Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Whose disruption is it, anyway?

Yesterday I moderated a marathon session on disruptive technologies and business models at the ECTA conference in Barcelona. For those who don't know it, ECTA is the industry body representing competitive carriers in the European market - i.e., the previous generation of infrastructure-based disruptors. This was an interesting situation to be in, for as one friend noted, we were in pretty salubrious surroundings for a bunch of disruptors, and the "pinstripe quotient" was quite high.

My panel participants all did splendidly, particularly during the moderated discussion and Q&A sections, despite being from fairly disparate backgrounds: Paolo Campoli from Cisco, Lucy Woods from Viatel, Simon Peachey from VideoNetworks, Michael Jackson from Skype, and Espen Fjogstad from Telio. All the presentations were very strong, but I thought Espen's in particular was very insightful, spending more time on the industry macro issues giving rise to a company like Telio, than on the company itself.

Moment of the session, from my point of view, was some fairly impassioned questioning from a representative of a large European cable company. "We have invested heavily in a network and have to guarantee we can service the debt associated with that investment, so why should we tolerate services like Skype and Telio on our network?"

I thought the responses from Espen and Michael were diplomatic, but unequivocal - (I paraphrase) these are the sorts of developments inevitable in an IP world, and you should have been prepared for them. On the one hand, they may serve as accelerators for your sales of broadband connections (a message I have been hearing from Vonage and others in the space since the beginning). On the other hand, the other impacts they may have on your business are down to your cost structure and strategic positioning, which is nothing to do with us. My unstated thoughts at the time were: "the Skype client assigns itself a random primary IP port, with port 80 and port 443 as alternatives, so exactly what do you propose to do about it in any case? It's not what you want to hear, but the only option is to learn to deal."

I unfortunately missed what promised to be a very interesting presentation from Andrew Szelke of Bridgeport Networks today, as I had to be back in London. Based on the slides he showed me, I imagine it was a scorcher. The other highlight, for my money, was an industry lawyer, who walked up to Michael Jackson of Skype at lunch, and offered his heartfelt thanks for the service. "Roaming rates in Spain are extortionate, and I've been Skyping people all morning long from my iPaq."

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