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Friday, February 12, 2016

The new GSMA / NERA paper on changing technology regulation is actually quite good

Regular readers will know that I'm not a huge fan of the GSMA. While it does some good stuff on areas like taxation, international development and energy efficiency, I think its application efforts are mostly awful (RCS....) and its public-policy work mostly Machiavellian. The annual MWC zoo encourages (forces?) the industry to waste a huge % of its time and marketing budget on something that people "must be seen" at, despite the chaos and cost.

So it may come as quite a shock to read something positive from me, about one of its recent expostulations on the topic of regulation.

But having read the new report on future regulation frameworks, written for GSMA by NERA Economic Consulting (pdf link here) I actually think it's pretty good. This is because it focuses on the need for fewer regulations of telcos in the pursuit of more innovation and lower prices for consumers, rather than for more regulation on Internet and device vendors, for protectionist and defensive reasons. It makes some very clear points - and some surprisingly honest admissions. It's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.

OK, it's still got a cringeworthy 1980s-era title about "digital ecosystems", but given that's it's aimed at regulators & policymakers who mostly still live in the last century, that's excusable. It even prefaces the dreaded "OTT" term with an appropriately-derisive "so-called".

I'm impressed that GSMA gave NERA a pretty free rein on this (or more likely, NERA insisted on it). It doesn't reference flawed rhetoric about "platform neutrality" (link), or make a big deal about Net Neutrality. It doesn't give strawman arguments that everything should interoperate (link). It doesn't mention the term "QoS" at all. It acknowledges the power of "permissionless innovation" and the benefits of "dynamic markets".

Most importantly, it doesn't mimic the execrable/laughable "analysis" that its rival ATKearney did for ETNO (Euro Telecom Network Operators' Association) 5 years ago in its infamous "Viable Future Model for the Internet" piece. That tried to suggest that "sustainability" would only arise if web companies were forced to subsidise telco infrastructure, via mythical "sender-pays" fees for traffic.

Broadly speaking the NERA report suggests less/more-flexible regulation for telcos, rather than more regulation for everyone else in the industry. It makes some very good points about the pace of regulatory change being too slow for such a dynamic market, and alludes to the fact that "services" do not exist independently of devices, applications and platforms.

A few extracts that resonated for me:

  • "On the demand side, it implies that consumers can use different combinations of products and services to achieve the same functional objective." 
  • "For regulators, the increasing number of ways for digital consumers to achieve the same function presents a tremendous challenge" 
  • "First and foremost, dynamic markets generate benefits by creating new and better products or services that displace inferior ones and challenge the dominance of incumbent suppliers." 
  • "The rational behaviour of a leading player in a dynamically contestable market is to assume that the market is becoming competitive and to anticipate challenges from competitors by out-innovating them and keeping prices at competitive levels." 
  • "Accordingly, a central objective of regulatory policy should be to promote (or at least not signicantly hinder) innovation-driven dynamic competition in the digital ecosystem." 
  • "Private actors have strong incentives to engage in rent-seeking—that is, to attempt to influence regulatory outcomes to impose costs on competitors and achieve advantages for themselves."
The document makes some valid points about telcos being constrained by various layers of legacy regulation - does anyone really care about SMS roaming, in the days of Whatsapp? But moreover, it makes the point that the regulatory process absorbs a huge amount of management time and resource, and can mean that new service introductions get delayed while regulators and lawyers are consulted. 

It doesn't quite say it as such, but the pitch for ex-post regulation rather than ex-ante aligns with a desire to emulate fast Internet companies, which "ask for forgiveness, not for permission".

One of the most interesting recognitions is that in the first quote above - consumers can achieve the same end result, using different blends of products/services/networks, which often makes it unreasonable to regulate individual bits in isolation. If a user wanting music can download, stream, listen to broadcast, side-load via a variety of devices and networks, the net outcome is the same: listening to music, even if the path followed is different. Aligning regulation with function where possible is a good goal - and also fits in with some of the debate I have about voice vs. telephony, for example. 

That said, there's a lot of nuance here about standalone functions, vs. secondary embedded capability. The theme of "similar services" isn't really explored in the report, although a reference to VoIP and emergency calling for "voice systems" is made. For me, similarity has to go beyond "function" towards context and purpose. A voice call made on Skype is sometimes "similar" to a phone call, but can also be used in lots of different ways as well - nobody would argue that a baby-monitor or karaoke app should include 911/112/999 capabilities.

Perhaps the most surprising tonal difference from the usual GSMA output is the praising of competition/innovation leading to lower prices, as legacy services get substituted by "newer and better" functional equivalents. One interesting point the report makes is that differential regulation for similar services can lead to *raised* prices. Which seems to imply that a "level playing field" of regulation for telephony- or SMS-similar services should lead ideally to prices below the current near-zero fees from WhatsApp or FaceTime. I suspect that's probably NERA's view more than it is GSMA's, but bravo for publishing it anyway.

My main criticism of the report is its fairly arbitrary split of the overall value chain into "devices", "communications", "applications" and "content", although the appendix section points out that platform players can orchestrate overall services/capabilities across these domains, even if they don't own or control them directly.

There is no mention of the role of software or web developers in the report, or the role of APIs to expose capabilities from one party to another. The role of network equipment and software vendors is overlooked, as well as changes emanating from the move to cloud and virtualisation.

Overall, I'd agree that the technology industry's regulation needs an overhaul - especially given the convoluted system in the US, as well as the pomposity and antiquated procedures at ITU. I also agree with sentiments about faster (and more flexible) assessment of market power and more streamlined approaches to mergers.

One question I'd like to see addressed is how ex-post regulation can be done more efficiently and quickly. What can be done to address (lets say) ten times the number of complaints, ten times as fast? Can we look forward to legal/regulatory AIs investigating and ruling in an instant, on anti-competitive network management practices, or unfair wholesale pricing?

A few questions remain. It's not obvious that the proposals adequately take into account non-commercial actors, such as users of unlicenced spectrum, which have complex and multi-layered ecosystems of their own. There is also very little consideration of enterprise communications and IT systems, and how they might fit (or get caught in) any future regulatory framework shifts. The same is true of IoT - as more systems embed comms/networking capabilities, is the expectation that the regulator's purview expands to include machinery, vehicles and corporate software and collaboration systems? That would be a retrograde step, I believe.

And I'm a little concerned that some of the phrases used by NERA ("balanced, holistic approach that improves the availability and affordability of the entire digital ecosystem platform") may get twisted in future pronouncements, back towards some of the telecom industry's traditional anti-innovation defensiveness. Unfortunately the GSMA's press release contains the discredited "trigger word" phrase "level playing field", when the report itself makes it clear that many different sports are being played. It's possible that I'm being naive here, and am missing the more-subtle-than-usual Machiavellian undertones. It will be important to double-check for misleading analogies in future missives.

But overall, credit where credit is due. There's some good stuff in there & it's worth a read.

Monday, February 08, 2016

No, VoLTE is not the future of mobile voice

I've lost count of the articles and presentations I've seen recently, loudly proclaiming that VoLTE represents "The Future of Mobile Voice", or worse, "Allows telcos to compete against [so-called] OTTs". The run-up to MWC is likely to generate even more breathless and gushing tributes of this type.

But this is all nonsense. VoLTE is most definitely NOT the future of mobile voice. It's just the past of mobile telephony, with a lick of very expensive IP paint.

(It goes without saying that VoWiFi, RCS & ViLTE aren't the future of mobile comms either. See here for a full explanation, and watch out for another post soon).

VoLTE is still just "boring old phone calls", billed per minute, with interruptive caller-to-recipient ringing, based on E.164 numbers, with no customisation for purpose or context or sense-making. HD audio and embedding calls in apps via APIs aren't new either - they work for circuit calls too. Not only that, but VoLTE doesn't work very well - Amdocs recently providing evidence that calls drop far more frequently now. 

It's also hugely expensive and complex to implement, and in most cases different VoLTE networks don't interoperate, as they're all slightly different. The GSMA has even given a special acronym to its bug-fixing squad - now called VIRTUE (VoLTE Interoperability Resolution Expediting Task Force) - link here.

There are only two real purposes for VoLTE: supporting calls on 4G-only networks, and hopefully reclaiming some 2G/3G spectrum. Worthy, but not "the future". VoLTE will not increase telephony usage. Yes, faster call setup, better indoor coverage (4G or WiFi) and clearer HD might slow the decline a little, but neither are exactly groundbreaking. Fixed PSTN call setup has been instantaneous since the 1980s, and HD-quality voice has been available on both 3G networks and 3rd-party VoIP apps for years. VoLTE is arriving very late to the party, with a bottle of cheap supermarket lager, just as the cool people are heading somewhere else for champagne and whisky.

Peak Mobile Telephony

This is because telephony is yesterday's news, even mobile telephony. Looking around the world, many countries are past the point of "peak telephony", when adding together volumes of fixed+mobile outbound calls. Quite a few are now past "peak mobile telephony" as well, although others are still substituting fixed for mobile, as prices fall because of competition. 

Even those with growing overall call usage are seeing this driven by increasing numbers of users not usage per person, for example in India, where few people had phones at all in the past. Sometimes there's a blip of pent-up demand when flat-rate plans come into the market, or there's a recovery from an economic crash, but that's a one-off gain, not sustained growth.

But the simple fact of the matter is that once people have access to phones & (cheap) calls, there's a limit to how much they want to use. Use-cases are eroded by email, messaging, video communications, social networks, app-based interactions, notifications and the 100 other ways of connecting people and computers - even before WebRTC's help in accelerating the trend. 

There are, simply, better ways of doing almost anything than via a normal phone call.

This is already exhibited by usage trends, before we've even started the main part of this transition period. For example:
  • The CTIA's annual survey reported a drop of 6.2% in US mobile voice-call minutes from 2013 to 2014, despite a broad shift to flat-rate plans and a 6% increase in the number of subscriptions. A similar fall in 2015 seems plausible.
  • China Mobile did the same number of voice-calling minutes (1.60trn) in Q3'2015 as it did in Q3'2012, despite growing its customer base from 699m to 823m over the same period. That's a 15% decline in average use in three years. (Link)
  • In the UK, EE has recently reported average minutes-of-use falling 4.4% year-on-year on average - and 8.6% for postpaid users.
  • France bucks the trend - it has seen mobile telephony usage rise consistently, although that's perhaps because more competition from Free (and lower prices) has driven elasticity in usage. The chart on p32 here indicates that growth is flatter, though
In business telephony & UCaaS, there are mixed reports of growth by company, vertical and user role. But if you take out pre-arranged dial-ins to conference bridges (not really a "call" as such), the picture isn't pretty either.

In short, mobile telephony is (or has) peaked. I use fewer minutes per month on my phone than last year, and I bet you do as well. Upgrading to VoLTE won't change that, especially if it's less reliable.

When was the last time you phoned for a taxi, or called someone to invite them to a birthday party? Unless you work in telesales, how often do you use your phone - desk or mobile - to call a client or industry contact? How often do you scowl or tut, when your phone rings unexpectedly and distracts your concentration?

Phone calls won't disappear, no. But then there's plenty of fax machines still around, too.

More importantly still, if demand is falling or flat, while supply of telephony or near-substitutes is rising, the only economic outcome is falling prices. The revenue attributable to voice telephony is falling, even if volumes are holding up.

The painful fact is that telcos don't do "voice" in a general sense. They only do telephony, with an occasional side-order of voicemail, conferencing and push-to-talk. They are almost entirely absent from the 100s (soon to be 1000s) of other voice applications and use-cases. 

VoLTE is misnamed. It's just ToLTE. 

What else is there in voice besides phone calls? 

How about voice chat, asynchronous voice, speech-to-text, recording, real-time translation, priority voice, voice recognition, voice biometrics, voice messaging, stereo audio, aid for the blind, peer-to-peer, realtime captioning, voice PaaS, emergency group voice, gunshot detection, nurse-call functions, radio, virtual assistants, emotional analysis, karaoke, encrypted voice, hypervoice, IoT integration - and so on. 

Those are not phone calls, not billed (or measured) per-minute, not necessarily using phone numbers, often not subject to lawful interception, not regulated - but they are huge sources of current and potential value. But they need thought and innovation, not blind standards.

Then add in the whole rapidly-inflating universe of contextual communications and analytic/metadata-enriched voice, and you start to get the full picture. I'll cover intersections with machine-learning and IoT another time. Telephony is Alexander Graham Bell's view of voice communications, not the 21st century's. (Obviously, regulators and governments are even slower than telcos to work this out, though). 

(A couple of telcos have tried updating VoLTE to pre-announce why people are calling. Good idea, badly implemented. A topic for another post. Hint: blame RCS).

The voice-based service that's currently got the most buzz? No, not Skype or Viber or Whatsapp or any of the UC vendors. It's Amazon Echo and its Alexa virtual assistant. Echo has been around for a while, but in the last month or two everyone seems to have suddenly started creating integrations and cool services. "Alexa, get me an Uber", "Alexa, play Lady Gaga's Telephone on Spotify". Or, ironically, "Alexa, send my calls to voicemail", by innovative VoIP provider Ooma (link).

Add that to Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Google Now, plus assorted other virtual assistants that are becoming the true face of future mobile (or fixed) voice communications. It will be (in part) about input/output and access to information. Not upgrading the string between two tin-cans to IP.

There's an upcoming conference on Mobile Voice in a couple of months. There are no mobile operators or even VoLTE vendors on the draft speaking roster. Ironically, the only CSP represented is cable operator Comcast. Forget the upcoming dinosaur exhibition in Barcelona - this is where the new mobile voice DNA is being developed. 

The obsession with VoLTE is just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Or creating an IP-powered horse buggy in the age of the car. Create your own analogy - there's plenty of examples of "missing the wood for the trees".

VoLTE is retro

In fact, perhaps the best analogy for VoLTE is the new-shape VW Beetle introduced in 1997, which took a lot of styling clues from the classic car made from 1938 onwards, updated for the modern era. It perpetuated a decades-old model, but with an underlying change in platform. It evolved from rear-engine/RWD, to front-engine/FWD - the equivalent of moving from TDM to IP in terms of phone calls. It still had 4 wheels, it was still internal-combustion, it was still sold via normal dealerships and distribution, and was financed in the usal ways. However, it was more complex and expensive than its predecessor.

While the New Beetle clearly fitted a market demand, and has been moderately successful, in hindsight it was not a game-changer in any way. It didn't represent the "future of cars". It hasn't been a blockbuster, let alone the "people's wagon". It was an up-to-date retro take on an old classic. The original Beetle sold about 21m units in 54 years. The New Beetle sold just 1m in its first 10 years to to 2008, and (with another refresh in 2012) it will probably do about the same in the next 10 years. People think it's quite cute, but it holds nowhere near the universal appeal of the original.

(I'd perhaps contrast the Beetle with the new Mini, which has spawned lots of different variants and now seems almost as iconic as the original 1950s Issigonis classic. Or perhaps another car analogy VoLTE should have emulated is the Porsche 911, which has continued to evolve incrementally for decades - it keeps the family resemblance, but is always fresh. And I'm not even going to invoke Tesla, Toyota Priuses, Google self-drive cars, car-club business models and other innovations).


VoLTE is the right answer, 7 years too late. It should have been part of LTE at launch on Day 1, designed-in and standardised during Year Minus-3. The industry forgot about it, and has been in panicky catch-up mode ever since, trying to shoehorn immature packet voice onto a complex new air-interface and core network. The focus has been on network QoS, standards and spectrum re-farming, rather than communications purpose, user-experience, analytics, devices or applications. The word "acoustic" didn't even appear in the original IR92 specifications.

It's too little, too late. It's a IP-homage to ye olde phone networkes of yore, not a shiny vision of the future of communications. Yes, we'll likely see continued growth in VoLTE deployments, with vendors making some money, while telco engineering departments look "busy" and justify their existence and budgets. 

Instead of putting R&D efforts in, hiring people who understand speech and behaviour, educating regulators, experimenting with new capabilities and models, or learning from other innovators, we get a group of people titled "head of voice" who mostly seem confused by the lack of Bakelite and rotary dials. And vendors happy to entrench the confirmation bias.

Try an experiment over the next month, especially at MWC: Mentally replace the word "voice" with "telephony" wherever you see or hear it. (Or replace VoLTE with ToLTE). It could be in press releases, CEO speeches, booth demos, business-card job titles, analyst research reports, Tweets or whatever. 

If voice/telephony makes no difference to the sentence's meaning, then that person or company simply doesn't get it. They're not the future of mobile voice - they're the past. They're telco equivalents of VW marketeers, with equally dodgy stats and polluting emissions.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Year Rant: 10 Awful Tech-Industry Terms to Stop Using in 2016

In the spirit of the holiday season and New Year, this is another list about 2016. 

But it's from me, so it's a rant, rather than clairvoyancy with a crystal-ball.

There's a bunch of words and concepts used in the technology industry that make you look like a fool, or at least lazy and sloppy. They're often meaningless, duplicitously-used to "misframe" an argument, or just generally cringe-worthy. Some of them I've tackled before, and yes, mea culpa, I've been guilty of some of them before too. But I've learned from the errors of the past, and apologise unreservedly for any historical fluffiness and telcowash.

So let's double-check our terminology in 2016, call out offenders, and make a collective New Year resolution to ditch the telco-industry b*llocks....

1. Digital 

Meaningless drivel. The last time the word "digital" was informative or cool was in the 1970s, or maybe, if you absolutely must, relevant for newer telecoms switches in the 1980s. But apart from retro nods to Casio, it's now just a useful short-cut to determining if someone is ignorant, tech-illiterate, or desperate for a marketing hook - think "digital agency" as cringespeak for advertising, or "digital single market" for the EU's half-witted bureaucrats and their fawning legions of lobbyists. 

And don't get me started on the clueless telco and vendor folk talking about "digital" services. Because hey, we don't want to go back to those awful days of the analogue Internet in the 1990s, do we? I suppose I should be happy that at least some of the politicos have switched over from the similarly-execrable "ICT", but frankly "digital" is even worse. So sneer at the digitalistas with both pride and prejudice – and perhaps a raised middle-digit.

2. OTT 

This one I've tackled before, but it bears repetition. "OTT" just means "bits of the Internet we don't like". It's arbitrary, divisive and hypocritical (all telcos have websites & Internet apps). It’s also a form of telecom industry self-harm, as the "O" for "over" conjures images of a vertical hierarchy, with content/apps/comms being at the top (and therefore implicitly better) than everything "beneath". Along with “dumb pipe” the false-dichotomy of ISP vs. OTT is at the base of many of the industry’s current woes, as it re-frames a simple reality in a deliberately antagonistic way. Telecoms industry regulators and lobbyists who use “OTT” are especially unfit-for-purpose, and should be fired for incompetence.

There is an exemption for anyone saying “OTT” if they also refer to networks as “UTF” (Under the Floor) providers, as that’s where the plumbing goes.

3. Transformation 

I have a little bit more tolerance of this word, as it is slightly better than some of the industry’s other gibberish. Elements of the industry are undergoing profound change, yes… but that’s mostly being forced by events, with grudging acceptance, rather than true enthusiasm. Even where networks are genuinely being “transformed”, it is rare that the culture, process and business model is following suit. More generally, it’s important to note that telcos, and their networks and services, have been in a state of constant flux for the last century, often with discontinuities in technology.

Either way, the only meaningful use of the word "transform" I've heard this year was by my Haitian guide when I visited in July - to describe a voodoo curse which he reckoned was turning him into a cow. To listen to some of the snake-oil merchants in the telecoms industry, you'd think we were watching something similarly magical occurring, rather than just mythology.

4. Seamless 

Another one I’ve taken aim at before – seams are important. Seams are borders, where important things happen. Pretending that they don’t exist denies their significance – and can lead to mistakes or complacency, in terms of user perception, technical capabilities, pricing, security and more. A prime example is the combination of WiFi and cellular connectivity for smartphones, where two very different domains exist, and blending them needs to be done with care and humility. Creating frictionless shifts between one and the other is important – much like real-world borders. But the premise of “seamlessness” removes visibility and agency from end-users and other market participants – and often presupposes (wrongly) that network operators are the only/most-important actors involved. Seamless transitions allow inertia and lock-in to be perpetuated, rather than allowing users or app-developers scope to make “wrong” decisions.

5. Carrier-grade 

This is another term which exemplifies the telecom industry’s arrogance and self-absorption. It imbues certain bits of infrastructure – or engineering practices – with a magical aura of uniqueness and competence. And while many examples are indeed praise-worthy, they are far from the only purveyors of excellent network engineering. Corporate-grade networks are often just as secure, resilient and cost-effective – but also often more flexible. Military-grade networks are often more secure. Consumer-grade networks or various ad-hoc networks are often more democratic and market-responsive. Internet-grade networks such as Google/Facebook data-centres or Akamai’s CDNs are often cleverer. 

Telecoms carriers are not “special flowers” nor sit in “ivory towers”. Continually using terms like “carrier-grade” perpetuates the arbitrary distinctions between telecom and Internet worlds, and fosters harmful distinctions that inhibit service-providers from making pragmatic, market-aware decisions.

6. Engagement 

This is not limited to the telecoms industry, but is a general example of horrific marketing-industry and social-networking semantics and practice that needs to be stamped out. “Engagement” usually involves forcing people to “interact” when they’d often rather not, or measuring social-network actions in a cringe-worthy fashion. My recent example of WiFi “monetisation” charlatans bragging of “engaging” users for 45 seconds highlights the misanthropy present in this way of thinking. The whole area of “click-bait” posts, or those stupid list-based websites that force you to find the “next page” button, or click an invisible “x” on an intrusive floating advert are others.

This is not to say that it’s a bad thing to allow people to interact with you. Yes, they should be able to comment or share if they choose. But that’s the point: they are choosing to interact. They have agency, and take action. They should not be encouraged or forced to “engage”. It’s the coercivity that is wrong.

7. Content (& especially content-marketing)

“Content” is just one-directional application data, which flows from a “publisher” to a “consumer”. Despite some commentators’ and legislators’ ignorant comments, it does not constitute the whole Internet. While the likes of Netflix and the BBC are clearly important, so too are Amazon, Twitter, Skype, SAP, email, backups to iCloud, downloaded virus definitions and innumerable enterprise applications and services. The latter are communications, transactions, applications and raw data – not “content”. Yet too many laws and structures are designed with an historical “media” mindset, rather than an IT or Internet-native one. For example, the majority of the Net Neutrality discussion was centred on “content” and “content provdiers” – although to be fair, some regulators have talked about “edge providers”, which is a slightly more generic term.

Hopefully the rise of ever more non-content mobile apps, plus also IoT devices and traffic, will make more people (especially regulators and politicians) aware that networks are used for much more than lumps of video entertainment, media websites and music. 

To be honest, “content” is mostly another sleazy, marketing-inspired word anyway – often used with a hidden meaning of “that stuff we can embed advertising in”. That also gives rise to the most repugnant use of the term – in “content marketing”, which is basically just “long-form spam”, often masquerading as journalism or analysis. The technology industry is widely infested with dodgy “content marketing” – particularly corporate blogs masquerading as independent sources of news or analysis. You know the type: one-sided puff-pieces which laud a particular type of technology or product or brand. “Why WiFi-calling is transformational & will change telecoms for ever and allow operators to fight back against the OTTs with new digital services and improved customer engagement” (posted on WiFiCallingForEver.com, with a tiny note at the bottom that it’s sponsored by VendorX.com). The worst content-marketing of all is that derived from fake, quasi-corrupt, pay-for-play industry “awards”, where marketing companies offer “sponsors” a full package of PR and churnalism “content” in exchange for a “submission fee”.

8. Rich 

Obviously exemplified by the ludicrous RCS of zombie fame, the word “rich” also crops up in various other telecom and Internet contexts as well. It usually means “we didn’t have any proper designers involved, so we just threw in as many random features as we could, hoping that people would muddle through and ignore the incoherent clutter”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Apple use the word – or even Facebook. I’m scared to look, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Yahoo or LinkedIn have used it, though. Rich services or apps don’t even have the redeeming benefits of rich food – they’re unpalatable as well, as bad for you.

Applications should be right not rich.

9. End-to-end

Whenever you see anyone in the telecom talking about “end-to-end” capabilities – especially QoS – you should laugh and dismiss them and their products/services immediately. In almost every case, the so-called “ends” just refer to arbitrary points over which they have some modicum of visibility and control. They are never the actual ends where a service is generated or consumed, just points on an architecture diagram where somebody else takes over responsibility. So for a streamed video, there are origination servers (perhaps even the production, editing and encoding process) and the end-device, with screen and associated processors and memory. Quality of experience ends at the retina, the eardrum – and maybe even the cortex of the brain. A great example of the end-to-end fallacy is around VoIP, where much of the quality and performance is gated by the device’s silicon and its microphone and speakers, as well as the various processing algorithms used. The network is important – and bits of it may indeed be well-managed. But they’re not “ends”. 

I’m writing this in an airport, where BA takes responsibility for getting me from gate to gate. It conspicuously doesn’t refer to my journey “end-to-end”. The handful of airlines which offer limo-service  to and from your home and hotel would have a better claim – but even they can’t control the traffic on the roads outside Heathrow, just the seat you sit in. 

10. Ecosystem

This is the term beloved of people who used to say “value chain”, especially as it allows a temporary warm & fuzzy feeling from its environmental and natural background. But for that very reason, it’s a lousy analogy. Ecosystems aren’t “built”, they evolve. It means a group of interacting organisms AND their (physical) environment and resources. It implies co-dependency – if one part of an ecosystem gets removed, damaged or destroyed, it has an impact on everything else. It’s not just a convenient term for a software or web company’s developer and partner programme.

While real ecosystems might have some symbiosis, they also typically have an apex predator, plus lots of unfortunate other creatures and plants that get eaten, or just manage to scratch a living, before rotting after their death with the help of microbes and parasites. Hmm, maybe it is a decent analogy after all. I’ll leave it to the reader to identify the parasites in the mobile “ecosystem”.


So let’s have a collective New Year’s resolution to avoid telecoms-sector “trigger words” and acknowledge what we actually mean in 2016. Let’s get rid of:

  • Digital
  • OTT
  • Transformation
  • Seamless
  • Carrier-Grade
  • Engagement
  • Content
  • Rich
  • End-to-End
  • Ecosystem

And, I’m sad to admit, there’s also probably a number 11 that’s past it’s sell-by: “Disruptive”. But yeah, let’s forget about that one, given that I was disruptive before it went mainstream. I reckon I can claim some form of retro-irony exemption…

Rant over. 

Happy New Year!