitious fiber networks in anticipation of the coming exaflood of data traffic.

By the start of 2001, the exaflood was nowhere to be seen, and the stock market started abandoning the dotcoms, leaving the telecoms stuck with a capacity glut that it would take most of the rest of the 00s to recover from. As a point of reference, Level 3's stock price dropped from $132 to $25.

By 2002, Global Crossing was in Chapter 11 (virtually every other next-gen international carrier would follow suit within a year) and Worldcom was admitting to "accounting irregularities" that would eventually earn several executives - including CEO Bernie Ebbers - jail terms. Global Crossing, Tyco Telecom and Qwest also found themselves under investigation.

By the time the dust settled in 2005, most of the subsea assets belonged to Asian players like Hutchison, ST Telemedia, VSNL (now Tata Communications), Reliance and China Netcom.

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