There has been a bunch of buzz lately over the death of mobile telephony in the face of threats like Facebook and Twitter. I’ll invoke the spirit of Mark Twain when I suggest that we look at the past introduction of new communication channels to see how history might rhyme. My main thesis is that the introduction of new communication channels does not immediately spell the death of the previously dominante channel. Few channels completely die, heck people are still use Morse code to communicate over Ham Radio channels. Telegrams were only discontinued by Western Union in 2006, after over 100 years of offering the service.
In each instance, the existing channels are squeezed as the current market of users experiment with the new channels to see if their current needs can be addressed better or if the new channel offers a difference experience. Radio has not been replaced by television as a channel for all users. There are situations and places where television is not as suitable as radio, such as the car or public transportation. The internet has not replaced TV entirely as not all the content is available.
This leads me to a distinction between the media and the channel. This is important for any communications company as they see to surf the chaos that is persistent in the market, today’s waves are just larger than they have been in a while. The media/experience being consumed is impacted by the channel but there is a core identity of the media that persists across channels. Take text messages. People have been sending short messages for centuries, though each channel has had its own peculiarities such as the end of message flag arrrangement in semaphore or the ubiquitous “STOP” in telegrams. How Twitter changes the media is the ability now to broadcast short messages to large targeted audiences. The channels used include SMS, mobile apps, and Twitter’s webpage. Â The media is the same across these channels.
So willTwitter kill mobile phones? No. It may squeeze down how we use our mobiles to communicate with larger groups but the telcos are far from dead.
What will kill the telcos in my opinion? A lack of innovating new media that leverages their unique channel in a sticky way. What is unique about a mobile experience that cannot be easily carried over to netbooks and notebooks? As all the networks trend towards an IP architecture, there will be no more distinction between voice, SMS, or other datatypes being passed on the network. Since the channels lose their inherent disruption defense of incompatible standards, then the only way for the telcos to compete is to offer new experiences that are pertinent only to their usage context. Much the way that Western Union started off with telegrams and eventually leveraged their channel to become the most well known way to send currency worldwide is a good example of how to leverage your channel and context to create new experiences and business on top of a strong foundation.
Let’s see if the global telcos can innovate in time…