Telecoms tirades: the truth about 5G and digital transformation

telecoms tirades overcharged
Image credit: TeodorLazarev /

Just occasionally you bump into old friends, old enough and battered enough to tell the truth as they see it.

How they see telecoms is not the rosy picture you see in the press, certainly not the press releases. The puff and hype and lack of progress, they believe, has gone on long enough.

Change is not really happening, at least not in the important places, the cultural places, the DNA of telecoms companies. Little or nothing is changing.

First, let us turn our attention to 5G. We have said in the past that 5G is the most hype soaked subject at the moment. Sure, it has the potential to make some great and disruptive changes to entire industries (so did 3G and 4G). But these changes are not being driven by telecoms and as one of our panel says “5G is just a big blow off; it is just faster 4G, if that”.

Even faster 4G is pretty game changing but the problem is that the telecoms industry “doesn’t understand what an innovation platform is” (this particular friend goes on to say that “innovation has too many syllables for the idiots who run telecoms to understand anyway”.) One particular example of this lack of imagination is the news that Verizon has decided that 5G should cost $10 more every month. “There is no growth in that, no sustainable value has been created” and, let’s face it, all it will actually do is alienate its unlimited data customers by taking another 10 bucks off them in return for some more, er, data.

NASA, meanwhile, has been thinking about beaming 5G from nano satellites from a low Earth orbit for about 10 years now and is getting close. That has imagination (not to mention a completely new revenue stream).

Talking of imagination, we accidentally got on to the subject of digital transformation, and, frankly, we wished we hadn’t. While many organisations are –without doubt – going digital and doing a decent job, the counter intuitive (some may say grumpy and cynical) view is that “digital transformation is about cost cutting; the rest is b*****t. There is no real imagination behind it. In reality it is about vendor consolidation and managed services outsourcing”. And, presumably, maintaining the status quo with investors.

Perhaps these are cynical views. Perhaps these views are what we are all thinking but not saying. Maybe we believe that if we say we are being innovative and disruptive enough times we will become innovative and disruptive.

The point is that in our heart of hearts could we actually say that telecoms is an innovative industry, one that is building innovation platforms (while transforming into sleek digital entities)? And even if a telecoms company accidentally built an innovation platform, would they have the first idea what to do with it (and charging an extra $10 is not the answer)?

Or would they leave it to “the Chaotic Evil Monsters” who have broken the internet and are on their way to breaking society?

(More about Chaotic Evil Monsters next time).

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