The current telco crunch is not new. Voice revenues have collapsed in developed and emerging markets alike, whilst data traffic from OTT players continues to increase exponentially. So costs are going through the roof just as revenues are vanishing. Life as telcos have known it is unsustainable – and change is inevitable.
In the words of leading internet academic Viktor Mayer-Schönberger at ITU Telecom World 2013 in Bangkok: “Telecom operators, if they continue doing what they are doing, will go out of business. It’s a commoditized business; it’s the end of the line. If I were a telecom operator, I would be extremely scared of the future. Extremely scared!”
Or, as former Zain Africa CEO Chris Gabriel said at the same event: “There’s no money in telcos and fundamentally organizations need to basically totally rethink the way they do their business processes.”
Change is inevitable, but what are the options? We understand the why, but not the how or where or whither. What are the options for players in the ICT sector? This is the key question which ITU Telecom World 2014 will address in Doha this December under the theme of Confronting the Future.
Confronting means opening our collective eyes, becoming aware of the radical change transforming the ICT industry, ecosystem and indeed our whole world. Engaging with the new realities, exploring the major trends shaping our shared future, focusing on scenarios of the future and their potential for all the different players involved.
Confronting does not mean being aggressive or belligerent, unnecessarily scaremongering or sensationalist in approach. It certainly doesn’t mean predicting a promised future. But by working together to investigate the rich opportunities of that future, we can find paths forward, perhaps building in counter-mechanisms to, or even in part avoiding, the major ethical, regulatory, social and legal challenges ahead.
The Internet of Things, new advances in artificial intelligence and the deployment of intelligent software and machines, big data-centric applications and business models, social media and social commerce, cloud networking, wearable computing – these are just some of the principal trends and developments that will not wait for us to catch up, that demand urgent attention.
And all this glittering promise brings such immense global challenges as privacy, data protection and surveillance, inequality and the digital divide, the ethics of machine intelligence and the human-machine relationship.
Creating a responsible and effective regulatory regime for the future will not be easy, but the need for it becomes more and more apparent in an era dominated by immensely powerful, unregulated and unaccountable organizations with no history of social responsibility. This is far removed from the traditional culture of the telecoms sector: that of responsible regulation designed to protect both societies and individuals.
Preserving this heritage, re-establishing trust, building upon past achievements rather than dismissing previous regimes in their entirety – this is a key part of Confronting the Future.