"Disruptive" is the word that best describes James Spenceley, not because he cuts people off mid-sentence but because he likes to upset the status quo.
For the last decade, Spenceley has been on the side of the underdog - building up businesses to threaten the 800 pound gorillas of the internet industry. In the mid 1990s he founded i-Net Internet, later Dot Communications, to challenge the dial-up ISP behemoth Ozemail. During the dot-com boom he worked with MailTV to bring email and web browsing to television sets. Later he built the national COMindico network, one of the first to challenge Telstra's dominance of Australia's communications infrastructure. Today he's chief technology officer of IP voice carrier ISPhone, again looking to upset the apple cart.
In the late 1990s Spenceley was COMindico's founding network architect, building Australia's first national Internet Protocol-based wholesale carrier. It was backed by a consortium led by Kerry Packer's Australian Consolidated Press, the Murdoch family-controlled Queensland Press, J.P. Morgan and AMP Asset Management. They pumped $420 million into COMindico to make it only the third ISP with local call access throughout the country, and COMindico was also Southern Cross Cable's first Australian customer. COMindico later struck financial troubles and its assets were acquired by SP Telemedia, now Soul Australia.
"COMindico was really the only disruptive player in the market at the time, the big players had a stranglehold on the market. There was limited capacity so they could sell it at premium prices and not have to compete," Spenceley says.
"We came along with local call access everywhere in the country, wholesaling it to ISPs with pricing that let them structure their businesses well. A lot of what we see in the market today is a direct result of COMindico's foray into the market."
COMindico's wholesale network allowed the creation virtual ISPs, allowing providers to outsource their infrastructure. Today ISPhone is doing the same for voice providers and Spenceley believes it this that can make ISPhone a disruptive force in the VoIP space.
"I often tell people that voice today is where the internet industry was in 90s. There's a few very dominant players and no-one has really disrupted that market to bring prices down and offer some differentiated services," Spenceley says.
"ISPhone has the potential to be a disruptive force and shake things up."
As Australia moves towards its next generation of networking infrastructure, Spenceley predicts the next disruptive force will come from extending on the concept of the "triple play" - offering all your communications needs through the one pipe.
"Obviously it will be something to do with media - television and entertainment - that's probably what everyone is looking to next. I think what it's going to come down to is building an access network that can provide all the services that currently require a number of different telecommunications providers," he says.
"Canberra's TransACT is probably the best example of a competitive carrier doing that today. Once we get decent broadband speeds into houses it opens up unlimited opportunities in terms of services - wideband codec voice calls, better than PSTN - and even video calling."
"Such a future is dependent on current negotiations over a national Fibre to the Node network. Basically if anyone other than Telstra wins it's good for the industry in general, it's going to give smaller players access to the infrastructure on fair and equitable terms, but it Telstra wins then everyone but Telstra is going to suffer again. They'll be no innovation and no availability to that access for competitors at a price point that can create interesting products."