The rapid pace of technological change means that fixed and wireless telecom carriers must be on the constant search for new technologies. They need the new tech to provide new services, to respond to competitive threats, and to offer operational efficiencies. And the competitive threats no longer come from just other staid telecom carriers, but also from Over The Top (OTT) service providers, and infrastructure-based providers that traditionally didn’t compete (cable, wireless, satellite, etc.).
Carriers are also learning that they cannot compete on all fronts, and cannot do all the R&D required in house. As such, they need to search and partner with other entrepreneurs and vendors just to keep up. Above this recently discovered need, the ever-accelerating pace also means that carriers need to improve the speed of their innovation search and partnering processes, which is something we have seen more and more over the past 5 years.
The Silicon Valley has witnessed first-hand the scaling presence of global telecom – every year a couple more companies set up local ‘innovation-capture’ offices, like China Mobile, India’s Tata Communications, Japan’s KDDI and multinationals like Telefónica, Telenor, and SingTel. And among those newcomers and those carriers that have been here longer, there is the continuous recognition that adoption processes must improve, and cycle times must be shortened. A good list can be found online among the membership of the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley.
Why do they come to the Valley and what are the specific innovations for which the carriers are searching? Every year, the priorities shift a little, and its certainly the case that different carriers are looking for surprisingly different partnerships, depending on their unique needs, gaps, market, competitive situation, and regulatory environments. I expect the telcos who take stage at TC3 this year will talk about their scouting activities in some specific areas such as:
- Cloud Computing solutions
- Connected smarthome services and technologies
- Enterprise mobility solutions like MDM and solutions for BYOD
- Opportunities for telecom in the education and learning fields
- Storage and datacenters
- Green and energy savings opportunities
- Technologies that leverage LTE
- Technologies that can reduce the impact of massive data traffic demand, both fixed and wireless
- More flexible billing solutions for the era of shared data pools, family plans, and mobile payments
Of course, for their actual lists, we’ll have to hear it from the carriers themselves like they announce at TC3. In past years, what has been most shocking is that their lists are not all identical. A startup with a specific innovation may think of telecom carriers as all-alike, but in fact would find a much more accepting audience with ‘the right’ carrier. Successful targeting of bus dev investments is, as always, an important piece of ‘luck’ that can make or break a startup’s fate.
The pace of partnerships is accelerating. The technology keeps getting more exciting, and it shows no signs of abating. The chasm between carriers and entrepreneurs is, by no means, gone… but it certainly keeps getting smaller to the point where the most nimble entrepreneurs are able to bridge the gap.
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