I have wondered at the resilience of the telecom industry for years, but now I am really starting to worry. We all know that the whole world wants to be "connected", but I am not sure that my fixed or mobile operator will be the one connecting me in the future.
I have good reason to be concerned. I don't really care much for my communications service providers (I have a few). I pay handsomely for service, but when I don't get it, which happens to be quite often, or I have to raise an issue with my provider, I simply get frustrated and angry.
Why is it that I expect more from my CSPs than my car dealer, or my supermarket or my plumber? Why do I feel let down because my experience doesn't match the marketing hype thrust upon me? And why do I go out of my way to avoid using my mobile device to access the internet or roam in other countries?
It's because I have been conditioned to act this way since the beginning of the mobile era. I felt I was privileged to be able to use the mobile networks and I was trained to expect to pay more for that privilege. The biggest benefit for a constant international traveler like myself was the ability to roam anywhere and receive calls to my one number wherever I was. Ha, how long did that last? After one roaming bill, I never made a roaming call again.
For at least 18 years I have avoided using the GSM networks' biggest benefit, preferring to buy local prepaid SIM cards, finding Wi-Fi hotspots, hooking up a small Wi-Fi router in my hotel rooms, using Skype, Viber, Whatsapp, anything to avoid voice and data roaming. I don't have a corporation paying my bills, I'm the bill payer and I hate being ripped off.
The telco industry I love and work for has let me down as an individual customer, preferring to reap roaming and data dollars from me rather than nurture me into a loyal customer. I seek out any provider that allows me to use as much data as I need. I don't want to have to worry about limits that I would probably never reach, but because a few fools have been allowed to abuse the system I am tarred with the same brush.
I'm a good customer, but never once has a CSP called me to tell me so, and why should they? Well, despite all they think they know about me using big data and analytics, they will never know what I am FEELING.
But let me get back to my initial concern. If the telecom industry thinks it is safe to continue treating customers like me this way, they are in for a big surprise. They may still think and act like the monopolies they descended from, and they may feel protected by the regulation and spectrum controls they have paid dearly for. But the fact is that communications is about to go through the biggest change in its history and its customers will move on in droves.
As nations move to national broadband networks and Wi-Fi hotspots and small cells proliferate, the need for access to 3G and 4G networks will diminish. As the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks of this world, with their very deep pockets, invest in technology that reduces customer reliance on the traditional networks the writing will be on the wall.
The big difference is that they are companies created and managed by entrepreneurs. They see technology as a challenge to be overcome, not adhered to in the corporate and regulatory sense.
While CSPs are bogged down by management brought up in the legacy era of telecom and controlled by boards that don't understand, let alone use, social media and digital services, their new competition will be the exact opposite.
They will not be able to rely on governments to protect them when the new boys are so much bigger and stronger and more influential. They are not hundreds of bit players working within national boundaries like the telcos, they are multinational global brands known and used by billions around the world.
If the choice comes to using ABC Telecoms Company that has been around since Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone call, or Google and Facebook with universal access to the internet, probably at little or no cost because they will make money from ads or digital goods, I'm afraid the telcos will lose.