In a global study conducted by IBM and the Economics Intelligence Unit (IEU), around 80 percent of respondents (telecom executives) affirm the importance of convergence in raking in profits (IBM, 2005). Voice and data convergence is seen as the one that would have the biggest effect, with fixed/ mobile access technology, telecom and media convergence, and IP/IT network convergence lagging behind (2005). ‘Convergence’ has been a buzz word way back in the sixties, something that affects technology, economics, legal/regulatory, and human aspects of a society. In this Information Age, convergence allows us to do more things conveniently.
But what but exactly is ‘convergence’? ‘Convergence’ is defined as “coming together or towards the same point” (Thompson, 1996). The term fits in the telecommunications world for it signifies movement using a single medium. It occurs in four categories- transport, switching, application, and telecommunications/information technology (Fowler, 2002, p. 12). See table below. Figure 1. The Four Levels of Convergence (Fowler, 2002, p. 13) The idea behind convergence is that it should not just improve productivity, but also provide a better Return on Investment (Fowler, 2002, p. 15).
Convergence, by any means, is aimed to provide make life easier both for the manufacturer (lower cost, easier management, less maintenance) and at the consumer-end (easy to use, new or improved services) In the 1960s, convergence in the transport level began, with the conversion of the telephone system to digitalization, bringing us the first T-carrier services (p. 12). Since it was barely new at that time, the Bell System was able to monopolize these services (p. 12). On the other hand, convergence at the switching level initially went by the term integration (Fowler, 2002, p. 3). Every seven years, an integrated solution is presented. A rundown of these is presented below: 1975: Satellite Business Systems’ The One- a digital controller with satellite access for integrated voice, data, and video 1982: Integrated Voice/ data private branch exchange or PBX 1988: Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) 1995: Broadband ISDN or BISDN (p. 13)
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Some of these so-called ‘integrations’ were huge hits but on the whole, they fizzled out. Sprint, for instance, lost around $ billion when its Integrated-On-Demand (ION) services panned out (Fowler, 2002, p. 4). ION was targeted as a solution to those numerous voice and data networks by allowing the users to do voice, data, video, Intranet/Internet and fax applications utilizing a single connection (p. 14). However, the company was able to sign up around 4000 customers only (p. 14). Even its VP of Design has admitted having problems brought on by ION (p. 14). Convergence at the application level pertains to information delivery from various sources, whether data, audio, video or graphics (Fowler, 2002, p. 24). The Internet and the intranet are examples of this.
In this Information Age, the Internet has become the greatest source of information of practically anything. Users have infiltrated it so much that one click on the Internet could come up with millions of user-generated content. Time Magazine has seen this phenomenon, naming the people or “you” as its Person of the Year 2006 in its year-ender issue. Even video uploading has crept into the World Wide Web, with over 65,000 new videos uploaded every day (Cloud, 2006, p. 46). Convergence at the telecommunications/IT deals with accessing a single resource to do multiple chores (Fowler, 2003, p. 5).
In a way, it is an integration of transport, switching and telecommunication and a wider scale. For example ASP or Application Service Providers are IT-based processing units that divest certain tasks from web sites. ASP is currently losing its own battle with companies taking of ASP-units. The IBM study indicates that the drive towards convergence is brought on by four things- competition, demand for broadband access, technological innovation, and IP- networks- enabled income growth (IBM, 2005). These set the motion for telecom convergence.
In a research conducted by the Deloitte Touche group, it found out that convergence may cause also problems for the industry. The group interviewed telecom executives to assess telecoms predictions. Among its findings is the continuous need to innovate and reinvent. The Internet, for instance, has reached its peak with its explosive growth (Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, 2007, p. 4). Demand is high which may lead to a growth in traffic. More so now with the demand of online videos, this may affect the transfer on the Internet’s backbone (p. 4).
This very same influx may likewise clog the system, thereby slowing down its service. It is important to note that any Internet viewer wants high-speed access. Any service slowdown, even just in seconds, may case customer satisfaction. This should serve as a precaution to telecom businesses. It may also open a window to new technologies to address these problems. Broadband application is very much in demand now. Companies should take advantage of this. Either they are able to supply the demand or bold enough create other broadband appliances other than the Internet.
Broadband appliances could usher in a new era in telecom convergence. Moving on. The mobile sector in the telecom industry has seen applications such as SMS, 3G and mobile television. The public is also starting to experience mobile Internet, with most units now equipped with Wireless LAN network technologies. SMS and mobile downloads make up a major chunk of mobile operators. It is therefore important to capitalize on this without sacrificing content and delivery. The government should work alongside operators to ensure that laws are implemented not just in the mobile sector but in the entire telecom industry.
Connectivity plays a vital role in economic progress thus it is important to have policies that are appropriate. The telephone, facsimile, Intranet, and Intranet are involved in communication. It plays a big part in transmitting pertinent information, in spreading decision. Thus, is it is important to have sufficient quality support. To do this, it is imperative to involve all players- the users (buyers), operators and businesses (sellers) and the government (regulatory). The government should not just involve the telecomm operators in drafting laws but also the consumers in order to come up with appropriate and pertinent laws.
It is a challenge for all concerned parties to come up with polices that benefit all. Speaking of the government, it should embrace convergence to improve its services. Government agencies web sites are sprouting already but the government needs to come up with additional services. For example, doing a government-related query via videoconferencing may save time and effort both for the citizen and the government employee. One does not need to line up in an agency to ask something if he can do so in the comfort of his own home. Convergence impacts everybody.
With the global market increasingly becoming competitive, it is important to know how to leverage convergence. Innovation and reinvention do not necessarily equate to satisfaction. There should be a strong commitment in the part of the government, telecomm industry and users to share technological benefits worldwide, to discern all realistic implications and come up with practical solutions, to create technological solutions that would be embraced as a way of life. If all can do that, it would be one step in making this world a better place to live in.
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