The wrong side of history – where the telcos are now.

December 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

Every conversation starts the same way:
Q: “so why are you here?”
A: “well you know when you are trying to ….”
Or variants there-of.

I was at Tech Crunch Disrupt in Berlin, talking to startups,
trying to feel my way back into the startup world, after a couple
of years with Tropo spending ever increasing amount of my time with telcos.

To be fair, I was in Berlin to give a workshop on WebRTC to telcos, as a guest of
the Rich Communications Summit at the kind invitation of Alan Quayle. I mentioned
to Mike Butcher that I was in Berlin and he expressed disbelief that I didn’t know Disrupt was on. (The old me 5 years ago would have known).

Talking to Dave McClure at the after party, I tried to sum up the difference between the events.
There were 2 things
that stood out for me. The first was the sheer optimism and enthusiasm at Disrupt, as opposed to that at RCS where there was an air of what can best be called nervousness.

The second was the way that innovations were described.
The startups all started by describing the user’s problem and how they addressed it. At RCS the starting point was always how the product would fit into the network, and only later (if at all) was any user benefit explored.

The telcos haven’t got used to their new role in the world – or even worked out what it is. To get a feel for the degree of failure to grasp the chance, look up the market capitalization of a European telco as compared to (say) Google. 6 years ago Orange was the same size as Google. Now it’s a 10th the size.

Their moment to try and become part of the user-facing internet has past. The telcos blew it. Their fate was sealed when they focussed more on what governments and their regulators want than their customers. They are, as I said over dinner at MWC this year, “on the wrong side of history”.

The interesting question is: Who will fill the gap they leave?

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