Telecommunications carriers have been making a handsome profit marking up audio and videoconferencing services for years. At the same time, though, the high cost of delivering those services resulted in limited adoption. Now a wide variety of online service providers deliver most of these same capabilities at a fraction of the cost.
One of the main reasons this has been possible is because providers of these online services are leveraging the Internet, which is not nearly has heavily regulated by various governments as traditional phone lines. Now the European Union is signaling that it wants to level that playing field by applying some of the same standards of availability and security to providers of online services as it does traditional carriers.
Arguably, this is a step backward in terms of making audio and video conferencing ubiquitous, and it remains to be seen if other governments will follow suit. But the one thing it does illustrate is that line between what a carrier does and what any number of companies that delivery network services via the cloud do is getting blurrier by the day. More significantly, the rise of 5G networking by the end of the decade is likely to erase that line altogether.
The impact of 5G networks
A 5G network is expected to leverage 24Ghz wireless networking spectrum to make it possible to deliver as much as 10GB per second to an individual mobile device. With that amount horsepower available, it will soon be possible to deliver any number of augmented and virtual reality experiences that will make Pokemon Go seem quaint by contrast.
Making all that possible will be a new generation of Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) platforms sporting open application programming interfaces that developers will be able to use to run applications at the edge of these 5G networks. In some cases, these new mobile base stations will be built by carriers. But theoretically there’s nothing to preclude Google, for example, or, for that matter anyone else, from building their own equivalent of an MEC.
Increasing Internet regulation
In general, regulators have been slow to pick up on the implications of a revolution in communications being enabled the Internet. Naturally, carriers have a vested interest in slowing the rate at which this transformation occurs. One way to accomplish that goal is by forcing regulators either to free carriers from some of the regulatory mandates they have to meet today or to apply them equally to a new generation of competitors. The latter approach, of course, is likely to generate more income for the government the regulatory body represents. What's less clear, however, is to what degree those regulatory bodies with expand their interest in other types of online services being delivered across the Internet.
In the interim, IT service providers will have to decide to what degree they want to provide 5G network services and the applications that run on top of them. The one thing that is certain, however, is that the management of these services will likely involve more regulatory input than most IT services providers would prefer.