Can Any Telecom Go Over the Top?

June 18th, 2009 by · Leave a Comment

Over on Disruptive Wireless, Dean Bubley wrote an interesting piece on the early stages of a trend that has some wireless providers offering services to other operator’s customers, i.e. going over the top.  Vodafone Group (NYSE:VOD, news, filings), for instance, has been pushing an iPhone app that works whether your phone uses their network or not.  Well, calling it a trend is probably premature.  If history is any guide, Vodafone and any others dabbling like this will quickly give it up.

In telecom, territory is a dominant concept. Whether you’re an ILEC who has the infrastructure, or a CLEC who leases someone else’s, or somewhere in between – the concept of territory influences every decision you make, every product you develop.  You may stick a toe into the neighbor’s yard now and then, but it soon occurs to you that he might get the same idea.  When was the last time we saw meaningful competition between two ILECs?  The breakup of Ma Bell never accomplished it because the industry never took its territorial blinders off.

Before it was bought by SBC, AT&T almost took CallVantage that route.  What might the world look like today if AT&T CallVantage hadn’t been sidelined? It was a superior product, they could have taken Vonage down and might even have beaten the cable MSOs to the customers.  The hints of other such products in the wireless world are gamechanging ideas, but I’m not sure that Vodafone or other wireless providers have the gumption to try it.  As telecoms, their curiosity about other people’s territories is not as strong as their fear of invasion.  That’s what the campaign against network neutrality is all about.

I do wish we could  get past it though, and see network infrastructure as a stepping stone rather than a fence.

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