Connectivity , Service Unbundling & Mobile 2.0

by Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan (Rajan)

In barcamp2, farhaan during his talk mentioned how should telco’s should rise out of the slumber that they are in and not waste copious amount of money on buying 3G license & installing 3G networks. How new connectivity technologies like Wifi/Wimax networks would change the rules of the game for telecom players.

In between Ramesh raised a very valid point in the discussion where he stated that Wifi network is fractured saying it is specific to a location. One can’t move while accessing wifi, it is like you have to go to the location where wifi is situated.

The point that I think farhaan was trying to make was not to just show a comparison between 3G or wifi technical capabilities & features.  But rather a discussion on how open & closed networks fare against each other. How a stupid & intelligent network when pitted against each other would play out. Networks when designed stupid at the core allows the possibility of unbundling of application/service & connectivity.  We have been only exposed with networks in which these (connectivity & application) are so much fused to each other that we fail to see that these two things can be separated. (For example in a PSTN network just laying down the cables between our house and nearest exchange and making the copper wire live does not allow us to make phone calls. This part is purely connectivity.  When the phone is issued a phone number and switched into telco network, it is then we are able to make phone calls. Thus the application here is making phone calls and connectivity is the laying of wire from my home to the exchange. It is that we have also seen this together always that we can’t imagine as a application & connectivity separately in a PSTN).

As I have mentioned in my presentation one of the key drivers of moving towards a mobile/telco 2.0 is that of unbundling of service & connectivity. This will be give rise to new entities in the industry either within same organization or as two different business, one specializing in application/services and other excelling at providing connectivity. 

Now talking specifically about the problem that Ramesh raised, yes wifi is not a mobile technology and it is true it is fractured. But then it can/has to be viewed as a interesting problem to solve rather than as a hindrance.   And that is exactly what a company called FON is doing. The ingenuity of FON is that it is solving the problem through the help of building a community of wifi users. The idea is very simple – I use my internet/wifi for what I want to in my home and share the rest of it for free/fee with others in the community. When I go to anywhere else in the world I get access to FON network wifi which is hosted by others in the FON community there. Thus providing solution to the fracturedness problem of wifi. Pretty neat !! 

    The primary job of any telco is to solve a big coordination problem of laying a network, getting devices at the end point, connecting users etc. Anyone familiar with graphs would quickly agree that a network is bunch of contracts (edges) between end points(nodes). If there are no end points then there is no network but since a telco providers take the initial risk and coordinates the of building the network it wrongly assumes that it owns the network and charges abominous rents for that.

    I would call this as a telco 2.0 (connectivity business) provider and am very fascinated by the possibilities it raises.

     Users can do away with a telco and be owner of  network if somehow they can coordinate among themselves to build a network which is very very tough challenge. The brilliance of solution like FON is that it solves this coordination problem through the help of the users themselves by building a community of the users and taking care of their incentive to build  a network 🙂

(Full disclosure: I am doing some consulting work for FON now)