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21C Global Summit: A Weird Consensus…

Telco 2.0 was supporting the 21C Global Summit at Blenheim Palace this week. And what did we find?

Well, it’s increasingly clear that our ideas have traction. Everyone who so much as touched on telco business models, or the infrastructure that underlies them, agreed on key points; points that could have been taken from the last few months of this blog or the main texts of Telco 2.0. The challenge now is to fully internalise what these mean within telco organisations and create some action plans to do something about it. This requires stronger leadership - a recurring theme of the event.

For example, Andy Zimmermann of Accenture’s Technology Strategy practice opened the conference pipes on Wednesday morning by explaining the importance of some Ps; portals, partners, and platforms were all there. Another was “plexes”, which rather than being another word for your navel was used to refer to big IT infrastructure. Again, that’s certainly a theme you’d meet in your daily Telco 2.0. Further, Zimmermann cited content-delivery networking, secure control of sensitive data, and payments as crucial functions telcos need to develop.

Not just that, but the means he recommended had a notable Telco 2.0 feel; specifically, telcos needed to work on their service-delivery platforms, which don’t need to be IMS. (See Martin’s post for more on this…)

He wasn’t the only one, either; Ross Fowler, Cisco’s VP in Europe, drew everyone’s attention to the curious way the functions of content providers are converging with those the GSM/UMTS standards world think are the core functions of a telco. For example, they require high-level applications such as video editing and collaboration, policy/authentication functions to control how their output is released - and the indispensable networking infrastructure to haul bits. Ross, by the way, will be going into more detail about this at the Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm on the 17th of October.

We’ve often enough pointed out the importance of really good infrastructure to anything online; and the transformation from systems based on huge, dedicated softswitches to Googlised applications spread over herds of commodity servers. Peter Cochrane, one of the biggest brains in the room, got to the nub of the issue when we asked him where telcos’ comparative advantage lies in this evolving marketplace. “Engineering and maintaining life-critical networks”, he said.

Well, Scott McNealy woz ‘ere too, and he said that telcos are Sun’s number 1 market, that he wants to “help the telcos win”, and that Sun promised not to compete on what he calls the essential core of subscriber management. The menace, though, was that “if telcos don’t become destination sites, the destination sites will become telcos.”

The message is coming from a lot of people; telconess itself is becoming much less concentrated, infrastructure is changing, and transactional functions are vital. The killer detail, though, is that literally everyone at the conference said something along these lines….except for the telco executives themselves. If you wanted to know about the problems of activating lots of iPhones, indeed anything about sexy gadgets, shiny video content, or wishing you could just bill Google again - there were plenty of telcos to tel you. But no sign they even noticed there was a problem with their fundamental business model.

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