Brace yourself, the flood of top 10 lists reminiscing the best and worst things that happened in 2009 has only just begun. They're a lot more fun to read when life has been easy than they are this year. While there were a few bright spots like colocation and metro fiber, most of the telecom and internet infrastructure sector remains solidly in a defensive posture. But remember how dark everything looked when the year started? Rather than dwell on the discouraging events that I wish hadn't happened, or try to fluff up the rather meager list of wonderful things, I thought I'd think back to the things that didn't happen, whether good or bad. Think of it as a list of loose ends:
- The debt markets did not dry up long term. We heard a lot of that last winter, remember? What if the debt markets closed entirely for 3-5 years, who would be at risk? The verdict was that pretty much everyone would be. But the entire concept turned out to be moot when the debt markets opened for business over the summer and stayed open. Not with exuberance, mind you, but a far cry from the worries early on. Our credit doomsday scenario seems far-fetched now.
- Spending slowed, but the internet didn't break. Capex fell so sharply, there were wonders just how the internet would cope with growing traffic. My own comments on the potential for trouble were among them. But the reality is that the performance of the internet overall hasn't really suffered much at all. I believe this is because providers of all types of infrastructure took a hard look at their operations, and learned to run their networks and data centers better because of it.
- The exaflood didn't arrive. Again. Given that the sector was unready financially to handle it, perhaps we should be happy that internet traffic growth remained within normal bounds for the most part. A flood is only a flood if you're unprepared.
- The entry of network operators into the CDN business has not hurt Akamai. There was some pressure on the sector from the economy and from increasing competition overall, but really nobody has dented Akamai's marketshare or margins in any meaningful way yet.
- Colocation pricing has not spiked. Surged? Yes. But there has been nothing really dramatic, no unresolvable shortages. Extra space in tier 2 markets has been a damping factor, and the credit markets opened enough to allow construction to continue. But this story is not yet over, there is a lag of a year or more in this sector between cause and effect.
- Bankruptcies were relatively limited. Yes we had Nortel and Charter, and those were certainly major. But given the severity of the financial crisis, I would have expected far more. Remember the last time? As I recall, someone put up a list of over 200 companies in the sector that fell beneath the waves one way or another. While it's no comfort to those who were affected, it could have been far worse if the sector weren't so much healthier this time.
- The FCC didn't really do much. Network neutrality? Yes, I know they did that. But for now it's a whole lot of whining over which pig gets which feeding trough while the barn roof continues to sag dangerously overhead. Perhaps they've been using a network neutrality smokescreen to hide all the work they are doing on inter-carrier compensation and other issues they wish would go away? Right...
- Clearwire didn't implode, and LTE didn't arrive. Much to the chagrin of the LTE folks, LTE is still a 2011 story, while WiMAX appears to be a 2010 story over a growing portion of the country. Whether Clearwire can make enough out of this head start is obviously an open question, but they have the money to continue to play at the high stakes table so anything can happen.
- Google didn't achieve global domination. Nor did they buy Akamai, Level 3, Qwest longhaul, or any of the other rumored combinations. But they are still working on it.
- Cloud computing didn't change the world - yet. For now it's bark remains far worse than its bite when it comes to disrupting the market. That will change of course, but society's unquenchable thirst for instant gratification won't.
Anybody got any others? Leave a comment, it's lonely around here this week...
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