27 December 2005

The year that was in Telecommunications

In keeping with the season, I decided to summarize some of the major events of the past year in telecommunications. As a review of this blog, which is only four months old, shows, there were many noteworthy events in the past year. To recap:

  • The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) happened. After much ado, the result was to keep studying Internet governance. The divide between those arguing that nothing needs to be done and those who feel inadequately represented has not effectively been bridged.
  • Mergers and acquisitions were prominent features of the news. SBC kicked off the sweepstakes by entering into an agreement to purchase AT&T. This eventually triggered a bidding war between Qwest and Verizon for MCI. Verizon eventually prevailed, though not without discontents among MCI shareholders because Qwest's purchase price was higher, though it was clearly the weaker merger partner. SBC ended up taking AT&T's name, leveraging a well known brand.
  • Amidst all of this consolidation, the large ILECs invested in infrastructure -- fiber to the home to be specific. Over this high speed infrastructure, they hope (and are) offering video as well as high speed Internet. This raises the specter of a "triple" or "quadruple" play ... voice, data, video, mobile. This is what AT&T attempted in the late 1990s by acquiring TCI (cable) and using the FCC unbundling rules for local access. They did not pull off a bundled service offering and ended up having to sell off the pieces. Comcast entered into an agreement with Sprint/Nextel to compete. Are bundled service offerings going to be the best business strategy going forward?
  • Not everyone thinks so ... Alltel announced the sale of its wireline (ILEC) business, and Telecom Austria also moved in that direction. So which will it be?
  • This might be remembered as the year in which VoIP became mainstream. VoIP traffic was blocked in some places (Israel, Qatar, to name a few). Ebay purchased Skype. Tiny Western Kentucky decided to go VoIP ... I had forecasted this eventuality some five years ago ...
  • Content and carriage began coming together in new ways, to the delight of some and the consternation of others. Google began building municipal, in addition to acquiring the rights to some dark fiber. Similarly, Edward Whitacre of SBC (now AT&T) made the news in which he suggested differential pricing for high profile users. This raised the profile of an ongoing discussion about "network neutrality", including an article in Technology Review about a potential redesign of the Internet.
  • Speaking of carriage, there was a tussle between Level 3 and Cogent over peering. This added fuel to the fire of network neutrality, WSIS, and the power wielded by the large internet backbone providers. This was eventually resolved, even though it did result in some temporary outages for some Cogent customers.
  • Mobile continues to be an important feature in the telecommunications landscape. Many operators are rolling out 3G services; CDMA 2000-based technologies still have a substantial lead, though most of us expect WCDMA to come on strong in the coming years, as the GSM-based carriers roll out the necessary infrastructure. Will we ever see a single worldwide air interface standard? Maybe with 4G?
  • Mobile continues to provide a viable alternative to wireline network access for voice. Access lines continue to decline, which is one of the reasons why Alltel (and Telecom Austria) decided to take the actions they did.
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