Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Complete Convergence of Communications and Computing Platforms Is Here

Now that the term “convergence” has become passé, it’s finally happening. The distinctions between formerly separate communications networks and devices are blurring. Wired and wireless networks will soon be providing seamlessly integrated services; licensed and unlicensed spectrum are used by the same service provider; the same communications network can simultaneously serve residential, enterprise, and vertical markets; the PC and the TV are becoming indistinguishable; wireless phones are replacing wired phones; tablets are replacing TVs and phones alike; and the smartphone is replacing literally everything: With a smartphone, you no longer need a wired phone, a calendar, an address book, a notepad, a clock, a calculator, a camera, a map, a music player, a thermometer, a photo album, a desktop, a newsstand, books, a dictionary, a thesaurus, an encyclopedia set, a video player, board games, a compass, a remote control, a guitar tuner, a tape recorder, etc.

As platforms converge, the nature of the technology used to transmit communications will become increasingly irrelevant to the consumer. Whether video is delivered via over the air broadcast, traditional cable, satellite, IPTV, an over-the-top service accessed via the Internet through a Blu-Ray player, or from the cloud to a smartphone, the consumer’s question will be: What can I do with it? (Where can I see it? What device can I use? Can I transition seamlessly from one location, time, or device to another? What apps can I use to interact with it? How can I share the experience with someone else?) Imagine a consumer who tires partway through an HD movie on the widescreen at home and goes to bed. During her subway commute the next morning, she swipes her wireless tablet, and the operating system asks whether she would like to continue the movie. She taps the screen and starts watching at the same point she stopped the previous night. No single industry participant or network can seamlessly and consistently provide such services today.

That’s changing rapidly. Companies that provide software, operating systems, devices, storage, cloud computing, networks, and content are collaborating to form communications platforms capable of providing truly converged communications services. Converged communications services are consumer-centric: they allow the consumer to select appropriate services, they embrace auto-provisioning, and they offer seamless integration. Domestic wireless networks are a critical component of converged communications platforms within the U.S., but they are only one component of a much larger ecosystem. Providers of operating systems, applications, devices, and content are competing across video, data, and wireless delivery networks on a global basis. This global competition among converging communications platforms is playing a significant role in the state of competition among domestic mobile network operators. New applications and technological development is occurring more rapidly than ever in an environment of increasing traffic volumes and spectrum scarcity. The result is intense, chaotic competition.

The FCC’s traditional analysis of competition in the mobile segment – which emphasizes facilities-based services provided by network operators at retail to residential consumers – does not adequately capture the competitive dynamics of converged communications platforms. The convergence of communications and computing platforms, wireline and wireless integration, spectrum exhaust, macro-network offload, rapid technology deployment, wholesale and MVNO relationships in macro and micro radio access networks and the backhaul segment, converged devices and operating systems, and M2M services are all driving intense, chaotic competition in the mobile segment. The FCC should expand its traditional analysis to recognize this changing reality and its impact on mobile competition.

(For more information, see the reply comments WCAI submitted today in the FCC’s proceeding on the state of mobile wireless competition.)

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