The Coming Disruption: Uncapped Mobile Will Be Unstoppable

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It’s 2020. I’m home from a day out with friends. My 5G provider has its UHD premium TV multicast service set up nicely and I am happily watching my local TV broadcast on my big screen in the kitchen—streamed from my smartphone—after I woke it up with a tap on my watch and told it to “stream the local TV on the kitchen screen.” It knew that I would be likely to watch the news, so it has the local headline live linear stream running.

I note, with interest, that the fixed-line telecommunications companies have all gone into steep decline and there are layoffs everywhere. Another blue chip telco has just gone into administration. That’s the fourth this week. The landline and DSL era is over.

You see, once the mobile services settled down to uncapped flat rate in 2017—thanks to regulations—and the “content bolt-on” market took off at the same time (as a result to the operators sorting out their own scaling issues), my TV service ended up on my phone and was no longer tied to my building, and now I can just hop on to any screen near me with my smartphone as the video source, and watch, watch, watch. Finally the economics lined up from the edge back to the core, with content providers being rewarded directly when they delivered great content to a paying audience. As the cord-cutters all dropped their satellite, cable, and landline services, that once-indestructible broadcast sector simply went into free fall.

Now the news tells a sobering story of chaos in the wired retail telecoms sector. An industry so established and so powerful that its members stuck their heads in the sand and thought they were too big to fail.

How times change huh?

And it’s not the first time: I recall in 2016 when the operators enabled their fully virtualised networks. Suddenly all their enterprise customers, the SaaS operators who had heretofore been able to feed off the networks by offering “value added services” to the end users, were suddenly pushed out of the game by their former network operator suppliers. The operators disintermediated their own customers, at significant initial cost, but with much larger return to their own networks, and with much greater network scale, SLA, and control.

That left lots of subsequently unemployed SaaS app developers, who couldn’t get jobs with the telcos, changed careers and flooded into other areas of the sector. Some of them moved to work with the fixed line ISPs, since at the time the telcos thought that their network speed and various other bits of spin would be enough to keep the users connected to their Wi-Fi hubs.

But all the while, end users inexorably moved their entire personal network engagement to their smartphones, and with an entire generation leaving college and not buying cable TV, satellite TV, or even a fixed phone service, in one year of graduates, the take-up tailed off so steeply the telcos suddenly had to file for Chapter 11 as their traditional business simply stopped growing overnight.

These events caused the fallout from that which I am watching on my smartphone as I write. The operators put their clients—the SaaS vendors—out of business, and then the mobile networks put the wired network operators out of business.

And many of those developers who had flooded from the CDN and SaaS market to the big telecoms companies are now, once again, out of work.

In retrospect, we should have seen it all coming. But back in 2015, where this View from the Edge will be read, even the obvious gets resisted, like King Canute trying to hold back the tide.

This article appears in the Winter 2015 issue of Streaming Media European Edition as “The Future, Untethered.”

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