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When Perfection Does Matter

There are reasons why telco networks have been engineered to try to achieve some level of perfection or at least to offer carefully calculated levels of performance and reliability. And, there are reasons why some services have to work 99.999% of the time.

Emergency services, for example. It's no good offering a 999, 112 or 911 service that only works for 50% of the time. While some services can work some of the time and still keep customers happy or eager for more, an emergency service simply has to work, all the time.

And it's only a few telcos that undertake to deliver this – typically, the incumbent, mobile network operators and a few competitors. OTT providers do not take that risk, as the consequences of failing to deliver the service can be significant. This means that telco network operators have certain obligations and requirements that are not shared by OTT competitors – something worth remembering when we criticise telcos for their lack of innovation.

They do some complicated, difficult things, that emerging competitors do not. The mentality of over-engineering comes from the obligation to provide services that can make the difference, quite literally, between life and death. Instant messaging doesn't quite fit that category.

Today, this creates a tension. There is contention between the need to offer universal service, emergency service support and so on, and the market imperative to offer attractive, innovative services that generate revenue. On the one hand, telcos are criticised for lacking innovation; on the other, they have regulatory pressures that force them to maintain certain services and promote a particular mindset.

But this does also indicate that the ability to offer such guaranteed capabilities is itself a service that can be monetised. It's not easy to deliver such reliability and service access: if innovation is to be found elsewhere, innovators should be willing to pay for the kind of service guarantees that only telcos can reliably deliver.

Really, we should recognise that telcos and OTT providers have different and often complementary skillsets. The emphasis on standards and engineering precision in the telco world can offer many advantages to those seeking to deliver services over those networks, but unwilling to invest in network infrastructure themselves.