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Monday, September 08, 2003


Light Reading discussion: "Top 2004 Telecom Trends?"

Steve Saunders with Light Reading started an interesting thread on the Light Reading message boards with the question, "I'm trying to work out what’s going to be "top of mind" with carriers and service providers next year -- can you help?"

Steve went on to list a number of technologies that might be on carriers minds such as "deploying QoS in support of service provider SLAs, MPLS, B-RAS / DSL, Ethernet services, core routers", etc.

Here's my two cents worth:

"What won't be top of mind in carrier minds"
Here's what I think should be tops in carrier minds, but won't be:

1. Continuing loss of subscribers to wireless phones.

2. Inability of the Bells to effectively exploit their new relationships to the direct broadcast satellite industry. The DBS players will be ready, but their Bell partners will be confused.

3. Cable TV MSOs will begin offering voice in more places, but these will only be nibbles on the tale of the Bell dinosaurs; they won't start to notice until cable TV voice deployments really pick up in 2005.

4. 2004 will see more FTTX roll-outs by small towns and rural telcos. At least 75% of these will be financially successful triple plays, but in spite of this there will continue to be debates as to whether the technology is "ready" or cost-effective. FTTX deployments will double or triple over 2004 but they will still be a small number overall.

The Bells will issue press releases and maybe announce a few token showcase FTTX deployments that may or may not get built in some year later in the decade.

Meanwhile, at dinosaur HQ, one or two Bells might actually begin studying real FTTX deployments for new (wealthy) subdivisions later in the decade. The marketing and programming aspects of the video part of a triple play will confuse them, so they may or may not plan on offering a cable TV channel lineup.

Bell investment in FTTX in 2004 will be only a fraction of what they spend on PR and lawyers explaining to the FCC and 50 state regulators what they might or might do with FTTX.

Here are two things that
will be on the Bells' minds:
1. Bells will continue to grow their long distance business -- that's one new business they do understand, more or less.

2. Politics/regulation:
Impatience with broadband availability, quality and pricing will become a political issue in some local and state races, but not nationally. At state and local levels, the Bells will be very busy defending themselves as well as trying to achieve the best of all worlds in each of the 50 states -- monopoly power combined with minimal regulatory oversight. They'll make a big financial investment in PR and lawyers to make this happen and they'll be successful in some states.


The cable MSOs, meanwhile, will continue stealing customers from Bell but running scared of DBS satellite. Cable operators may not always be nice people, but they are responsive to opportunities and even more responsive to threats.

Comcast will continue hustling to clean-up the mess bought from AT&T, using a mix of cash plus real management and engineering skills in some locations, PR flacks in others.

Investment capital to upgrade cable TV or telco networks will be constrained to those metro areas that are most attractive to the operators (Atlanta, Dallas, L.A., etc.) Smaller markets will be left to shift for themselves. This will also be true of markets served by weak providers (cable: Charter, Adelphia, telco: Qwest).

I hope my skepticism is misplaced; I hope that incumbent telco and cable operators really make a big effort next year to improve final mile broadband access to homes and businesses. I also hope they'll do this in every community they serve in the U.S., not just a few affluent, easy-to-reach markets.


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