Gazing into the crystal ball

When it comes to characterizing the telecom market evolution over the past few years, Jerry Garcia and friends said it best: What a long, strange trip it's been. Hold on to your hats, friends, because it's about to get stranger still.

When it comes to characterizing the telecom market evolution over the past few years, Jerry Garcia and friends said it best: What a long, strange trip it's been.

Hold on to your hats, friends, because it's about to get stranger still. A glimpse into the crystal ball for 2005 reveals several significant trends. Think wireless. Convergence. And the ongoing cluelessness of regulators (some things never change).

Here are my predictions for the year ahead:

1. The telecom sector rebounds. We're not talking about a repeat of the 1990s frenzy - think steady, incremental growth. But all signs are positive: Network managers consistently say they anticipate significant bandwidth growth over the next 12 to 18 months, typically 50% to 100%. That's good news for most major service providers (except MCI, see below) and the infrastructure players that sell to them (Cisco, Juniper, Nortel and Lucent).

2. Wireless broadband emerges. Forget fiber. The future of broadband local access is wireless. But which one? The ultimate winner might be 802.16 WiMAX, high-speed packet download access, 802.20 Mobile Broadband Wireless Access802.22 or some other flavor. It's too soon to call (that'll be the topic of a future column). Look for services to roll out in the U.S., Europe and Asia starting this year. We're just at the beginning of the technology hype cycle, so the rollout will be followed by the inevitable bashing and fierce standards wars. But make no mistake: Wireless broadband is here at last.

3. MCI goes out of business. OK, not really - you network managers at Carlson Companies, Nestle, Mattel and the other big firms that signed with MCI in the past few months can chill, at least for a while. But despite a once-stellar customer list and world-leading technology, revenue continues to decline. More ominously, the company's legacy of cobbled-together networks keeps operational costs unnaturally high compared with the competition. Declining revenue plus high operational costs spells trouble. So while I believe MCI will survive the year in some form or other, its long-term prospects are bleak - despite the overall positive trends in the telecom sector mentioned above.

4. The FCC gets serious about regulating "Internet dial tone" (arrgh!). The folks in Washington have woken up and smelled the coffee -they finally recognize the irrevocable shift toward IP networks, and they're eager to swing into action and regulate the new technology as thoroughly (and ineffectively) as they did the old public switched telephone network.

5. Convergence gets bigger. Two years ago, if you were considering VoIP for your business, you had to justify it to your boss. These days, you have to justify a decision not to consider VoIP. Watch for the convergence juggernaut to continue gathering momentum.

And finally, for readers wondering what happened to the Eye on the Carrier 2004 Forecasting Report Card: Stay tuned. That'll run in the next issue.

Learn more about this topic

Crystal ball

Our reporters and columnists look at what to expect:

A look into the future

Mergers, VoIP, open source, outsourcing to dominate news in 2005.

Howard Anderson: A look into the future

Scott Bradner: Predictions with the world in mind

Mark Gibbs: Divine divination

Dave Kearns: Taking a look at the year ahead

Paul McNamara: Never mind 2005 - A look at 2015.

Network World Staff: Ten predictions for '05

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