Several weeks ago I toured Friedrichshafen, Deutsche Telekom’s T-City — a smart city demonstration project launched in 2006 to test the use of ICT across a real city with real people. The project began with a competition in which the cities themselves proposed a concept for how they’d use ICT and work with Deutsche Telekom (DT); 52 cities competed, 10 were short-listed, and Friedrichshafen was ultimately chosen.
Friedrichshafen is a relatively small city of 59,000 — not one of the megacities that have garnered so much attention from large technology vendors and the media. It is also not a greenfield city with a clean slate; it has an industrial history, with the Zeppelin Museum holding a place of prominence on the shore of Lake Constance.
The T-city project began with the installation of fiber to the curb and upgraded 3G mobile technology. This networking backbone powered more than 30 projects, from health and assisted living to education to home networking to smart grid. Some were simple citizen services applications — like the Flinc ride-sharing application or a kindergarten registration application — while others were more extensive infrastructure projects.
Corporate CIOs should not ignore the network-centric nature of cloud-based solutions when developing their cloud strategies and choosing their cloud providers. And end users should understand what role(s) telcos are likely to play in the evolution of the wider cloud marketplace.
Like many IT suppliers, telcos view cloud computing as a big opportunity to grow their business. Cloud computing will dramatically affect telcos — but not by generating significant additional revenues. Instead, cloud computing will alter the role of telcos in the value chain irreversibly, putting their control over usage metering and billing at risk. Alarm bells should ring for telcos as Google, Amazon, et al. put their own billing and payment relationships with customers in place.
Telcos must defend their revenue collection role at all costs; failure to do so will accelerate their decline to invisible utility status. At the same time, cloud computing offers telcos a chance to become more than bitpipe providers. Cloud solutions will increasingly be delivered by ecosystems of providers that include telcos, software, hardware, network equipment vendors, and OTT providers.
Telcos have a chance to leverage their network and financial assets to grow into the role of ecosystem manager. To start on this path, telcos will provide cloud-based solutions that are adjacent to communication services they already provide (like home area networking and machine-to-machine solutions), such as connected healthcare and smart grid solutions. Expanding from this beachhead into a broader role in cloud solutions markets is a tricky path that only some telcos will successfully navigate.
We are analyzing the potential role of telcos in cloud computing markets in the research report Telcos as Cloud Rainmakers.