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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

One Global Telco of the World, for the World

During the summer of 2014, we decided to spend our two weeks of family vacation in three countries, as far as, we could drive to our chosen destinations - so no trains or flights! The long stretches of driving can be daunting and (extremely) boring, I understand, however if you have even a tiniest germ of adventure in you, then the same driving can become really exciting as you experience crossing international borders, observe new languages on traffic signs, compete with the difference in driving behaviors, taste morning coffee from one country & afternoon snacks from the other and of course, feel the charm & romance of driving on the beautiful European highways. Believe me, driving can be fun ;-)!

To give you a broader perspective, here is how the driving adventure for our summer vacation somewhat looked like - starting & ending in Düsseldorf, Germany;

vacation map.png

Do you feel it? That my friend is international freedom!

So we made the bookings, bought the tickets, planned our routes and did all the basics that any typical family would do to get most out of our vacation. And then after a few days, the journey to our first destination, Paris, began…

It all started great, fresh & happy in the morning! My wife began taking a lot of family photos with her iPhone and shared them with her family back home in Pakistan immediately, who were in fact, the virtual passengers in our car (Whatsapp magic ;-)!). Her sisters, mom & dad started responding and suddenly it turned into an intensive family chat. The messaging caught up pace and got difficult for my wife to cope up with. Alright, stop thinking why!  Do you really think messaging is a great tool, especially when all the group participants are excited & expressing themselves at the same time in one messaging window? Anyway, that was the time when this social interaction on messaging turned into video conferencing via Skype on iPhone. Now, everyone stopped messaging and started speaking & watching. It was loud in the car and I could feel the happiness in my family. I felt happy, because my family was happy! After about 15-20 minutes, the Internet connectivity on my wife’s iPhone suddenly stopped working. Everything went quiet. My wife started to frown & complained about the problem. I tried to tell her what to check in order to make sure everything is fine on the iPhone side. She desperately wanted to fix this and wanted to bring the Internet back to life. So, I stopped the car at the next possible gas station & investigated the matter. No matter what I did, nothing worked out. The Internet was DEAD. However, ultimately I did find out the cause. Can you guess what could have happened?

Well, we entered Belgium!

That my friend is Telco fragmentation, and that’s NOT freedom!

We crossed the international border within the European “Union” just to experience that there exists no unity whatsoever within the Telco landscape. Alright, some of you may argue that while we prepared for all the basics, we should have ensured that we bought the Internet roaming package for my wife’s phone. If you are thinking that way, then you are right. However, let me tell you why we missed that bit out during our planning.

The Internet availability across international borders (roaming) did NOT come to our minds intuitively as a part of our list of basics! That’s because people still think of the roaming Internet as an on-demand luxury or necessity. Lets face it, it’s expensive! For us today, the basics are food, water, money, fuel, medicines, clothing, and the likes. Yes, the mobile phone is also a part of our basics today, however, that is mainly because mainly want to be able to make voice calls, no matter wherever we are. So, the same not-considering-the-roaming-Internet-as-basics happened to us, while we prepared for our vacation. The first time we realized that we should have bought the roaming Internet package for my wife’s iPhone was when the Internet stopped working. And it was disappointing...

One Global Telco for the World
Now, let’s be honest with ourselves here. Making voice calls is something that we assume is globally possible no matter wherever we are, regardless if we have bought a roaming package or not. That’s where bill-shocks happen! However, what about the mobile Internet (2G, 3G, 4G, not WiFi...)? No, we don’t take it as something that’s globally available for us, unless, we explicitly purchase the roaming package. The fact is that, today, roaming Internet is NOT enabled on the SIM card as naturally as voice calls are. It’s bitter, but its true! So how can we fix this?

Well, we need One Global Telco!

Imagine with me for a while, a perfect world of connectivity. That would be when every human on the planet is issued a unique SIM card (in whatever form-factor), just like a birth certificate. Just think for a moment that everyone is given a birth right to have access to connectivity & Internet, just like access to water, food, clothing and the likes. Everyone has a SIM card that’s valid for life. With that SIM card, one could travel anywhere globally and would have seamless access to making voice calls & the Internet, without having to worry about the Telco contracts. Thinking out loud here, perhaps (or perhaps not), these SIM cards are made government property and issued to all citizens just like the passports & identity cards etc. People stop worrying about which package should they buy from which Telco. Everyone gets the same level of access to connectivity & the Internet. This becomes an international consensus & is legalized as a global law in every part of the world!

That’s my friend is One Global Telco!

It’s happening, (very) slowly...
Back to the imperfect world. The sketch of the perfect world of connectivity may seem fictional and unrealistic, today. However, this isn’t something that’s impossible, either. It’s a matter of prioritizing the benefit of people, over the benefit of business. It would happen if all the Telco’s today unite together to deliver seamless access to connectivity & Internet to every human on the planet. It’s a HUGE deal, but it’s possible - by killing the Telco fragmentation!

And let me tell you, it has started to happen bit by bit - at least in Europe!
Check this video from the European Commision (EC), which is released as a part of the Connective Continent (#ConnectedContinent) initiative, under the umbrella of Europe 2020.

Alright, it sounds good and promising. However, assuming its not a political game and actually becomes a reality by 2020 (fingers crossed ;-)), we’ll be experiencing somewhat the One European Telco effort. I am thinking bigger here. I am thinking global. However, that’s how it all starts. If Europe is able to prove the effectiveness and need of one Telco experience across its borders, then it may become a significant motivator and driver to spread this initiative at a global scale. This would require Telcos to rethink their business, and “leave their egos behind and start to work collaboratively.

The heat is there
Recently, if you got a chance to listen to the panel discussion on the The Future of Digital Economy, which was held as a part of the World Economic Forum 2015, you appreciate how Vittorio Colao, the Vodafone CEO, addresses the Telco fragmentation issue by saying “do governments license oxygen?”. The meat behind this statement is that today the communication spectrum (air interface) is strictly fragmented between Telcos. The Telcos must bid, and buy the license for spectrum from governments in order to operate their networks effectively, so that, they do not interfere with the networks of other Telcos. However, the very fact that every Telco operates within the boundaries of its own spectrum is one of the biggest reasons for Telco fragmentation, today. As with oxygen, what if this “air” (interface) is not licensed by the governments and becomes public property - as it is suppose to be by the way. What if, all the Telcos could work collaboratively to operate jointly within the same (or even their own unlicensed) spectrum? I know it sounds crazy, but this is very much possible. I am talking about a huge technology revolution here. It may not seem possible today, but think 30 years ahead (or even earlier than you expect!). If you look at the Big Picture of today’s M2M landscape, you will understand that with the pace the connectivity requirement is growing due to the penetration of  Internet of Things (technically, M2M) applications (autonomous cars, connected homes, appliances, wearables, …), we may need Telcos to become as seamless as possible across the globe. These spectrum boundaries may need to be vanished, completely. That will make the Telco fragmentation a history, and Telcos seamless!

Again, If you watch the panel discussion on the The Future of Digital Economy, you will feel heat & the need of getting rid of Telco fragmentation quickly. I am inspired by how simply Eric Schmidt, the Google chairman, states how the future Internet will look like. All he said was that “the internet will disappear”. This explains everything!

Summing up
It is not possible (or at least extremely & painfully difficult) for Internet to disappear, unless the Telco fragmentation disappears. There will be challenges - many many many challenges. These challenges will rise from all industry focus-areas, such as, regulatory, technology, business models, revenue models, privacy & security, roaming, emerging markets, tight border controls, infrastructure, services, devices and so on. However, if we stand united today with a common goal to give our generations a seamlessly connected planet, where everyone has a right to connectivity & Internet, we may be able to die with a peace of mind that our generations will have much more capability and opportunity to avoid those mistakes that we made, in order to make the world a better and safer place for all.

That’s why we need One Global Telco. That’s why I want One Global Telco. Do you?