A big subject of debate today at the messaging congress was collaboration and how that will stimulate innovation in the telecoms sector.
Paulo Simões of Portugal Telecom is ready to embrace the Internet, he proclaimed the walled garden to be dead, real innovation would come from outside the telecoms companies like it has in the Internet world.
In response, Andrew Bud of mBlox made a typically candid assertion about the choice the telecoms industry faced.
Why, he asked, was a $700B industry (Telecoms) trying to emulate a $150B industry (the Internet) in which all of the infrastructure value had been lost? The mobile operators were in a great position to charge for the network enablers such as messaging, data transport, presence, voice, etc that are required to delivery a rich experience to customers while they are mobile. They should be making sure they are charging for this and not just jumping into bed with the ISPs because they feared being left behind.
To me this presents a dichotomy for the operators. On the one hand, they want innovation at Internet speed, on the other they want to control and charge for use of their networks. In the Internet world, this control is no longer there which is the point Andrew was making, but this lack off control is exactly what has stimulated innovation.
In the Internet world you can use two PCs on a LAN as a test environment. If you need a new way of communicating you just develop a new protocol. When you’re ready you just make it live and see whether there is uptake for the service. The barriers are so low that pretty much anyone can have a go.
In some cases it is possible to create innovative mobile apps that rely on an IP stack but these are pretty limited. Not least because maintaining an IP connection in the mobile world is pretty difficult and push is nigh on impossible.
So it’s access to the enablers that’s required things like
- When a handset is turned on
- When it roams onto a different network
- HLR control for selective switching of voice or signalling traffic
Access to these services would allow real innovation. It’s these events and services that differentiate the mobile world from the fixed Internet world.
Now I’m not suggesting for one minute that operators let a bunch of bedroom developers loose on their networks. But there may be a middle ground.
The operators will have test environments, discrete networks on which pretty much anything can happen without impacting the production network. Why not expose them as part of the developer/partner programs?
Alternatively the equipment vendors, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens, Telsis, Comverse, Airwide could do something similar. It may even help them sell more equipment to the operators. Here’s a shiny new bit of tin and here’s some fully test applications that can make use of this features that you can launch immediately and generate revenue immediately.
If this doesn’t happen, mobile customers will become frustrated by the pace of change and look to Microsoft, Google, etc for the mobile services that they want to use going forward.
Then the Telecoms industry will emulate the Internet, but in revenue terms and not innovation.