Telecoms 20 years on – pretty much nothing has changed

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The Total Telecom Congress last week was new, yet familiar. The Congress itself – as we have come to expect – was well organized and full of great content, delivered by excellent speakers. The Awards dinner was, according to the buzz afterwards, the best yet and Jay Rayner was perfect.

And yet.

Sitting in the Business Design Centre café and saying ‘hi’ to people that we have known for over 25 years in telecoms was actually rather depressing. The people were not depressing, let’s be clear about that. It was that we have become Grumpy Old Men.

Without exception, we agreed that telecoms moves at a glacial pace. And all the messages that were being presented by the telecoms companies we had heard 10,000 times before.

Rewind to 1998 (yes, really 20 years ago) and there was a conference in London called something like ‘Broadband, Build it and They will Come’.

The first morning went like this:

Speaker One, the managing director of a national telecoms company: “We are building a national network that will be the best ever and we will rule the country.”

Speaker Two, the managing director of a European telecoms group: “We are building a pan European network that will be the best ever and we will rule Europe.”

Speaker Three, one of the managing directors of a global telecoms group: “We are building a global network that will be the best ever and we will rule the world.”

Speaker Four, from the planet Zog: “We are building a pan-galactic network and it will be the best ever and we will rule the universe.”

OK, so the last sentence might contain a little fake news.

The important point is that the last speaker before lunch ambled on stage without a tie on (unheard of in those far off Victorian times), having just stubbed out a cigarette and said, “I don’t own a network and I am going to eat your lunch.”

And the assembled company of telecoms professionals frowned or laughed or shoved their heads in the sand, depending on their mood.

And so it came to pass.

The sad thing is that the use of ties might have changed in the interim, but the content remains pretty much the same in the telecoms world.

Even in billing, the progress was slow enough that ten years after that conference, one speaker presented a set of slides developed in 1994 and the only thing he changed was the date and venue in the footer. The message was that the next generation of billing systems needed to be scalable and flexible.

As noted, pretty depressing – partly because the lack of anything happening, and partly because telcos are so beautifully placed to do something about it.

It is not a problem exclusive to telcos, but as we have mentioned before, telecoms companies need to let millennials rip down the silo walls and certainly telecoms companies should cease and desist with their way of developing products (like RCS!) and start developing products like, well, anyone else.

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