“Telecoms is boring”

Talking with my teenage son about my career (and his future one), he expressed what I initially thought was shocking point of view. On reflection I realised he had a point.

I have spent nearly all my adult life in telecommunications and during that period have seen massive change and worldwide impact from telecommunications. However, today, for most people, Telecoms just isn’t very exciting. That doesn’t mean its not important. It is; and Covid19 has shown this. However, that importance is mostly as an unexciting utility that just works.

During lockdown a lot has been made about the criticality of telecoms infrastructure, in enabling many of us to work from home. What has been said less is that our ability to WFH relied on also having reliable and increased use of water, electricity and gas 24 by 7. It relied on networks of postal delivery and couriers. All of these are utility suppliers, with some limited additional performance guarantees for the delivery services.

Telecoms is different

Telecoms still sees itself as something more than the utility. It has a history of:

  • technical innovation with long distance trunk dialling, mobile, SMS, mobile money
  • service innovation with ring tones, wallpapers, SMS competitions
  • product innovation with constantly changing competitive billing and charging models.

However, this has left an organisational legacy in telco.  An organisation that still sees or perceives itself as:

  • a technology leader
  • a value added service provider
  • a strong consumer brand

The problem is, none of this has been visible during Covid19. I have lost count of the number of updates to my Zoom application in the last 4 months. Zoom exhibits all of the above characteristics. I am unaware of any changes to my broadband/phone service. My broadband CSP demonstrates none of these characteristics.

Being a telecoms utility is profitable and good

Telcos have, for too long, bemoaned the OTT services eating into their service revenues. However, for many it’s time to recognise that those revenues aren’t coming back anytime soon, without a complete change in innovation culture. Instead, for many CSPs, it’s time to recognise that they are utility providers of connectivity. That does not mean they cannot be profitable, they can be very profitable. However, this requires a laser like focus on the optimisation of operational as well as capital cost for these utility networks.

Appledore will be publishing research on the utility telco later this year.


Image courtesy of Photo by Lars Brinkman from FreeImages