WebRTC Expert Feature

May 08, 2013

Do Telcos and Mobile Operators Need to Follow the IBM Lead?

WebRTC may be the technology that is going to bring a very interesting issue to a boil: should telcos and mobile operators begin to structure their businesses as a dual model, separating the access business from the services business? As the ‘90s demonstrated, the Internet makes it hard to be the services provider just because you are the access provider. I recently asked a room of about 200 people how many of them used the access provider as their Web home page, e-mail account or search engine. Only a handful of hands went up in all, and generally only a few in each area.

The point is that while the access network may be very defined and valuable, services can come from anywhere or "Over The Top" in current parlance. In many ways, this a parallel of what faced IBM at the end of the ‘80s. IBM sold its products, generally mainframes but also mini computers, with a complete set of services, including software, support and experts. The problem was that upstarts like DEC, Sun and others were selling products as hardware only and were changing the market. The then CEO, Louis Gerstner, recognized this change and drove IBM though one of the largest re-focusing activates in our industry. He created IBM Global Services and separated it from the products side of the business.

While IBM GS could sell IBM products, it also sold lots of other components. In fact, it was and may still be the largest reseller of Cisco products. This vision has led IBM to be one of the most successful companies in our industry, even leading to its Smarter Planet vision of today, which is grounded more in services than products. In fact, in the high tech industry, only IBM and HP have been successful in having both products and services (not support, but professional and break-fix service) offers.

WebRTC introduces the same capabilities for new service offers to change the industry. While a telco or mobile operator may use WebRTC for its own offers, if it links that tightly to its served access community it may be doomed. For example, if an operator like Verizon or AT&T is able to get 30 percent of its access base to use a new IP-based services offer, it would have about 1.2 percent world share (30 percent of the 4 percent world share or so each have). If an OTT player offers a similar package and gets 10 percent share as an OTT, that is 10 percent of the world share, or seven to eight times as much as the access provider in their captive access market. 

However, if the telco or mobile operator provider goes beyond its access base, it can develop share worldwide. Some large providers like Telefonica are already moving to this path. IBM may be seen as a guide, but the ‘90s were a turbulent time at IBM, stressful for the company, employees and even customers as traditional business models changed and all were required to adapt.

At the WebRTC Conference and Expo in Atlanta, we will begin the dialog in this topic. In fact, Dean Bubley will be hosting a panel as the final session of the Telco/Mobile Operator track that will raise this very question to a panel of both vendor and service providers. Expect a lively dialog, as this is a topic that opens many doors, from competitiveness to the basics of the business. If you are part of a telco or mobile operator, an OTT provider, a customer or an analyst, this is a topic that you should be watching. It may define winners and losers as well as the future structure of a multitrillion-dollar marketplace.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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