I am here today at the TTM, the Technology Time Machine, organized by the IEEE where I have been chairing a panel on the Future of Service.
We have seen quite a change in telecommunications services in the last 10 years. In the last century (but that is just 12 years ago!) telecommunications services were strongly coupled with the infrastructure. Then the shift of intelligence to the edges (smarter terminals) and the transparency of the infrastructure led to a decoupling of services from the network. All of a sudden services were no longer confined by the network reach but have become global. The decreasing cost of sending bits have made the origination point irrelevant. From Kolkata you can provide a service to Cape Town. The world shrunk and the service providers multiplied to reach hundreds of thousands. The explosion of Apps are an evidence of this, as the services provided by Indian companies like Reliance to manage a network in the US from Mumbai.
There is here a weak win-win situation: Operators have seen an explosion of traffic driven by the increased number of services and service providers have seen an increased demand for services. It is a weak win however. Operators have lost their monopoly on services, actually they lost the service offering; the service providers are so many that only a few make significant money, most of them are barely cutting even and many are offering services without expecting revenues, further depressing the overall market.
The customer is a winner: there are so many cheap/free services to choose from. The reality is that of the 200 apps that might the present on a cell phone just a very few are actually used.
There is also a lose-lose situation: Operators have seen their cost for network upgrading increasing with uncertain revenues and service providers have a hard time to develop a money making service proposition, given the jungle and abundance of services.
Customers, as well, may be losing some of the quality they were used to. On the average, today’s customers have lowered their Quality Expectation and this makes, once again, a difficult selling proposition pricing for quality. Clearly some customers are willing to pay for guaranteed quality but they are just a minority. Besides, such a guarantee is getting more and more difficult to provide, given the spanning of a services over many networks a single Operator cannot control and involving resources that are not part, nor controlled by the network.
What can we expect in this decade and beyond? A crank back is unlikely. We are going to have even more networks in the future, each one controlled by a different party and actually so many of them, and sometimes so fleeting, that the establishment of old time inter-Operator agreements is not an option. We are going to see networks created by terminals, mesh networks, sensors networks, software defined networks, viral networks, bio-networks. You embed a chip, or even program a bacteria (we are in 2050) and you establish a communications through nearby bodies.
So many more networks on the horizon. So many that some radical change in management and communication paradigm is needed. My opinion is that such a change will derive not from planning and deployment, rather it will happen as an emergent property of the whole. Autonomic systems will dominate the landscape. The very concept of network is going to fade away, substituted by the concept of communication fabric.
Services will keep increasing in number but given the hundreds thousands we already have, does any increase make a difference? Am I going to feel it? Unlikely. But if I, and you, are not going to feel it it is even more unlikely that we are going to pay for them.
And still, they will keep growing. Hence, new biz models, new sustainability ways have to be found. As communications, sustainability is likely to become embedded in objects and in environments.
The same, I bet, will happen to services. That is the only way for accessing them. You cannot access a service you don’t know is there and with millions of them you will be unaware of most. But you, and I, will keep accessing objects around us, will keep living in our environment and interact with it. This interaction, more and more, will be service mediated. This is what the Internet of Things and WITH Things are all about. And this, to me, is the future.