07 July, 2008

The call of convergence

Not long ago, things were fairly simple. To get a landline phone, you went to one service provider, and for a mobile phone, to another.Cable TV services were run by your neighborhood operator,and the phone service provider was your ISP. Choice was limited-if it existed at all-and there was little recourse if you were unhappy with the quality of service or the tariffs.You either put up or shut up.

Over the last few quarters, there has been a big, but largely unnoticed shift in the communications landscape. We are seeing wider availability of services from one operator, and pilot runs of new technologies.Powering this change is the use of new generation technologies that are flexible, scalable- and considerably cheaper for operator deploy.Chief among them is the Internet Protocol(IP), which all service providers have embraced since it provides a cheaper and more efficient way to move data on networks.

Using IP, a telecom network can be configured to handle telephone conversations, internet access and data transfers, video conferencing and even television-all on the same physical link. In fact, IP technology can be used to integrate wireless and wired networks and deliver advanced services to mobile phone users too. The attraction of IP to service providers is patently obvious-it eliminates the need to build multiple dedicated networks for each service, and makes the addition of new services quick. This is one reason why you see cable operators offering internet access and telephony, and telecos promising you television over the telephone line.Device and equipment manufacturers have already jumped on the convergence bandwagon. Think media center PCs, VoIP phones, home theater amps that can connect to the internet and mobile phones that can receive TV broadcasts. For consumers this technological convergence between consumer electronic products and computing devices, and between diverse communication and entertainment services is interesting.For one, it obviates the need to buy multiple specialty gadgets and gizmo's, and second, it reduces obsolescence. For every new service, you don't need a new device, just a software.

On the infrastructure front of convergence will increase competition between service providers and provide the economic incentive to craft and deliver innovative services. For instance, wouldn't you like a mobile phone that automatically switches to a landline or a WiFi network when you go home ,or enter your office-even retaining its identity? How about a video phone service at your desk? or perhaps secure payments at cinema halls with your mobile phone instead of a credit card or even cash? convergence will also enable smaller companies with good ideas bring us useful services, and perhaps even greater personalization of the services we have today.


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