Once upon a time there were fixed line communications and mobile communications. Then the internet raised its hand and believers said Internet Protocol communications will rule, OK. This we all know and in the early days at least the fixed providers were shaking.
Nowadays IP is everywhere. We are bombarded every day with new websites, services and products promising to revolutionise our lives. So much so that I have actually pulled back a yard from experimenting with the latest and greatest. This is because if I let it happen I would spend all my time looking at new services, most of which will never see the light of a second round of funding. These days I let other people’s ideas take proper root before getting interested.
Notwithstanding all this there are some clear trends. Smart Phones and tablets are taking over our lives. I’m particularly surprised at the latter, considering the price points, but if I were a genius at forecasting these things I’d be writing this from my villa in the Caribbean which I’m not.
In my business life I focus on what businesses need to make their lives more productive. Some of this is not rocket science. MPLS networks have been around a long time. Costs are coming down so more businesses are using MPLS and this is happening at a time when use of “the cloud” for serious business applications is growing. This is no coincidence.
Many business applications now being hosted in the cloud are not new. IP phone systems, CRM, backup and storage. To some extent the market is still finding its way where the cloud is concerned. The building blocks are there. They just need a little time to properly bed in. Before we know it we will be moving on to chase a new buzzword and the cloud will no longer be an ethereal intangible that people find it hard to get their brain around. It will of course still be ethereal.
The one aspect of the communications world that has yet to settle down to a roadmap is mobile. Dominated by the mobile operators, mobile services are still generally sold as stand alone, certainly into business. The mobile dealer base typically sells only mobile. The fixed line and IP communications channels typically only sell fixed line and IP communications.
The mobile device side is settling down nicely in to a small number of players dominated by Apple, Google and RIM operating systems. Sorry Nokia I like you but currently wouldn’t bet on you and whilst Microsoft will for a long time have a place because of their entrenchment on the PC they don’t seem to have yet hit the right note with Windows Mobile.
Vodafone this year has gingerly entered the world of fixed mobile convergence with its One.net service. It is still early days for Vodafone with this product. They have had normal teething problems and will also need to climb the pretty substantial barrier that sits between the skill sets of the traditional mobile and IP/fixed line channels. With One.net Voda is selling to business not consumers, although there may be a consumer play somewhere down the line.
The point is that a mobile network has recognised that the line between the fixed and mobile worlds is going to grow ever fainter. This in fact is the background to the announcement today that Timico has bought Handheld PCs, a company that specializes in the production of mobile applications.
Timico is an ISP. Quite a successful one. For four out of the company’s six years of existence it has been ranked by the Sunday Times Tecktrack100 as one of the fastest growing businesses in the very wide sector – Timico was not eligible in the first two years as the Techtrack100 uses 3 years compound growth as a metric.
Timico is also a mobile service provider selling O2 and Vodafone products to businesses. It is very typical for a company that buys an MPLS network (say) from Timico to also source all its fixed and mobile voice and data from us. ISPs are not normally mobile oriented for reasons already discussed above. It is a successful recipe but only because of a deliberate gathering of the appropriate mix of skills.
This acquisition of a mobile applications company sends out a message. Firstly mobile forms a very important part of the future of the communications market. We established this when discussing smart phones and tablets.
Apart from perhaps RIM and the BlackBerry the mobile application world is still very fragmented. If you take a look at the applications available on these devices you are hit with a bewildering array of choice. There is clearly scope for consolidation, focus and improvement in the mobile application market.
Mobile apps never work in isolation. The user needs a mobile device. That device connects to a network that also contains a variety of other network connections (ADSL, Ethernet etc), probably some servers co-located somewhere, maybe Virtual Servers. This network is probably secured behind a firewall and all these components come together to provide the life blood of any business.
And of course all this needs managing. What’s more the management of this kaleidoscope of communications products involves technical complexity and logistical complexity. This is why so many IT functions are outsourced today. An IT manager struggles to be even a jack of all trades but to ask him or her to be simultaneously all over the country servicing remote sites and workers just ain’t going to work.
Mobile apps are going to be increasingly core to a business’ own unique proposition and sit firmly in the camp of hosted/cloud services. Mobile apps really do push network convergence far more than anything else that we have seen to date. In this networked world the ISP that can offer its customers something more than just bigger, faster, cheaper is the one that is going to prosper.