“Network Slicing? Are you having a laugh?”

Yes, you can go to the various year-end awards ceremonies and general gladhanding, but if you want to see what Telecom actually thinks about itself, TelecomTV’s annual Great Telco Debate is much more revealing.

For sure, there is an intentional end-of-term feel to the event. This is telecom if not quite “at play”, then certainly letting its hair down a little. Free of corporate slideware and PR minders, its unique format of 3-minute perspectives on a given topic means that GTD can get to the heart of things surprisingly quickly.

Along the way, it’s pretty free ranging. Yes of course we mentioned the metaverse (but only after 80 minutes – Graham Wilde had a clock running on that – but how many other telecom conferences this year namechecked Douglas Adams, Eddie van Halen, Philip Larkin, Joseph Schumpeter and an orchestra composed entirely of tubas?

The “DSP: Are we there yet?” debate might have had a somewhat predictable outcome, but not before some frank admissions from multiple panelists that (a) telcos still have trouble on some basis things – ServiceNow’s Justin Paul just wants a single family bill! – and (b) they are trying (despite BT’s having “more pilots than British Airways”). Against the backdrop of a somewhat down week for Vodafone, Frances Serravalle nonetheless reiterated the breadth of scope of its Tech2025 transformation plans. “We get it”, was the message from telco, “but let’s not forget what we’re good at.”

A reference to the need for culture change prompted a spirited defence – but the topic came up again in all of the subsequent debates.

Like a dropped packet of Christmas nuts, Open RAN went everywhere. And like trying to find something the whole family can watch on TV at Christmas – pretty much nobody agreed on anything. Which certainly made for an interesting discussion.

The “Software-ization and the Public Cloud” debate ultimately centered in on two issues: first, whether hybrid and multi-cloud is the end game, or all-in on public cloud. Second, whether a strategy of moving to public cloud but trying to stay insulated from its key capabilities makes any sense. High Priestess of Public Cloud, Danielle Royston – or should that be the Mary Poppins of Public Cloud? – likened it to moving home but avoiding unpacking just in case you might want to move in the future. Danielle’s selection of colorful props reinforced the point.

“Will Private 5G kill wireless LAN?” takes place where enterprise IT meets Telecom. Anyone and everyone is playing there, from Nokia (“the market leader in Private 5G”), through telcos and the big IT players. Fortunately, the answer appears to be collaboration. So that’s alright then. Except for the fact that enterprises really don’t care – as long as their business is up & running. (Thank you, Phil Jordan). And in any case, Private 5G isn’t necessarily the slam-dunk answer to a poorly designed wifi network.

The final debate, about “the future”, concluded that telecom should stick to its knitting – but since Telecom’s knitting is in fact precisely finishing off what was promised last year, that shouldn’t make anyone unhappy. Unless you think 6G really matters – in which case those Bounty bars in the bottom of the Celebrations tub are all yours. At one point a “Down with Gs!” cry yielded a round of applause.

For sure, if DSP Leaders Summit is the Davos of Telecom, then GTD is its TV Christmas Special. Ah yes, some old favourites, something new, a respectfully irreverent, and a few running gags: Network Slicing?! Are you having a laugh?