Worries about security have been with us for a long time. For a long time the focus was hackers and viruses and worms, then in recent years it has been about the supposedly murky intentions of organized outsiders like the Chinese military complex and Huawei. But those were on the fringes trying to get in past the good guys. But when the NSA and the US government became the bogeymen these past few months in the wake of the Snowden affair, the threat was suddently from the inside. As a result, I think the game changed materially this fall and we have just begun to see the ramifications play out.
The rest of the world has grudgingly accepted the USA’s central position in the infrastructure of the internet since the beginning. They haven’t liked it and there have been moves to change it, but simple inertia is a very powerful historical force when the opposition is disorganized. Now that the Snowden affair has exposed the way the NSA has exploited the position of the USA and its telecommunications industry at the center of so much of the telecom world to spy on its friends and enemies alike, that opposition looks like it might be getting organized.
One example of this shift is Brazil’s Telebras deciding to put its cable to the US on hold in favor of its African and European connectivity. Another is Cisco’s recent earnings miss, in which revenues in the developing world supposedly started an apparent nosedive in October. And of course there were the warning notes sounded by European regulatory sources over the possibility of AT&T buying Vodafone.Individually those could be special cases, but combined they cover a lot of ground (submarine cables, equipment vendors, wireless and wired networks) with similar fears.
Now, all this could blow over quickly and everyone could be back to business as usual in 2014. But given the speed with which the likes of Google and Yahoo are moving to encrypt their internal networks to frustrate the kinds of things the NSA was doing, I get the feeling they aren’t too confident it might. Some pundits, like Sunil Tagare this week, think the effects could be quite far reaching, with data center construction shifting to new markets and traffic patterns shifting to avoid touching the US jurisdiction.
Ramifications at the content layer and for equipment purchases show up rather more quickly than at the infrastructure layer, so I wonder if we will see material negative effects on overseas revenue trends at US network and data center operators when Q4 earnings start to trickle out next year, matched perhaps by positive impacts at their European and Asian brethren.
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