I just finished doing a fascinating interview with Norman Lewis, the Director of Technology Research for France Telecom’s ISP, Wanadoo, and a keynote speaker at our upcoming Emerging Telephony conference. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve learned of Norman’s work, and it sounds like France Telecom is a telco that really “gets” all this emerging telephony stuff. I’ll be publishing the full interview in the next day or two, but I wanted to give you a taste now…
Stewart: Who thinks they own this space: the Telco’s, the ISP’s, or the Google/Yahoo/EBay trinity?
Lewis: Actually no-one but the customer ‘owns this space’. If there’s anything we should learn from history is that user behaviour and social forces will determine the shape of this space in the future. Just remember the first predictions on telephony itself!
But there is a sea change taking place. Telcos have begun to understand that voice is simply another data service over wireless or wired networks and that this migration of voice into the application layer opens voice to competition from other application-level players, such as portals. Though it appears GTalk, Y! Messenger, AIM, MSN Messenger and eBay’s Skype could commoditise Telcos as simple pipe-providers, it should be remembered that Telco expertise in identity and authentication, quality of service, convergence, billing and customer care, places them in a strong and potentially dominant position. This space will become hotly contested: Telcos believe they can maintain their positions while ISPs, MNOs, portals and others believe they too can occupy this space and thus overturn old hegemonies.
‘Telcos’ in the traditional sense of the term will not occupy this space. VOIP is destroying existing business models and they will be disintermediated. But in the words of Lawrence of Arabia, ‘nothing is written’ – yesterday’s Telcos can transform themselves if they recognize this threat and become 21st Century converged communication platforms.