Archive for the ‘ Communication Industry ’ Category

ITU 13th subregional meeting, Myanmar, October 2006

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

The ITU and the government of Myanmar, successfully ran and hosted the 13th subregional meeting for Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam (CMLV). Topics of discussion focused on Advanced wireless technologies and Internet Governance. Presenters included NTT Japan, Mr Alexander Ntoko, Head of e-strategies at ITU, and myself as the external expert hired as an ITU consultant for the conference. The last time I presented to the subregional meeting was in 1997, when I conducted a seminar on Internet for Policy Makers again as external consultant, although I have dealt with some of the other delegates during other similar workshops, most recently being during the ITU/ADB workshop on Internet Governance and Interconnection, in 2004 held in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

There were many country presentations and it was very interesting to see all these countries are at different stages of development. Some had just recently set up separate regulatory bodies, others had already corporatised or privatised their incumbent players, whilst others had already introduced domestic or international competition, etc. Telecom development also varied with Myanmar having very low teledensities e.g. 1.3, whilst others were already implementing 4G trials or licensing 3G etc. There was concern about the “walled gardens” which could result in the whole alphabet and number soup of telecom technologies being deployed. So interoperability and interconnectivity was discussed as a preferable approach to choosing winners, to enable greater choice, affordibility and players in the arena. Overall, it allowed for these countries to hear each other fully and learn from each other, something they don’t usually get at other meetings such as ASEAN, APT, etc. Overall dialogueand exchange of information was useful to the regulators and operators present, and many new initiatives to strengthen telecommunications between these countries were realised.

This was the first sub-regional meeting that also had a Business Forum held the day before, and there was support to continue this for future meetings. There was also interest in having more of a dialogue between private sector and government as opposed to separate meetings. The next host country is Laos and the focus of discussion will be on Convergence, to be held sometime in Sept/Oct 2007.

Next Generation Wireless – a Wireless Special Interest Group meeting, TIE

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

I truly enjoy living out here in Silicon Valley as there are innumerable opportunities to network with innovators of technology and enthusiastic entrepreneurs. One of the recent networking events I attended, which I enjoyed is the Wireless SIG meeting of TIE ( held on the 19th Sept’06. It focused on Next Generation Wireless, where they had a good mix of speakers. There were 2 venture capital speakers, 4 vendors of wireless technology (Qualcomm, Intel, IP Wireless and TelASIC), and one speaker from Yahoo.

I found the moderator did a great job of bringing the issues to light quite pointedly, e.g. addressing head on whether the Next Generation Wireless world will be a Wi-fi mesh, or Wi-Max or 3G world, etc. The vendor and VC speakers focused their comments on the pros and cons of the various wireless or mobile technologies, on seeing wireless as an alternative way to offer connectivity where there was low teledensity; or for business backbone or last mile; and to see mobile and wireless as a new way to offer greater bandwidth for applications such as mobile TV, Internet browsing, etc. They also discussed the problematic world of spectrum regulation (including pros and cons of licensed versus unlicensed bands), carrier inefficiencies and the costs of the end user device as being several factors determining which technology may prevail. There was also a discussion about how service providers need to look at service provisioning to keep or increase ARPU (average revenue per user), either through advertising, bundling of services, etc

Having a Yahoo representative on the panel though, brought in what I thought were some refreshing elements to assess next generation networks. He highlighted that the future of communications will be a future of social networking. Thus, he felt it will not be so much about bandwidth in the network, applications or CPE that determines which technology prevails, but about of USABILITY, DISCOVERABILITY and RELEVANCE.

I will add one more element to his list. And that is “interconnectivity�. This is an old standard for service providers in the wired world. If you look at the history of wired communications, the International Telegraph Union (now known as the International Telecommunications Union) was formed primarily by the initiative of private telegraph operators who knew they needed interconnectivity and interoperability to make their networks utilized and needed within and across borders. Unliked the wired world, the radio or wireless world, started out trying to create de facto rather than de jure standards. Today we are so used to lifting up any wired telephone bought anywhere in the world, and dialing up to connect to any other wired telephone in the world, Yet we still accept the fact that we have to use different TV or cellphones in different countries or buying multimode systems to make things work. The mobile world is full of its own alphabet soup of jargon and standards–TDMA, AMPS, CDMA, GSM ,etc.

These have also been called “walled gardens�, and the only level of coordination is to ensure no harmful interference between the various services. Despite the promise of IP-enabling their networks, the moderator of the session pointed out that service providers have no incentive to go IP (to glue their services together). Much of their apprehensiveness stems from fearing a revenue loss (e.g. using free skype phone calls instead of paid airtime on their cellphones).

Well, they will have just have to, as their users will come to demand interconnectivity and interoperability in terms of seamless roaming as well as ability to reach others using other networks. Users will not be satisfied to paying just for connectivity or bandwidth and having to figure out themselves means to get this interconnectivity through applications or CPE. The new generation of users will want to be able to have access to communication to communicate to a world greater than their own. Users I think, will no longer be happy to pay just to make a phone call or send data messages only within the same standard network. Interoperability and interconnectivity, the standards which made the wired world so successful, will become and is becoming the new standard for the mobile world as well- hence to move to IP, IMHO. The need for interconnecitiy will drive the IP equation for service providers faster than before for the wireless world. IP in many ways is the glue for interconnectiyity and interoperability within the alphabet soup of the mobile and wireless world and with the wired world. In fact, many countries are already IP enabling their 3G systems and some are calling this 3.5G.

Thus, I think the social networking element as the future of communications is THE important revolution or evolution of communications technology, that not everyone gets. Traditional players are the least equipped indeed to understand this as they are more used to a world of person to person or one way publishing communication. It is this very new world of social networking, which others call the “participation age�, which will create a new demand or standard from the wireless or mobile service providers from users. It is a brave new world of communications, and we are only seeing the beginning of this new revolution. As someone who has been in the communications industry for the last 20 years, I have seen many “evolutions� and“revolutions� promised of a Global Information Infrastructure stemming from the wonders of ISDN, ATM, Internet, LEOs, HAPs, Wi-Fi, etc- the wonders of new applications and devices (smaller and cheaper video and digital cameras, etc), the wonders of everything getting cheaper and cheaper, and easier and easier to use and own, etc.

However, today, it is the whole concept of who the publisher of content is, who controls the network and who makes money on it, has fundamentally changed today like never before.

If regulators and policy makers focus on the bigger picture impact on the economy and on society, rather than focusing on just preserving the monies of the few or the incumbent players, then a brave new world of communications will finally truly unfold. It is the human divide or mindset divide not technology divide, that still holds us back from being able to bridge the digital divide of today and fulfil the underlying human desire to communicate with others.

APECTEL33 restructuring – promising

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

It was indeed an interesting experience attending APECTEL33 in Calgary, Canada having been away from the APEC scene since 2002. My days as Secretary General of Asia Pacific Internet Association during the 1997-1999, took me there on a regular basis. After that, I was primarily involved in the APEC SME group until 2002.

There was so much going on at the same time it was really hard to keep up. I totally understood how smaller delegations would have felt. The first two days alone there were 2-3 workshops happening in parallel that it was hard to take advantage of the sessions. There were regulators roundtables, industry roundtables and other workshops all happening in parallel. I participated and spoke at the workshop on spam, and the industry roundtable on IP NGN. As the plenary and working groups began, there were further overlaps which made it very hard to keep up with all the issues. Whilst there were attempts to bring in users through the e-inclusion workshops, there was not as much a mechanism to include their viewpoints.Otherwise, bigger users were represented by INTUG.There were some vendors, service providers and some industry organizations such as TIA around but more could be done to get their inputs into the process in an organized manner.

What struck me in the working groups, was the overlap in projects between and sometimes within the working groups. Some projects to me seemed outdated or sometimes “non-issues� but because APECTEL culture is a collaborative one, these projects slipped through with little or no discussion at times. There were also many researchers and consultants who have come to understand how to tap into APECTEL monies, who were very active, but not necessarily the most informed.

What was encouraging was to see APECTEL be very aware of these dysfunctions, and in Calgary, they adopted a new structure for APECTEL and economies were reminded to follow clear procedures for submitting projects, workshop, etc to allow for other delegations to consult experts to allow them to offer informed input. APECTEL now has 3 working groups: Liberalisation; ICT Development; and Security and Prosperity. This structure should streamline their work. The next meeting is scheduled to be in New Zealand either in October.

Overall, the Canadians did a great job hosting APECTEL and thanks to their efforts, delegates were exposed to many SMEs with interesting hardware, software and applications. As a networking and information exchange organization, APECTEL is the place to be involved. Given how diverse the membership base of APECTEL is, its collaborative and friendly working methodology makes it a unique experience indeed.

Convergence- the story of the blind men and the elephant?

Friday, April 14th, 2006

I find it very interesting that even 20 years later, we are still debating what convergence means? I finally got around to reading Geoff Huston’s article on convergence . If you get a chance to listen to Geoff, please do (see Won’t Get.Fooled Again?). Very interesting indeed. He makes his assumptions from an traditional or incumbent player standpoint. From that point of view it was interesting and very thought provoking. However, it can be said to be just one side of the story of what the elephant looked like to the 3 blind men.

He makes a point that convergence is THE story generated by the telcos trying to keep their monopoly. That for every new technology created, telcos used that technology to proclaim the reason for why one network makes efficiency and economic sense. They used ISDN, ATM and now IP to push for one network owned and managed by them, to keep their monopoly and increase their profit margins. Indeed very interesting and thought provoking, especially since his paper is meant to provoke vendors who are creating new technologies to bring about this one network convergence. He then goes on to prove that convergence as such is dead.

I take quite a different stance on that. I too have witnessed the convergence story over 20 years, from ITU World Telecom 1987 speaking thepromise of ISDN, to ITU-COM’88 speaking of convergence of voice, data and broadasting, to ATM during ITU World Telecom 91, etc etc. What I saw, was convergence meaning either convergence of industry players, convergence into one network, convergence of the customer premise equipment or convergence of regulations. “Multimedia� was a term used for one CPE that could do voice, data and video. The last 20 years have shown that convergence actually brings more plurality of industry players, networks, CPE rather than oneness.

I also saw convergence used as an argument by the non-traditional players to get into the telco business. With the divestiture of AT&T in the US, and deregulation and competition being driven around the world through GATT/WTO, new technologies also brought the barrier to entry low and new wireless and IP technologies. This brought new players into the fold. Today, Wi-fi, Wi-Max, Wi-Bro, WLL, etc have pushed the market for more players who also want to provide voice, data, and video. In fact beyond triple play, Quad play (adding the mobile convergence) is another push for “newer players� to get into the telco arena.

In other words, I see Geoff’s enunciation that “convergence� is a telco “myth or lie� and that it is� over� true if “convergence� is equated to “monopoly�. Not true from the point of view that convergence was also an argument by other non-telco players wanting to get into the telco field. I then agree with him that monopoly days are over, and plurality is the way of the future. Yes, in some instances we saw too much plurality than the market could handle and so today, we will see some vendor mergers and service provider mergers going on. This is more an optimization of the marketplace than a fulfilling of the promise of monopoly.

Meanwhile, regulators as far as I have seen, speak of convergence very much from the point of view of bringing in plurality. Definitely not as an argment to keep monopoly. Traditional telco regulations made distinctions of service provisioning from a licensing point of view to keep monopolies within different service turfs. One got an ISP license, a mobile licence, a wired license etc. Cable operators for instance we often not allowed to offer voice, and the move towards convergence regulations was now to allow a plurality of players to enter into each others market. Many regulators adopting deregulation and competition, adopted “convergence� by moving to adopt technology neutral regulations and to allow service providers to determine the type of technology that best meets the needs of the consumer. A wireline service provider now can also use mobile or wireless access for last mile or backbone, depending on locality and needs of the customer. This totally is the opposite of monopoly and that is the way regulators and other players seemed to have viewed convergence, in my opinion.

Even the user will demand convergence from a service provisioning point of view. IP enables different network transport and last mile modes to be interconnected and interoperable. A user wants to send files to a friend, and does not want to be bothered if his friend is on a GSM or ISDN or ATM network. He just wants it to reach him anywhere, anytime and anyplace.

IP is now seen to be the driver of this true “interconnectivity� and “interoperability� of networks. Quad play and plurality of players, networks, CPEs, etc is the wave of the future. Customers also wish to get simplified or one bill, and cheaper bills also. (of course there is a secondary issue if users will benefit economically from unified networks, as they may still continue to receive 3 bills from the same provider for 3 different services. Profitability for service providers versus costs consiousness and unified network push, will determine how the future will look like.)

So unlike the past promise of digital networks, ISDN, ATM, etc, IP is the closest to developing something as global and public as the PSTN network in terms of interoperability and interconnectivity. New IP technologies such as Wi-Fi phones and VOIP, skype etc pushes the bar further on the promise of true convergence (plurality). (Secondary question: Whether IP was designed to be the backbone is another question but then does the user want or the service provider have to offer 99.999% reliability as per previous telco networks. Mobile and VOIP has shown than users may be wiling to bear with less for lesser costs. Something regulators need to think about- is it to user interest to regulate QoS? In some countries such as Singapore, the regulator tried imposing QoS of telco on ISPs and they learnt to do otherwise. )

In conclusion, like the 3 blind men, there will continue to be different stories of what convergence means- depending if you come from a vendor background, traditional telco, new player or regulatory point of view. So unlike Geoff who takes a traditional telco perspective to convergence, even though I also see convergence as an old topic, I also recognise that it has different meanings and different stories, hence not quite dead as he makes it out to be.