Tuesday, December 24, 2019

2020s - Decade of Reliability?

In the PolicyTracker 2019 Christmas newsletter, Martin Sims argues that the consumer benefits of higher and higher broadband speeds become ever more marginal. The challenge for industry (especially 5G) is whether customers will pay extra for it. While I sympathize with the sentiment, this claim is not new; we hear it every time broadband speeds click up. Betting on “Consumers now have enough X” is a proven way to lose money... and yet.

Maybe this time really is different. (Nah. Ed.) While customers always want more X, sometimes they want Y more. There are signs that the coming decade, or at least the next few years, will a time when people might prioritize their worries over their appetites.
5G has beaten the More, Faster, Quicker horse pretty much to death.* As operators start deploying, the CTO will lose influence. The question of whether an incremental $ in capex will reduce SAC and churn, and increase ARPU, more than doing something else will exercise the CFO and the board. I suspect CEOs will also start asking whether it isn’t easier to get a moat by building a reputation for security and reliability, which is an in-house asset, vs. depending on 5G-standard equipment that any competitor can buy.
There are signs that the PNT (Positioning, Navigation & Timing) community is increasingly concerned with the robustness of location and timing signals rather than with precision and resolution. It’s willing to contemplate technologies like eLoran that provides relatively crude location compared to GPS, but will work when GPS fails.
I don’t think it’s just that I’m getting old – though I am, and old people are notoriously more concerned with holding on to what they have than with questing for something new. Talk of safe spaces on college campuses suggests that younger people, too, feel the need to hold a hostile world at bay.
A recession is due in the next few years. That will further focus minds on protection rather than expansion.
Humans always want to Know What’s Next. What’s next may not be glitzy or bracing; it could a collective yearning for security blankets.

* All those exponentials: 10x increase in throughput, 10x decrease in latency, 100x increase in traffic capacity… see Petri Mahonen & Jens Zander’s takedown, “Riding the Data Tsunami in the Cloud: Myths and Challenges in Future Wireless Access” https://doi.org/10.1109/MCOM.2013.6476879

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