Making the Network relevant (again)

Most major fixed line carriers around the world are facing the same challenge. They are having to confront new 'disruptive' technologies such as VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol that threaten their traditional subscription-based revenue base, that until now has provided the steady cash flow to fund investment in their networks.

At the moment, the fixed line operators control most of the access to the Internet through broadband connections. But as we move from a 'network of computers' towards a 'network of devices connnecting everything and everybody', this will have the potential to marginalise the network operators.

For most end-user consumers, whether they are sending an email, uploading pictures from a digital camera to the flickr Web site or browsing items on eBay, they do not care about the network transporting their content. By definition, IP technology routes Internet traffic over inter-connected parallel networks. For business, its different. Particularly for the financial markets sector, network security and service reliability are critical requirements.

Former state monopolies are also under pressure from their respective regulators to build and then open up to their competitors a full end-to-end IP network. BT, British Telecom are at the forefront of building such a network - 21st Century Network. Several operators in North America have publicly stated that they are waiting to see what happens with BT's 21CN before announcing their own plans to upgrade their network infrastructure.

Five years or so ago, as the Internet was being rapidly rolled out to consumers, there was a tabloid fuelled debate around censoring Internet content. Sensibly, the operators stood back from the issue. Collectively they said that they could not be held responsible for the type of material that customers accessed online, in the same way that they did not listen into and monitor telephone conversations.

Now as we enter Web 2.0 and content proves to be one of the main service offering differentiators, the operators need again to make their networks relevant. By offering a range of 'value-added' services to different customer groups, they need to be more involved in the bits and the bytes that run down their fibre.

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