What would happen if the two largest network equipment vendors and some of the biggest carriers in the world stood up in public and said that there was a major threat to the whole future of broadband, a threat that could undermine everything we believed would happen to improve our mobile lives? What would happen if the three giants in technology stood up and said that the whole industry had undergone a fundamental change, so fundamental that it was unclear just where it would end up?
Why do I say that? Because all that was said this week, and nothing happened. In fact, nothing much was even reported. It really makes me wonder what’s going on in our industry and how we’ll shape it constructively for the future when we apparently can’t even grasp the present
Let’s start with networking. At BBWF, key executives for both Ericsson and Huawei took the stage to say that there was a real threat to the business model of the operators. Huawei went so far as to ask whether anyone could continue to invest in the network given the situation. Both called for a transformation of the operator business model, both pointed to new developments like the cloud (which Ericsson, for example, believes is perhaps the most transformational thing since voice services). Both execs talked about a future where software transformed the network. Both talks were insightful, interesting. You probably heard no such thing about them, if you heard anything at all. Coverage of the Ericsson talk was limited to a one-liner on “service provider SDN” and I couldn’t find mention of the Huawei talk at all (both are available on the BBWF site in video form by the way).
Then we have the computer space. IBM reported top-line revenue that was light by FIVE PERCENT, much worse than expected. Intel reported it expected PC sales growth at ABOUT HALF the normal seasonality. Microsoft is betting on tablets and phones to take the place of PCs, betting so radically that it’s transforming a Windows interface that’s been in place for a decade or more and risking the rejection of what may be its most important platform ever. This all came to light this week too, and while there were “reports” of the events there was no real attempt to present the obvious conclusion, which is that our use of computing is changing so radically that the whole industry is threatened by not being able to follow the turns and twists.
I guess it’s clear to you at this point that the title of this blog is aimed in part at the media. I listened to the two BBWF talks, and it was clear what they were about. How did reporters miss what should, after all, be a pretty big story? Same with the earnings reports from IBM and Intel and comments from Microsoft about Windows 8. Well, there are three factors working against our being informed these days.
Factor one is that reporting and news have changed, not just in tech but everywhere. These days it’s about getting somebody to click on a story link. Once they do, they get served an ad. Thus, financially, the only thing that matters is that click, and people do what they’re financially compensated to do.
The second problem is the companies themselves. It would have been possible for Ericsson and Huawei to issue their warnings in so stark a way as to eliminate any risk that reporters or editors would contaminate the message. They didn’t, and this is largely due to the fact that nobody wants to rain on even a feeble parade. Doom and gloom stories don’t play well for sellers, even if they’re true.
The final problem is us. We want to believe that broadband will get faster, get cheaper, get better, and do more things for us. Never mind that TeliaSonera in Europe is doing a big layoff because they say mobile profits are down. Never mind that Sprint is getting bought, that we’re facing usage pricing even in wireline. Never mind that your faster Internet may be faster in name only, that performance of real downloads may show no improvement even if you double the speed. We are the money source for all of this, and if we are lousy consumers we’ll promote lousy production and lousy reporting.
Mobile broadband and the Internet are combining to create a new thing that’s going to be as revolutionary as electrical power, telephony, and the automobile. What’s happening is a way of linking compute power, stored content, and derived knowledge to each of us at every instant of our lives. It could level a lot of playing fields; anyone who can follow instructions might be able to repair a car or even a computer. It could make us into a nation of vicarious consumers, people who are so immersed in virtual reality that it’s not virtual any more. In the network sense, it demands fundamental changes in how we build networks, changes that will invalidate every transport/connection vendor business model. In a compute sense it will polarize devices between the little stuff that can be held in our hand or worn on our forehead or wrist, and big stuff that can process a zillion pieces of information to digest them into the one thing we care about, THE RIGHT ANSWER OF THE MOMENT. That’s going to eradicate the current business models of the IT vendors. We are remaking tech as we sit here, and we’re sitting on the sidelines in our own revolution.
Moral: Take control over your information. Go to primary sources. Demand better. Otherwise we’re running on top of a log rolling downhill when we need to be making it into boards to build the future.