TECH TALK: Tomorrow’s World: Happenings (Part 2)

Consider what Verizon is doing in the US it is getting rid of the public-switched telephone network to put in place an IP-based network. Technology Review writes:

[Verizon is building] a new network that makes more efficient use of its switching stations and physical wires by working more like the Internet, and that wires up customers homes with high-capacity fiber-optic lines. With such an infrastructure in place, the theory holds, the longtime supplier of plain old telephone service can change into a new kind of company, one that can compete in a world where media giants like Comcast are blending services such as television, telephone, and Internet access.

Listen to people like the Jacobys [of Verizon], and its easy to imagine that in a few years Verizon customers may not even have phones, or at least not ones that only make phone calls. Instead, theyll have devices that surf the Web, transmit video phone calls and still pictures, and deliver TV programming, TiVo style. Customers will use their cell phones to instant-message their kids TV screens that its time to stop playing video games and start doing homework. Theyll control what their phonesor rather, their personal telecommunications networksdo in a way thats simply impossible today.

Or at least, thats what Verizon executives hope. The company astonished Wall Street and telecom insiders in January when it announced that it would spend $2 billion over the next two years to move to Internet-type switchinga far more ambitious overhaul than those planned by its sibling phone companies, such as SBC and BellSouthVerizon managers admit theyre spending the money without a full understanding of how the new network will be used or what services consumers will want most. According to Paul Lacouture, president of Verizons network services group, its an investment the company has to make simply to survive in a fast-changing industry. Moving to packet switching now, he says, means we future-proof our network.

Verizons Waltham Lab is where tomorrows world is being prototyped.

Software developers created the Universal Media Communicator, a program for desktop PCs that lets users seamlessly transfer calls from cell phones to wireless PDAs to traditional landlines to IP phones, without ever putting anyone on hold. One of the programs myriad features represents separate phone calls as icons that users can drag and drop to initiate conference calls. The idea is to let the customers control their phone servicewhere calls reach them, say, or when and whether their phones ring.

A lot of people think you want to blow up the public switched telephone network. But what you really want is this evolution to Internet Protocol, says Michael Weintraub, director of converged services at the lab. It isnt that the current network is so badits just that packet-switched networks make everything faster, cheaper, and easier to use. And they turn the tables on who has control.

But will people pay for the new features enabled by packet switching? Come to think of it, what will people pay for, once voice calling is simply one entre on a vast menu of potential services?

SBC, another of the American Baby Bells, is also building out the future. Its CEO, Edward E. Whitacre Jr, according to The Wall Street Journal, aims to transform SBC into a state-of-the-art communications and TV giant that will have a dominant presence in consumers’ living rooms. He plans to challenge cable companies head-on with a full slate of video services that SBC will bundle with Internet access, wireless calling and traditional phone service — all for about $100 a month. He said in an interview:

[In the living room of the future,] you can be watching television, probably on a thin screen plasma screen. If you get a phone call, the number displays on the television screen, doesn’t interrupt the picture — and it will tell you who’s calling. If you wish to take [the call] you can take it by pushing a button on your remote.

You can sit there and view content off of your computer — maybe it’s family pictures. Or, somebody sent you an e-mail; it will pop up on the screen while you’re watching TV in the left-hand corner. If you are watching a basketball game and you would like to have an overhead view, you’d click a button and you change the camera angle. If you’re interested in what everybody else is watching at that time, or maybe what’s hot on TV, you can push a button and it will tell you who’s watching what across the nation.

Landline and wireless are certainly melding together. More people have wireless phones, more people have broadband, they’re on the Internet, they can get that at home, they can get that on the cellphone. Video is now a part of the equation.

A good example of convergence is something we have out there now called unified communications, where with one device you can get your e-mails, get your faxes, your messages — either wireline or wireless messages — just by calling one number. So, it’s all converged.

Tomorrow: Happenings (continued)

TECH TALK Tomorrow’s World+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.