Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five Years Of The Explainer

T1 Rex’s Business Telecom Explainer celebrated it’s 5th anniversary this month, with well over 800 posts since 2004. We started off with a mission to explain the intricacies of telecommunications services and offer competitive service options to businesses. This mission has expanded to include a host of products, services and issues of interest to our readers. As we get ready to enter the second decade of the century, let’s see if we can make sense of what happened in the “aught” years of the Millennium and where we might be going next.

T1 Rex hard at work writing the ExplainerAs the name implies, this explainer blog was launched in conjunction with T1 Rex came to be because of a new invention in the world of telecommunications. A company called Telarus developed a software process called GeoQuote (now patented) that automates the pricing of commonly used business telecom services. The focus was T1 lines, which are the most common professional grade voice and data connection for most businesses.

Prior to GeoQuote, the way you got a quote for a T1 line was to submit an inquiry form or answer questions over the phone and then wait a week or two while your request was passed through channels and your quote was manually calculated. With the GeoQuote automated quote form on, a curious business manager or network engineer could enter some basic information online and get a quote that was better than 90% accurate in less than a minute. It’s even more accurate today and there are many more options than just T1 lines.

GeoQuote upended the marketing of telecommunications services the same way that the IBM computer changed accounting, numerical control changed manufacturing, and computer aided design changed engineering. Once automation gets into a process, everything happens faster and with fewer errors. The productivity increases can be orders of magnitude above what they were with the old manual processes. There’s no going back.

We’re all getting a taste of this in our private and well as business lives. Social Networking has emerged in the last few years to revolutionize how we communicate. Remember when everyone wanted to make a website? Hardly anyone builds sites anymore unless they have a very specific business or special interest need. Websites were replaced by blogs. Blogs are being replaced by social networking sites like MySpace, FaceBook and LinkedIn. Do you still email? Twitter is the new email. It nicely complements and integrates with cell phone text messaging.

Even Twitter may seem like yesterday’s news later this decade. Most cell phones now have cameras with fairly good resolution and the ability to take short video clips. Picture and video messaging are gaining popularity. How soon before there’s a video screen on a service like Twitter so you just click for a short video message? Video and audio won’t replace text, of course. There are too many situations where you need to communicate briefly and with stealth. They’ll simply add another dimension.

Video is the long heralded “killer app” for the Internet. You know what a phenomenon YouTube has been. Now TVs and Blu-ray players come Internet-ready so they can play those YouTube clips on the big screen and also access full length network programs on the Web. You can catch up on many TV shows you missed by watching them on your computer. But you know that you really want to lay back in the recliner and watch them on the TV. That’s going to be common very, very soon.

Video conferencing is breaking out of the corporate conference room and onto the desktop right now. My iMac came ready to video chat with a built-in camera and microphone. Many other computers, including laptops and netbooks, are similarly equipped. As I write this, the airlines are busy tightening security because of terrorist attack that almost succeeded. Some of the new rules are going to make an annoying travel experience nearly insufferable. That, combined with the Great Recession that may linger for years, is going to get a lot of business people and casual travelers thinking about alternatives. In many cases, a convenient video conference can do the job of a personal visit. As this catches on, you can expect a push to improve quality and ease of sharing photos and videos similar to what Cisco calls Telepresence.

Video conferencing is also going to be big on cell phones. If people can walk down the street working their thumbs while staring at text on a screen, they can certainly watch the person they are communicating with in real time. To think that they laughed at Dick Tracy’s wrist TV in the 60’s. We wouldn’t even settle for a screen that small anymore.

Video is what has gotten the telecom carriers scared stiff, and for good reason. Just like the move from email to interactive Web sites forced the upgrade from dial-up to broadband, the move to video and high definition everything is forcing carriers into a bandwidth upgrade. Verizon has wisely started deploying fiber optic to the premises before demand makes it mandatory. The cable companies are deploying DOCSIS 3.0 for the same reason. There will soon be no such thing as too much bandwidth. For business locations, the best answer seems to be Ethernet over copper or fiber. When multiple business locations outside of a metro area are involved, MPLS networks are the emerging leader for high bandwidths at reasonable prices.

It’s the cellular carriers that feel faint at the thought of everyone having a smartphone. Their thousands of towers were equipped to efficiently handle telephone conversations and text messaging. Light duty Web surfing and limited multimedia is being accommodated with 2.5 and 3G upgrades. But they will need 4G and a lot of it to handle the load of HD video streaming on a near-continuous basis. Even the FCC is already wondering if there are more over-the-air TV channels it can repurpose for cellular broadband. There’s a real danger that there just isn’t going to be enough spectrum to go around. At sometime during the next decade you can expect a major fight to ensue over what is the “best” use of the choice VHF and UHF frequencies.

A new technology we’ve just started following is called Poken. It’s wireless, but what’s called near-field wireless. Using low frequencies that won’t be part of the TV/Cellular/Microwaves slugfest, Poken devices exchange information when they touch each other. The idea is to replace business cards and social business cards with an electronic data transfer and a portal to manage the contact information. It nicely supports hot links to your current social networking and business sites, for instant access by those you contact. Poken is already hugely popular in Europe.

Well, this is almost certainly the tip of the technology iceberg. Many exciting developments in the coming “teens” decade haven’t even emerged yet. It’s our plan to be writing about them as they do, and I hope that you’ll be with us for what is bound to be an exciting time.

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