Readers of the International Herald Tribune were invited to ask telecommunications executives what was on their minds in conjunction with a roundtable discussion at this week’s ITU Telecom World forum.
Kitae Lee, president of Samsung Telecommunications, and Sanjiv Ahuja, chief executive of Orange, took the time to answer a few of the questions.
With the constant talk of convergence being the goal and high-pixel digital cameras a reality, why is it taking so long to get a mobile phone with a 5- or 6-megapixel digital camera? – Jerry Costello
KITAE LEE: Samsung was the first to bring higher-megapixel camera phones to the market. The 5-megapixel camera phone was launched in November 2004, the 7-megapixel camera phone in July 2005 and the 10-megapixel camera phone this past December in the Korean market. Not only higher megapixels but also other functions, such as auto-focus, flash, optical zoom and image stabilizer, are being equipped in today’s camera phones.
I have a friend from Tokyo who came to visit me here in America. He said in Japan he could order things using his cellphone, watch movies and videos and surf the Internet for a low monthly fee, not like here, with rudimentary service with layers of fees and charges. When are we going to get better phone technology with lower monthly fees? – Ken
SANJIV AHUJA: The situation is different in Europe – maybe Ken should move over here, where he can be an Orange customer! Our strategy is all about the customer experience: making it simple for the customer to access the content they want, when they want it. If you want a lot of content – like live TV, music and videos – then you can get that from Orange. If you just want voice calls, we can do that, too. Whatever you need, we try and make it easy, with straightforward packages with predictable pricing – like a set monthly fee for “all you can eat” TV. If we can’t deliver a great experience, then people won’t use us.
The $100 computer has received praise as an innovative way to share technology and harness its power for development and education. As convergence becomes telecom’s future and more fiber-optic networks are laid, is anyone working on a $2 or $5 phone that could perform, let us say, three functions – take your pick – really well? Are there ideas out there on a well-designed interface for students and/or teachers in remote villages to better connect them with the world? I have wondered often what such an “NGO Dream Phone” would look like, and what it might do. – Hasan Jafri
LEE: I have not thought about such an “NGO Dream Phone” yet. Personally, I think it’s a great idea, though I feel that there will be a need for discussion among manufacturers and service providers. If I have a chance to drive this idea, I would be willing to collaborate with my colleagues in the wireless industry to work toward it. Besides the NGO phone concept, through advanced technology such as mobile WiMax, people can benefit from a more connected world. The applications of mobile WiMax are limitless and it will be deliverable at a much cheaper cost.
Wired broadband penetration and VOIP are relegating voice communications to just another service on the Net and freeing up consumer choice of service provider. They are also allowing new products and services to compete for these customers, which is good for everyone (except maybe the incumbent telcos if they don’t adapt). In the wireless arena, when can we expect the incumbent cellphone networks to give up their rear-guard actions to retain current revenue streams from voice traffic by offering expensive, slow, traffic-shaped data services? Why not “get over it” and embrace the IP-everywhere vision before new technologies like WiMax steam-roll over them? – Tony Snowden
AHUJA: I don’t agree we’re fighting a rear-guard on IP – in either fixed or mobile. And as a truly integrated operator, we have a stake in both areas. We have certainly embraced the “IP everywhere” idea, and we offer more kinds of digital services on different channels all the time, including VOIP. Today we have over 2.1 million fixed VOIP customers – up 400 percent from where we were just last year. As for mobile VOIP, let’s see what happens. For the foreseeable future, GSM gives customers a level of quality and security that mobile VOIP cannot yet match. Plus, it’s straightforward to use and competitively priced.
Looking at the telecom convergence scenarios in developed economies, especially the competition between cable operators and fixed-line incumbents for “triple play” and cross-selling of services, competing requires high capital investments in laying fiber optic cables and technical upgrades. Under such circumstances, don’t you think the industry will suffer once again from overcapacity? If so, what is the role of regulatory authorities? For satellite operators broadcasting multichannel audio- video, what will be their competitive move with another challenger in the market apart from cable operators? – Asesh Bhaumick
LEE: Rather than overcapacity, it will create a new service area and create new value-added services. Like most other scenarios, the market will decide what the optimized business model will be and evolve.
I live in a troubled country, Sri Lanka, which is not known for its economic growth. However, the telecom sector is buzzing and the largest stock on the Colombo Stock Exchange is a telecom stock. With all the money chasing newly rich customers in the developing world, will telecom companies still be investing to bring services to the poor and underprivileged? For example, bringing cellphones to villages has proven to bring many people out of poverty and is profitable for telecom companies. Will these activities continue, or will investment shift to high- profit areas such as data and broadband for more affluent customers? – Anthony Jeetendra Stephens
AHUJA: The developing world is doing just that: developing. Mobile communications play a role in that development and we have all seen the London Business School study about the link between mobile phone ownership and GDP growth. It makes sense for operators to be there and part of the action, enabling growth and benefiting from it as customers get wealthier and want more services. We believe in these markets – that’s why just last week we launched Orange in Senegal and it’s why we’re in Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, to name some of our African operations. As for Anthony’s specific point, I think he has answered his own question. It is profitable for operators to bring mobile to rural communities, whether on a Grameen model or a more conventional model, and that’s why they will be there. Just as they do in developed markets, operators will segment their customers and come up with offers that match customers’ different needs. For wealthy people in cities, they can offer rich content services. For poorer people, they can offer simple connectivity, to voice services or even the mobile Internet. So long as it’s profitable – and advances in financing and technology lower the breakthrough point all the time – no one needs to get left behind.
I worked for several years in New York’s booming IT sector, developing real-time IP broadband services that also held the potential to go mobile. Why have the incumbent networks of the world been so slow to adapt real- time IP services such as VOIP, IP video, etc., directly to the mobile end-user? – Gaute Solaas
LEE: An era of all-IP may come earlier than people expect. It’s just a matter of time. Usually, when a new technology is introduced, there is a chasm for a while, and in one instant the number of people that adopt that technology grows exponentially.
Fuente: International Herald Tribune