We witnessed the telecom revolution over the last two decades which altered the way people communicated with each other, a change that impacted the daily lives of people. The information technology boom and the advent of internet did something similar by significantly redefining the way people dealt with tasks on a day-to-day basis and the way businesses functioned. Development on both these fronts initially went along in parallel.
The convergence of telecommunications and computing has been noted and commented on for some time now. However, there is a much richer interrelationship at present than at any time in the past. In fact, one can argue that the very terms “telecommunications” and “computing” are losing their relevance as separate identities, and also that these fields will become virtually indistinguishable in the near future.
Merging of computing, communication and entertainment has changed the landscape. Emergence of the acronym ‘ICE’ really signified this move towards convergence. The boundaries between telecom and computing have really been blurred with significant overlap between the two. The traditional use of a telephone to talk and use of computers to access the net & to do other tasks is giving way to a scene where we increasingly use computers and applications like skype, hangout, yahoo messenger etc. to talk to people on a audio or a video chat and use our handset for accessing our mails, for using the social; networking sites, read news and for general browsing – a role reversal of sorts.
Impact on telecom companies
Telcos have been reporting fall in the ‘average revenue per user’ (ARPU) and this is understandable. There has been an increasing usage of free apps like viber, jumblo, skype to talk to others riding on the web and thereby starving telcos of revenue through voice calls. Widespread use of chat facility on whatsapp, yahoo messenger, hangout etc., for messaging has resulted in revenue loss for telcos for such value-added services. Revenue from long distance calls has also seen significant drop as people use skype, hangout etc., to set up video calls connecting with anyone around the world.
Let me share my experience of communicating and net browsing when travelling abroad recently. I purchased a country specific card from one of the telecom service providers which carried call lower tariffs than international roaming charges for my regular number, and also an internet service pack. At the end of my trip I incurred very little expense over and above the fixed charges. At most places I could find access wi-fi connection like in the hotels that we stayed, most airports, train stations, shopping malls and even in the long distance bus that we were travelled. I could fetch my mails, post entries in facebook, linkedIn and twitter, send messages on whatsapp and speak to people using viber without incurring any extra charges. I am sure telcos would be ruing this revenue loss and may already be revisiting their business models to plug such loss to business.
The future scenario
While describing the current state of convergence and as we speculate what it may mean in the coming years, one can argue that as a result of the horizontal integration of all media (voice, audio, video, animation, data) in a common network and terminal infrastructure, telecommunications and networked-computing applications will no longer be distinguishable.
We are going to see cities with wi-fi connect at public places and chances are that many big cities may sport widespread free wi-fi connects covering a good part of the city. As more people use this facility, tariffs for telephone networks and internet bandwidth may undergo revision to become more realistic. Telecom companies have been charging indecently high rates for international roaming but I am sure this would change soon.
Taking the argument further it is not clear whether we would use our telecom handset for talking to others or we would use a gadget connected to the internet instead. In other words I am not sure if we will be using a phone of a telecom company which also gives access to internet or that we will we use a gadget connected to the internet and do away with the phones altogether.