Will there ever again be anything fundamentally new in telecoms


I had an inquiry recently from a Forrester client who wrote that they believe the telecom industry has matured to the degree that there won’t be a new “next big thing.”

They cited things like deregulation, the internet, cable, etc., as all disruptive events in the industry and wonder if anyone sees anything new coming on the horizon. I talked to other analysts in the I&O team and we totally disagree with this view. This is how I responded to the client:

“The history of technology is rich with examples of people saying there will be no more developments.

From forecasts in the late nineteenth century that there was no market for the telephone because there were plenty of messenger boys (the UK Postmaster General in 1890) to the prediction that world market for computers was no more than five (attributed to Thomas Watson of IBM, 1943), these always look very stupid only a few years later.

The world wide web is barely 10 years old, but life today is unimaginable without it. The mobile phone in twenty five years has gone from a primitive device the size of a brick to the iPhone, which has more computing power than the Apollo moon lander.

Neither of these developments was predicted — our ability to imagine new technologies is severely limited. I used to work as a technology forecaster, and the first thing I learnt in that role is that 8 out of 10 technology forecasts will be completely wrong. The trick is to identify which two predictions will be right!

Moore’s law tells us that computing power and storage density double every 18 months — and no limit is yet in sight.

Edholm’s law predicts that enterprise bandwidth use doubles every 18 months — as it has done without fail for the last 25 years since I was using dial up access to a mainframe using a 300 baud modems the size of a small suitcase. (In those days all computers were in central datacentres and accesses using dumb terminals — now we call the same approach server centralization and desktop virtualization as think it is new).

100 Gbps LAN and optical technology are in the labs now. LTE will deliver 100Mbps to mobile devices. The $64,000 question is to work out what we will use all this computing power and bandwidth for!

My personal prediction is that cloud computing and everything-as-a-service will replace IT departments and corporate datacentres as we know them today, and ubiquitous connectivity and desktop virtualization will change the nature of the PC and smartphone completely by eliminating local application software and data storage.

The uncertainty is the rate at which these changes will happen. When they do, it will certainly make fundamental changes to the nature of the telecom industry — probably resulting in the death of the corporate private network.

Hence I am absolutely convinced that new disruptive technologies will continue to emerge that will impact the telecoms industry in ways that none of us can think of now.

The real value of Forrester to clients is that our analysts are experienced and expert at spotting new developments very early on in their lifecycle and assessing their impact on businesses and recommending new business strategies.

Our new book “Groundswell” is a great example of how we have looked at emerging Web 2.0 and consumer social networking technologies like Facebook and predicted how they will impact business life. The Forrester TechRadar™ is our new unique methodology that we use to assess the impact of new technologies.”

We’d like your feedback on this issue — do you agree with me — or do you think that we’ve seen it all already?

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