A recent Telco industry conference listened attentively to a speaker extolling the wonders of Software Defined Networks. The audience was curious. Some delegates wondered why on earth their customers should be handed the keys to the profitable network management business – it could surely lead only to further loss of business. Convenience for customers seemed missing from their agenda.
Other delegates were even more appalled at the SDN turn of events – not only had the speaker broken ranks; it was more troubling than that. Here was an advocate for both SDN and (breathe deep, clasp forehead) Dark Fibre!
A horrified hand shot up at question time. No ordinary delegate and no ordinary question from a Telco senior. And the question spoke volumes for the gulf between Telco industry insiders and Customer expectations. “Surely”, he said after announcing his prestigious rank, “surely the service you seem to be offering . . . does it not require an element of pre-provisioning? And there, in that moment, the chasm was revealed. Steady on – let’s not anticipate this digital stuff catching on!
And at an even more recent conference a senior Telco apologist was busy tweeting that there was no need, no demand, no conceivable rationale, for supplying customers with more bandwidth than the Telco deemed necessary. He was not admitting that his technology was in any way inadequate – he was simply continuing the blinkered line that a better service was not needed. Proud he was of their great achievements in supplying a service that (even when stretched) fails to meet customer expectations. ‘Lines, damned lines and statistics’, muttered industry outsiders.
This aversion to demand, ignorance of market realities and imagined fear of investment risk goes deeper. In Telco Land the disbelief of demand is embedded in the very soul of their organisational being. Even if (surely when) they recognise the glimmer of a multi-Gigabit truth those insiders will want to deliver it with new forms of shared service – although most readers will not remember those distant telephonic times.
The consumer optimist may say that those Telco insiders are approaching the end of the line. Some consumers (a few) may already be fortunate to experience, at home or abroad, levels of broadband service that starkly reveal the shortcomings visited on others. Other consumers may ask why? They may ask whether the industry regulator is concerned? They may almost certainly ask why this shambles required so much tax-payer funded investment? And they will be told that it is all very complicated and impossible for ordinary mortals to understand.
It is time to wake up and admit that our experts (even with honest endeavour) made great mistakes. We now know it was a mistake to demand competition at the level of holes and poles. It was a mistake to allow those assets to be monopolised by their owners. It was a mistake to believe that copper phone lines could ever be future-proofed. It was a mistake to assume that Mobile would render fixed-line investment unnecessary. And, above all, it was a mistake to invent that dereliction of regulatory duty – technology neutrality – the ultimate achievement of Telco political lobbying.
But now, at last, we have a government that is minded to make amends. It may be unwilling to admit to past errors (even though these stretch across many regimes) but it is only realistic to seek a better way forward. Fortunately the cost of doing the job properly has fallen and the previous over-hyped estimates are discredited. Cue rapid repositioning in Telco land – or watch that old guard drift away in a sea of irrelevance. It really is time to teach Mama to suck Gigs.