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Social Networking Gets Serious: Who would have predicted the role 160 characters could play in revolt and revolution? Social networks have far more influence than many of us care to admit, like a single match that can destroy an entire forest. Social  business is next up, will it follow or fizzle? Gartner thinks fizzle. It is no wonder Google is doing everything it can to make Google+ a viable competitor to Facebook. Expect Twitter to get acquired.

Gadgets are fueling mobility like never before: The big ones this year are Kindle Fire and iPhone 4S. Though all that glitters is not gold – ask about the RIM Playbook or HP’s tablets. The Fire is reported to be selling in the millions per week. This is more than big numbers, its a phenomenon that anthropologists will be studying for centuries.

It was the last year of electronic freedom: The outcome of SOPA is not yet known, but honestly it doesn’t matter. The fact it has so much support is ground breaking itself. The  National Defense Authorization Act approved by the Senate gives the military rights to detain Americans indefinitely for “suspected”  terrorism . The Carrier IQ scandal still leaves more questions unanswered than answered – including was it illegal? The fact is our mobile devices know too much, Facebook knows too much, and Google knows too much. It’s an arrangement we like and accept as these services give us pleasure in exchange for what seems like a passive curiosity.

The failure of AT&T- T-Mobile reaffirms the system: When you consider how big Verizon is, it is impressive that AT&T was blocked from acquiring T-Mobile. When you look at how silly it is that the US has so many wireless carriers that offer duplicative and incompatible services – each with limited bandwidth and coverage holes it seemed logical. When you consider how much AT&T spends on political contributions, it was easy to assume a rubber stamp would be involved in the approval. But everyone knew it was a bad idea – and somehow the system worked.

The failure of WebOS: It was probably one thing Leo did right. The failure of WebOS and arguably the slew of Android tablets and the Playbook are important. The iPad was brilliant. Not only did it hit the needs of a huge market, but the barriers protecting its business model are phenomenal and will take years to dent. Apple has the economies of scale in production and the revenue model to sell the iPad at or near cost – this puts hardware only competitors in a difficult position. Plus, all the apps are in iOS. HP (and no one else) can produce a cheaper comparable device with the same potential value associated with a huge library of apps. With the PC, they say the spreadsheet was the killer aps – with tablets its the Appstore library. No competitive solution will be able to outdo Apple on these terms for at least five years and probably longer.

Netflix: Netflix reminded us, as they say in Hollywood, you are only as good as your last movie. The fact that Netflix has revolutionized VOD, the fact that is responsible for more Internet traffic than any other site, the fact that is has done more to harm piracy than any other measure or force isn’t enough to ignore abusive practices. The company screwed-up and gave competitors the hope that the competitive gap will narrow. There’s been plenty of corporate missteps in the past – but this one was big. Corporate IT and Telephony vendors make mistakes, but there’s more cushion – more time to correct. This is the age of consumerism and consumers don’t wait. Just ask MySpace or AOL.

Patents: The complaints about the patent system have been rising steadily over the years. Patents are to protect innovation, not stifle it. We saw Microsoft, RIM, and others orchestrate a Nortel patent play to keeping Apple and Google away. We saw Google pick up Motorola for a heck of a lot more than the business was worth. It’s why we will see RIM be acquired. We’ve been watching Apple sue/block HTC and Samsung now for months. There are more Android lawsuits than Android forks. The last decade was about IP – Internet Protocol. The next decade will be about IP – Intellectual Property.

The Approaching Commoditization: For 50 years, voice is voice from a basic technology perspective. But the vendors worked hard to differentiate their products, their dealers, their features, their warranties, etc. to create a competitive differentiated marketplace. But for the first time – these critical communications features – voice, IM, email, video – could become commodities. On the cloud side – none of the providers are really willing to explain their differentiation. They all insist they have enterprise customers, but won’t reveal. They all explain that have HA/DR but won’t provide meaningful disclosures or guarantees. Many of them use the same underlying technology (Broadsoft). On the premises side, there is very little interoperability other than analog/T1 lines, ICMP, and email.  Proprietary hardware is fading. The applications, equipment, vendors, and carriers are all struggling with commoditization.

 

Dave Michels