The Demise of Telecom Part1

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here.

I’m pretty convinced that the telecommunications industry is dead, or that it will be about as dead as Blockbuster Video.

I met this week with a telecom guy that I have known for years. He could take a big cable and punch it down faster than anybody. He knew by memory the color codes for cables up to hundreds of pairs.

This trend goes well beyond the fact that we run Cat-5 or Cat-6 everywhere. That transition wasn’t as big of a deal because mostly it just replaced old telcom wiring. A bigger change is the cables between buildings. We just pulled out an old 2400 pair cable that was installed in 1979. Now we have a tiny fiber cable in a giant 4″ conduit. It looks kinda funny.

But the death of telecom runs much deeper. It’s a death in innovation and advancement. This is much worse in the United States than in Asia, where telcom departments seem to be able to have a new thought every few months. Let me give an example.

I walked into a government office in China and like most governments, there was a queue of people. Now, in America you would get a ticket and go sit down. But at this office in China you go to the kiosk and enter your cell phone number. You immediately get an SMS message showing your number, your position in queue, and the estimated time that you will be serviced. Sweet. Periodically, perhaps every 15 minutes, I would get another SMS message showing my queue position and the estimated service time. Of course, I realized that there was no point to sitting around, so I went to the nearby mall and started shopping while I continued to get updates. When my time came close I returned to the government office.

When my turn was up I went to the counter window displayed. The agent already had my account up on her screen…because they had my phone number! Smart.

Think about this: It is a creative, innovative use of phones. It is something that a smart telecom department would do. But I have never seen anything like this in the United States. It seems that we’re still fixated on the glories of touch-tone dialing rather than on disruptive change.

I endlessly see new ideas in Asia that I don’t see in the US. This has gotten me to thinking: perhaps the problem with the telecom industry in the US is that it lacks creativity and lacks problem solving. It’s not pro-actively looking for an solving people’s problems. So it has become marginalized and as irrelevant as the knowledge on how to splice a 2400 pair cable.

When did you last promote some very new, radical idea?