Have you ever had a moment of clarity? I'm talking about one of those moments alcoholics have (which I imagine typically manifests itself as the sudden realization that this "no drinking" thing is all a bit dull, really, before ordering themselves a nice big pint of scotch).
It came during a keynote presentation, given by a kindly old Amish gentleman from Wired magazine (didn't catch his name because I was late, but his job title was "Chief Maverick, Wired magazine," which, let's be honest, is pretty much like printing "I'm A Giant Wanker" on your business card).
In any case, Albert Amish, or whatever his real name is, had two main points that he wanted to make:
Well, I'm sorry, but that is not what I paid absolutely no money at all to Huawei (to attend its otherwise fabulous event) to hear. And judging by the reaction (somnolent) of the rest of the extremely senior crowd of telecom execs at the Savoy, neither had they.
Because in one sense "Wired guy" had it right. If you're a telecom service provider, next-generation technology will find a way… to lose you billions of dollars and your job, if you're not careful.
Essentially, Keynote Ken had made the fatal speaker error of not researching who he was talking to, and what makes them tick. And what telecom executives care about right now isn't the technology of the future, but the money of today, and how they can make more of it, from the technologies they are being asked to evaluate in the here and now, and including, of course, next-gen virtualization, or what we like to call The New IP. (Note: The second thing they care about, a lot, is security, but Mister Wired guy didn't talk about that either. Bad Maverick! Bad!!)
Fortunately, Huawei's event soon recovered from its "keynot" irrelevance, with an absolutely cracking panel, hosted by Mark Newman, chief research officer at Ovum (which I thought was a fertility clinic, but turns out to have something to do with market research -- who knew?), with contributions from Alibaba, Telecom Italia, Hong Kong-based HKT (part of the PCCW Group), and Huawei.
The panel focused, broadly, on the intersection of incumbent service providers and new OTT operators, how they are starting to work together, and why they might not be: You could see from the "lean in" reaction that this was clearly a hot button for the London audience.
Now, I'm not just saying the panel was great because I was on it (though it's true that I'm awesome, obviously). No, what really made it pop was how the service providers on the panel provided a detailed financial context to their comments. Like, when Peng Ye, the VP from Alibaba, said his company's users don't care about bandwidth, and assume it's a "given," and what they care about is the quality of the products sold over that capacity, and how much they cost, I wanted to stand up and hug him. (But I didn't, because that would have been weird).
So on the one hand you had Wired geezer getting excited about technology, and on the other you had these service provider front liners talking about how to make money. And that's what triggered my moment of clarity. Because as I see it the telecom world today divides neatly into two types of people (and companies).
There are those who are excited about the technology -- let's call them the techcited, because we can -- and tend to skip over the gnarly details of how it serves the business.
Then there are those who see it as a means to an end (making money).
Unfortunately, I see a lot of the former "techcitement" these days around the subject of the Internet of Things (IoT), which I've taken to calling the Internet of Stuff (IoS) because currently everyone's talking about this "stuff" that, apparently, is a really big deal, yet no one can explain to me how service providers make money from it. And I do not want "stuff" -- I want (and service providers need) specifics.
I mean, sure, Cisco's John Chambers thinks IoT (or Internet of Everything, as he calls it… way to add another superfluous acronym to the lexicon, John!) will create tons of data that will need lots of expensive router ports to direct it on its way, and he may be right. But that's going to be good for Cisco's bottom line at some point in the future, not Verizon's in the here and now. (Internet of Meh, anyone?)
And yes, AT&T has a nice automotive IoT demo where you can tool around a virtual world while Google automagically highlights points of interest (Ruh-roh! There's Rolf hanging around outside the school gates again; better call the coppers) but I don’t know who will pay for that, or how much. The business model is, as they say, in absentia.
My advice to service providers? Don't be a wanker. Or a maverick. Be a pragmatist, and a business person. Read your Light Reading daily; subscribe to Heavy Reading; talk to the other members of The New IP community. Because making money, pragmatically, for your business, is what this triptych of publications is all about.
Oh, and one more thing: If you're interested in IoT, you might do worse than come to Heavy Reading's IoT conference in February 2015 in Atlanta. We've decided to focus it entirely on the money side of the equation, something that sets it apart from the other 20 or so IoT conferences next year. Expect to hear lots about using analytics and telecom application development to drive revenue. I hope to see you there.
— Stephen Saunders, Founder and CEO, Light Reading