2006 Eye on the Carrier forecast report card

Pundits can say the craziest things and no one ever calls them on it. Remember the guy who pronounced that the world would be all-ATM by 1997? Last I checked, he was still in business. The forecasting part of my job always feels like cheating, however - so once a year I like to look back at my predictions and see how they fared. Here's what I predicted for 2006:

Real-time collaboration goes mainstream. Check. Vice presidents of collaborative services are emerging at many leading enterprises, overseeing teams for voice and data networks, messaging, and applications, for example. And Microsoft now is beta-testing Office Communications Server 2007, which integrates VoIP technology with messaging and other 2007 Microsoft Office applications (Word, Outlook, Communicator).

Voice commoditizes. I'll give myself a half-point here. True, traditional telcos are having a banner year: During the past 12 months Verizon's stock has risen 14%; Qwest's 34% and AT&T's 41%; BellSouth's has leaped a whopping 67%. Moreover, telcos' traditional wireline revenue continues to hold steady. So VoIP's much-anticipated erosion of traditional voice services hasn't happened yet. Here's where I'm taking the half-point: Enterprise telecom contracts basically have settled into a one-to-two-cent rate (for large players, with aggressive negotiation) - and many firms are beginning to negotiate contracts that allow for a transition to VoIP.

Nontraditional voice players emerge as a major force. Hmmm. Define "major." On one hand, we have Microsoft's voice announcement, already noted. And Google, eBay and Skype, and other players continue to redefine voice as an application-layer service, not something that requires a dedicated network. Moreover, the cable companies finally are showing signs of life and are attempting aggressively to capture enterprise and residential voice and data. On the other hand, the vast majority of large-enterprise customers still are getting their voice services from the traditional carriers and PBX vendors. I'll give myself a half-point.

Telecom regulation stays stuck in the last century. OK, this one's pretty much a gimme. Where do I start? In an era when technology is radically reshaping communications as we know it, the FCC's top priorities appear to be encouraging megamergers and media consolidation, cracking down on on-air cussing, and dithering about exactly when commissioners should recuse themselves. Gee, guys, now we know what's really important.

Convergence keeps going strong. Absolutely! The vast majority of the firms I work with have a VoIP strategy, and most are looking to deploy unified communications - combining voice, data, messaging and presence - as a strategic initiative. And go back and review Microsoft's announcement in Prediction 1.

The wireless revolution continues. Check. Wireless and mobility strategies (more than 70% of firms have one) are increasingly common. The Blackberry and similar devices have moved from status symbols to working tools. No question, enterprises have hopped aboard the wireless bandwagon.

Bottom line: I'm at five out of six. Not perfect, but pointed in the right direction. Here's hoping 2007 turns out to be a banner year for everyone.

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