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Looking Back On Technology Foresight

  • Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008
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  • Author: pradhana
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  • Filed under: Business Analysis

By David Molony, principal analyst at Ovum

Technology is a gift for this industry, but it’s also the challenge of many of our lives. And when it comes to making choices we are not running out, as the huge range of entries in this year’s World Communication Awards, supported by Ovum, showed.

Technology glitters

This year’s World Communication Awards (WCA) at the London Hilton Park Lane was more than a glittering night of the stars. It was a chance to reflect on developments in telecoms services – business models as well as technologies – over the last ten years, which is how long the WCA has been running.

My own starting point for the opening address was the revival of telcos; how the incumbents have succeeded the new entrants and entrepreneurs of the late 1990s as the trusted providers of broadband and managed services. The key to that has been investment in operating and support systems and customer services, which has helped greatly toward the consistent, standardised service levels that users want.

A killer product is harder to come by. It’s not easy to see one-stop breakthroughs in the crowd. It is easier to see whole areas of technology advancement: in mobile content management; in social and workplace networking; and in tools for shared development of business applications.

Foresight is a wonderful thing

Technology Foresight is one of the most challenging categories at the WCA, and always has been. That’s not just because we all have our ideas of what foresight means, but for two more practical reasons: the sheer number of entries (more than 60 this year) and the range of technology put forward for consideration.

In some cases that means whole projects. Take, for example, Telstra’s Telco 2.0 programme. Telstra’s team has been very resourceful and innovative in its own approach to NGN. Has it shown foresight? It has certainly shown acumen in getting results on its NGN as quickly as any major operator – and maybe a better result than any other national telco so far because it has coordinated mobile and fixed NGN development in a way that even AT&T, BT and Verizon have not yet.

Telstra’s view of ‘technology’ as a national IP network transformation certainly should have got the prize for thinking big, if there was one. Behind Telstra came RFID, represented through two entries: one from mobilkom Austria and one from Orange Business Services. Both have proved that the machine-to-machine proposition is no fantasy, but rather a highly effective solution for some industry users.

Judges particularly liked NXP’s submission of its own nearfield communications technology as implemented by mobilkom Austria in combination with WiFi and Bluetooth.

Still, these cases also proved how telecoms operators can get caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to introducing technology to the market – they get all the pain of rollout and implementation, but they don’t get any of the glory for the invention.

One judge wondered whether it really took “much foresight on a carrier’s part to use technology developed by others in the way it’s meant to be used.” However, like any technology, the proof of value comes out in the way it is implemented, especially if the operator has good examples to show that it has thought about the whole package – as Orange Business Services did with additional security and user controls.

So that’s the dichotomy with technology. If you deliver it well, somebody else gets the credit; if you don’t deliver it well, you go out of business.

In the end, none of these entries won! Instead the award went to VNL for its WorldGSM solar-powered base station. Is that an original idea? Ericsson and Motorola have been making them for years. But VNL is the first to produce really ‘green’ cellsites for developing countries, at a price point that fits with markets where annual ARPU is $5. Foresight means it is not enough to have a great product – it has to fit other people’s operating plans and economic realities. /PR

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