Posted on: January 15th, 2014 by NewNet

Recently NewPace’s was nominated as one of Halifax’s Most Innovative Companies of 2013, and this has gotten me thinking a lot about innovation. At a recent dinner of Silicon Valley “Telco Startups”, the topic also turned to how telco companies can be innovative. This got me thinking about whether telco’s can really ever be truly innovative.

I’m not sure a company or a person sets out to be innovative. No one wakes up and says “I’m going to innovate today”, rather I believe innovation is born out of people encountering practical problems, and then coming up with a solution to those problems. Quite often the innovation is a new business model or a new process or procedure born out of a need to do something differently. Technology evolves to solve these very practical problems and is often seen as the “innovation.”

Telco’s themselves cannot do product innovation. A telco product manager simply cannot know every problem that they might be able to solve and create a solution. They can and do, however, support innovation by others. The tools and technology that telco’s have to do this are getting very tired and old, and it’s time for new innovation.

Enter my other favourite topic: RCS. Fundamentally RCS is a technology change. It is about moving operators from proprietary infrastructure which now stifles and slows innovation to open standards based solutions based on publicly defined standards. The RCS technical standards were born out of a need to do things differently at a technical level deep within a mobile network operators central offices. I frequently point out that the “central office” is also truly irrelevant in this modern age of cloud based solutions.

It is time to stop thinking and talking about RCS as chat, file transfer, and video calls, and rather start thinking of it as a set of new base technology standards on which new applications no one has yet conceived will be built.
The adoption of RCS by mobile operators will be innovative in and of itself, simply because it represents a new way of doing business. If cave men hadn’t innovated, where would we be?

Pundits point to “competitive” services offered by social media services and state these are “technically innovative.” Really? These new services established themselves to compete against traditional telco products and largely compete based on cost. Their innovation is a new free business model to attract customers. They copied existing functionality that has been around since the advent of “Talk” on VMS. When they are inevitably forced to monetize their solution (because nothing in the world is truly free), they generally copy tried and true methods like subscription services, advertising, data sales and micro sales.

Powering these services is technology like low-cost powerful computing resources, virtualization, smart phones, high bandwidth of LTE networks and a high degree of standardization. These innovations have allowed these competitive services to extend their reach and services to mobile users.

Operators have to adopt new paradigms too. They have to realize they will no longer be in complete control of the users experience or how their infrastructure gets used. Rather, they will be enabling others with a universal standard which will, in turn, increase the speed of innovation and growth in sales of their data pipes.

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