Networks & telecoms trends to watch in 2010

The single most important event in the UK telecommunications market in 2010 is likely to be the passing of the Digital Economy Bill.

What will have the biggest impact on networking and telecoms in 2010?

  1. Passing of the Digital Economy Bill
  2. Auction of "digital dividend" spectrum
  3. Growing pressure to derate telecommunications infrastructure for business taxes to encourage investment to fulfil the Digital Britain goals
  4. More surveillance by the authorities of who is on the net and what they are doing
  5. Increasing congestion on mobile networks as people switch to smart (ie, mobile networked) devices
  6. Lots more investment by mobile and fixed network operators to boost capacity, speed, reliability and quality of service
  7. Faster switch among corporates to hosted unified communications services to cut costs and improve quality of service
  8. Increasing use of mobile and social network technology to reach customers, workers and friends
  9. Growing pressure for homogenity with respect to technology platforms, regulations and prices throughout Europe, and increasingly, the world
  10. Climate change and the need to be green to rise up the agenda for both cost and political reasons

The single most important event in the UK telecommunications market in 2010 is likely to be the passing of the Digital Economy Bill.

The bill is the government's attempt to switch the engine of national economic growth from financial services to the development of goods and services based on intellectual property, including drug discovery, music, film and video products, and computer games.

The bill contains many controversial items, such as a £6 per year tax on fixed-line phones, and government control of internet transactions and copyright. Some may not be enacted. Others may be scrapped or changed if Labour loses the general election.

The act also has to harmonise with the new European telecommunications package now in force. This provides for a continent-wide competitive market in telecommunications products under a uniform regulatory regime.

But a competitive market may take some time to emerge, says Ilsa Godlovitch, director of regulatory affairs at the European Competitive Telecommunications Association. Most European governments still give their former telecommunications monopolies a measure of protection from competition, and there is little appetite to open national markets quickly, she says.

According to Monica Horten, an expert on the European Telecoms Package, provisions in legislative proposals in Britain, Europe and elsewhere suggest that locking down the internet will be a priority for governments this year.

Governments argue that the fight against terrorism and child pornography justifies intensive monitoring of who is on the net and what they do there. Moreover, stopping piracy of intellectual property and the trade in counterfeit goods justifies deeper inspection of content.

Unless people watch such moves closely and speak up soon, their rights to privacy and free speech may be slowly strangled, she says.

The markets for telecommunications products and services are vibrant. But as Sharifah Amirah, principal analyst at market research firm Frost & Sullivan, notes, particularly in Western Europe, they are well-nigh saturated.

Selling more takes innovation. So knowing, understanding and anticipating customers' needs will be crucial for telecoms suppliers in 2010, he says.

This is driving many suppliers to invest in internal customer analytics projects. They will produce customer profiles against which firms will develop products and services, he says.

Two main trends are evident. One is the accelerating shift among companies to unified or converged communications platforms. These are increasingly hosted by or outsourced to specialist third parties.

Nigel Stevens, director of product management at network operator Cable & Wireless, says demand for hosted services, especially video conferencing, is strong. This is because firms are still looking to cut costs and improve quality of service, but they are also increasingly aware of the environmental cost of face-to-face meetings, he says.

The other main corporate trend is to mobilise workers by abolishing private branch exchanges (PBX) and giving them mobile phones and other wirelessly networked devices. "No one in our own offices has had a fixed-wire phone for years," he says.

Stevens predicts the demise of the corporate PBX - except for specialist applications such as call centres - to speed up this year due to new technology. Demand for in-building "femto cell" networks, which do away with traditional telephone systems, and which C&W introduced last year, is taking off, he says.

The second trend is for businesses to reach out to customers, prospects and friends through multiple media, especially mobile devices. Windsor Holden, principal analyst at Juniper Research, says the iPhone garnered the headlines, but it was really Apple's App Store that changed the game in the mobile market.

For the first time, companies had easy-to-use handsets and a simple distribution mechanism that allowed them to sell to and transact with their customers, he says.

Such as been the popularity of mobile apps and online content that the resultant increase in data traffic caused congestion on mobile networks such as AT&T and O2.

As people replace their old phones from a growing range of mobile networked devices, data traffic will surge, says Holden.

Network operators are having to spend fast to provide enough capacity to avoid congestion. More than 10 mobile operators (none in the UK) are expected to switch on LTE technology this year, which offers faster mobile data transfers, giving users access to a theoretical 100Mbps - about 10 times the fastest UK mobile network today.

But Apple's tough stance on sharing revenue from iPhone users meant network operators' cash flows were squeezed, he says.

The result, says Frost & Sullivan's Amirah, is that network operators are likely to seek innovative revenue sources. One might be to generate revenues from advertising on mobile handsets

The advertising is likely to be targeted at groups, such as loyalty card holders, that the network operators can identify and deliver without infringing the members' privacy or violating their trust, he says.

Which brings the debate full circle. Users of Twitter and Facebook may not seem to care how much of their personal information is revealed, but anyone who abuses that access to it is likely to get short shrift, not only from the individual, but also from their social networks.

As C&W's Stevens says, most companies are now following consumers, including their own workers, in their adoption of technology. That changes fundamentally the balance of market power in consumers' favour. Adapt or die.

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