Preparing for the Fourth Wave

By Michael Elling

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With so many choices, so much potential confusion, and so many big, and supposed, end-to-end telco marriages (SBC/ATT still only covers 40% of the domestic PSTN), what does it mean for the enterprise decision maker after these deals close?

Well, not much really.

Take a step back. Look 20 years to the left and 20 years to the right. What do you see? To the left are three previous waves of digitization: IXC/WAN, datacomms/ISPs, and mobility. All have generated tremendous choice and supply.

To the right you see a converged future of 7x24, anywhere, anytime broadband access.

Digital Tsunami

What you can't easily see is the fourth and final wave; a digital Tsunami of unimagined strength. This is the big one, making mergers appear insignificant in comparison. It's just about to hit the metro-area networks (MANs), or last mile, globally.

Standing in front of that wave is $100-to-$200 megabit local transport pricing and tens-of-thousands of archaic Class-5 switches and enterprise PBXs supporting inefficient, narrowband, transport and access networks, or bottlenecks to rich-media solutions.

Data networks and applications, content, and mobility have irrevocably changed the world of information processing/creation, transport and consumption in the network core (WAN, wide-area network) and at the extreme edge (LAN/PAN, local and personal area networks).

During this process, packetized, IP networks have finally developed into a scalable, real-time, secure, seven-layer communications and information stack across these boundaries. We refer to this evolution as the core-driven IP communications model. Voice over IP (VoIP) is simply the leading edge of the wave.

Telco mergers are feeble attempts by the Bell companies (RBOCs) to stand fast ahead of the wave and constrain the rapid pace of pricing and architectural change in the MAN.

A new service provider model will follow in the wake of this wave, one which runs counter to the vertical integration of yesterday's monopolies. In the process, the convergence everyone is speaking of will result in infinite demand segmentation inside and outside the organization.

A true democratization and virtualization of demand, not commoditization of supply, is underway. This is why Google is able to sell click-throughs at $0.25-$2.50 per impression, while long distance rates are at $0.01 cent. All this happened in less than 10 years.

Mergers & You

When senior management asks questions about the impact of these mergers, draw attention to this fourth wave. Point out the resulting new future that will let your information managers (which is just about everyone in an organization today) reach anyone or anything inside or outside the organization (customers, suppliers, distributors, partners, etc ...).

Also point out that pushing this wave is a host of upstarts in the IP world; the new Ciscos, Qualcomms and Googles. They have been horizontally, and quietly, developing in the access and transport, signaling and operational support system, and application layers. These companies are all offspring of the previous waves.

Enterprise adoption of these solutions will drive access pricing down by 99% and replace the legacy Class 4/5 switching topologies with IMS-like (IP multimedia subsystem) networks.

But even if you are ready and well prepared and have been taking advantage of these waves, change leaves many feeling uneasy.

So, who do you turn to, if not the two or three remaining telco behemoths for services?

  • First, service and solution providers who see their core (or yours) as merely the edge of the Global IP WAN cloud -- itself a series of many other networks/islands. And much bigger than any of these behemoths.
  • Second, vendors aligned with a disintermediated stack model and not preaching vertical integration, rather open, interoperable, solutions (sort of the promise of IMS and 3GPP).
  • Third, people who understand the role of exchanges and clearinghouse models.
  • And lastly, view not only traditional telcos, but datacomm, content and mobile companies, even if only 5-10 years old, as "legacy" in a world of instant technological obsolescence.
  • These mergers have the benefit of letting you take this perspective to senior management and make the case for more in-sourcing or managed services before the new breed of service providers can be trusted with your critical enterprise information and communications solutions.

    Michael Elling is co-founder and partner of Information Velocity Partners, an info-media investment and strategic advisory firm.