Perhaps the most talked about trend in the industry today.
One of the most important facets of convergence is the seamless integration of
the wireline and the wireless networks. Communication carriers can select from a
range of broadband two-way wireline and wireless architectures. With broadband
personal satellite systems, Multichannel Multipoint Distribution System (MMDS)
and Local Multipoint Distribution System (LMDS), users as well as service
providers who always wanted wires for phone and Internet, are increasingly
looking at wireless as the primary mode of voice, broadband data, and video
services. MMDS is being seen as a viable broadband service delivery option.
Once a luxury only for the rich, wireless cellular is
becoming more and more accessible to the masses. A survey conducted recently
indicated that 6 out of 10 Americans would like to switch to cellular as their
basic phone if price was the same. However, complete displacement of wired
phones will not happen unless wireless can carry data as smoothly and as fast as
fixed line phones.
It is expected that by 2005, in the US, of the total calls
made, 25 percent will be from wireless.
VoIP is bringing about the real convergence of voice, video,
and data for advanced communications applications and is dramatically changing
the telecommunications industry as Internet telephony can provide voice services
at 1/27th the cost of today’s circuit-switched networks.
The biggest drivers of VoIP are, deregulation and
globalization of economies, and the emergence of sophisticated users. VoIP
services are being provided by the traditional telcos, the ISPs, and the
“Next Generation Telcos” (those who only offer telephony services over
IP). The “Next Generation Telcos” are coming up incredibly fast and
are offering PC-to-Phone, Phone-to-PC, Phone-to-Phone, and Fax-to-Fax
applications like unified messaging, Internet call waiting, Internet faxing,
Internet IVR, Internet videoconferencing, and Internet call centres.
Undoubtedly, VoIP is where the world is headed for. The
worldwide market for VoIP products is estimated to exceed $1.8 billion by the
year 2003. IP telephony could take as much as 43 percent of total global
telephony communications, with as many as 236 million users. Revenues from VoIP
are likely to explode from $480 million in 1999 to $19 billion in 2004.
Presently it is the mass-market consumer who is driving the growth of IP
telephony. But by the year 2001, when voice quality is not questionable, and is
integrated with other data and video services on the Internet, the business
community will drive IP telephony.
One of the bottlenecks in fast, cost-effective, and
multi-media communications is broadbanding. But things like ISDN, Internet, and
Ku-Band satellite space are changing markets for broadband services,
specifically to the small business and home segment. Broadband services, which
are defined as network access speeds over 200 Kbps, is a rapidly emerging
The traditional telcos are now coming up with newer broadband
plans around DSL. DSL providers are now racing to cover entire US with DSL, and
offering sops like waiving equipment and installation charges for long-term
commitment. However, the threat from cable TV service providers looms large,
especially due to delay in the DSL modems getting off the ground. Apart from
cable TV, they are now offering new services like digital video,
video-on-demand, and high-speed data services.
Monolith phone companies are now trying to re-structure
themselves to become nimble-footed so as to develop and market
products and services. High-speed data access is forecast to grow at an almost
100 percent rate, especially in the small business and home segment. It is
estimated that high-speed access providers will have about 15 million
subscribers by the end of this year in the US. And sale of high-speed modems
will be above $4.5 billion by the end of next year.
Inefficient state monopoly carriers have historically charged
high prices and are now being forced to transform.
Suddenly, there are too many countries allowing competition
in basic voice services. Everybody is setting up pan-continent networks and
getting into international tie-ups for continent-wide services. This in spite of
market shares of these PTTs coming down, and they been forced to slash prices
drastically. Though the future of callback and international simple resale
companies is itself under question with IP telephony gaining extremely fast
popularity, the emerging truth is that market forces, rather than government
regulations, are becoming the guiding force for communication service providers
Ambitions in this area have been high and motives noble. Yet,
there is still a long way to go as far as utilizing satellites for personal
communications is concerned. Global Mobile Personal Communication Services (GMPCS)
via satellite was said to be the answer to the limitations associated with
terrestrial networks. It was said that out of the 1.5 billion homes worldwide,
only 500 million had telephone service, 50 million were waiting for services,
and 250 million could not afford service. Over 50 percent of world population do
not even have access to a telephone.
It is believed that over 50 GMPCS service providers, with
over 2,000 satellites during the next ten years, and an investment of about $140
billion (about $25 billion already invested) would have taken care of a lot of
the unmet demand for messaging, narrowband, and broadband telecom services.
However, everybody knows the status of GMPCS today. Major
obstacles continue–technical impediments, signal interference, sound quality
and security issues, country specific regulatory issues, marketing and pricing
issues, etc. And there seems to be no solution in sight even though the original
propagators of this technology refuse to give up.
Telcos, cable TV companies, ISPs, and other network providers
are bringing broadband services to business and residential customers. In the
commercial segment the growth in demand for new fibre or copper is curtailed
primarily because these large users have completed most of their initial
installation. Again, in offices, fibre is increasingly the backbone of choice,
since only fibre is capable of supporting the aggregated bandwidth requirement.
However, technology developments in copper UTP make fibre-to-the-desk (FTTD) an
uneconomical option. According to reports, FTTD will not be there in the next 5
years. Fibre is very popular in campus networking, and will continue to be so.
In the small business and home segment, due to the growing
popularity of Internet and various services associated with it, demand for more
bandwidth is on the upswing. For the single family homes, its still UTP and
co-ax which is ruling the roost, again because of their cost and increasing
capabilities. In the multi-dwelling units (apartment type), it will be a mix of
copper and fibre. Inside the apartment, copper is being used, and for the
apartment backbone (which is much simpler than a commercial building backbone)
both copper and fibre are being used.
The total market for premise cabling is expected to go up from $2.2 billion
in 1998 to $5.6 billion by 2004. The business premise cabling will be a bigger
market, the growth will be much higher for the home segment. By 2004, the home
segment will be as much as 38 percent of total cabling market compared to less
than 3 percent in 1998. In the commercial segment, the cable distributors and
cable designers will continue to influence buying decisions. In the home
segment, distributors of home cabling products have had very few products. Now
LAN implementers and electrical contractors are aggressively getting into