It's the Consumer, Stupid
CTIA was certainly more interesting than a wireline geek-fest. Boring, fixed-wireline events as the former GlobalComm and Telecom Next have been creeping deeper and deeper into the boredom zone. ("Come see our flexible dynamic ROADM switching technology!") Let's face it: The wireline buzz has been shrinking, despite their hollow claims to be moving into content world.
The fact remains that most of the more interesting developments are now coming out of the wireless world. Witness the growth of CTIA, which has morphed from a handset show into a conference about wireless technology being used to build the new consumer distribution network. The show was not just filled with technology vendors, but film, gaming, banking, and Internet applications.
These new applications have caught the fancy of consumers and helped create at least a half-dozen new revenue streams where formerly there were none: Ringtones, text messaging, music downloads, video clips, games, and interactive voting. Compare that to the boring wireline world, which is largely limited to phone plans and plain-vanilla broadband. C'mon! Much has been made about FTTH and IPTV, but the subscriber numbers are tiny. FTTH is talking about deployments in the thousands whereas wireless phone plans now exceed the number of people on earth.
Part of the problem, I believe, is that the wireline service industry is not paying very close attention to the appetites of consumers. So my advice to telecom suits: Listen and watch the consumer, and what they are using on their devices. It's the consumer, stupid.
The consumer – the mindless, debt-ridden spendthrift that he is – is much maligned. The consumer sets standards for taste (however low they may be), drives new applications, and tells us exactly where the world is going. After all, it was not an executive in a suit that told us the Web browser would be the de facto interface for nearly every application on earth. It was the end user.
The trend toward "consumer everything" is interesting to me because it seems like the "consumer" market is enveloping the "business market." The lines are blurring. People pick up their PDAs at home, while they watch TV. They toggle seamlessly between work and play. They listen to iPods at work. The consumer channel is no longer separate from the business channel. They are one in the same.
The content companies have certainly caught on to this, and they are starting to invest in a big way. They see the opportunity to grow revenue streams with the wireless consumer.
"We believe that mobile content is an unbelievable channel to the consumers," said Eric Berger V.P. of Mobile Entertainment a Sony Pictures, which claimed to be the first major studio to buy a booth at CTIA.
Berger says the media companies will be out in force in the wireless industry, because that's where it's going. It's no longer about making phone calls, it's about entertainment. Sony Pictures is building an entirely new platform designed to extend all of its products across IP networks, with wireless networking a focus.
"We are a video company and we think it's the next wave of the wireless industry – there are all these incredible multimedia devices coming to the market," says Berger. "CTIA is not only the biggest wireless show, but it's becoming the biggest media show."
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