Summarize Ecomm Competition

LEE-1 Surely you all remember this monument of absurd humour that is the All-England Summarize Proust Competition. I'm hoping that my attempt to summarize Ecomm is not quite as absurd, although I'm slightly worried considering James' complete cop-out and Brough's systematic factual approach.

Rather than comment on all presentations I attended (as I've been known to do in the past) or even just to locate the highlights for me, I've decided to take more of a global approach to summarizing the event by listing what I believe to be the key questions or issues that it raised. These – incidentally – are issues that I might address from my own viewpoint in future blog postings.

Clearly the very first question that jumped at us at about 9.05 AM on the first morning of the conference was Can Telcos Change? I find that the telecom world is divided into three essential categories when it comes to answering that question. The first, and largest, doesn't understand why they should. The second believes that they can and must. The third believe that they can't and will die or transform through collapse. Sadly, very few of the first category were present at Ecomm or they would have perhaps swiftly changed their outlook on telco future. Many presentations during the conference addressed this, from Martin Geddes' insight on redefining what a voice service might be to Julien Salanave's future scenarios for the industry and Stefan Hopmann's presentation of Swisscom's Open API program.

Another thread that emerged as soon as James Enck took the stage centers around the economic contribution of the telco sector. James' presentation was a welcome smack in the face for those optimists who think that the crisis is over, or that the telecom sector escaped unscathed. One of the questions he raised (in his darkly humorous way) was What do telecoms have to contribute to the bigger picture? (The Kindle, he pointed out, wasn't gonna cut it.) If I understood his point correctly, there's a futility around the obsession the telcos have with hollywood and leisure services when their infrastructure and services could be contributing to so much more. A few other presentations gave us a glimpse of what that 'so much more' could be although to be fair I sensed a bit of a paradox here when numerous other presentations seemed to be themselves focused on 'feel-good' as opposed to 'necessary' services.

A third issue which I found really interesting though a little hard to grasp for a wireline focused guy such as myself centered around the Future of Mobile, both as a network and as a purveyor of services. Brough Turner, Sascha Meinrath and William Webb – amongst others – explored the issues around spectrum allocation and the potential for non-regulated wireless services. Moray Rumney gave a masterful presentation on mobile technologies all the way up to LTE and why the obsession of vendors and mobile operators alike on top speeds as opposed to average speeds might spell their doom.

Finally, to me the last crucial question which came back time and again in presentations and discussions centered on Redefining Communications for the 21st Century. Throughout the three days it became very apparent how legacy technologies – and perhaps more importantly legacy mindframes – were stopping a much needed rethink of communications. Martin Geddes touched on this looking at what a modern Voice Messaging service should be, the strong presence of Google Wave people hinted at what collaborative communication might look like, and various innovative vendors like Rebelvox and Voxygen examined what communication services should be when redesigned from scratch. (Note to self, if I ever start my own business, don't use "Vox" in the name)

There were, of course, other topics touched on during these amazing three days of conference, things around Augmented Reality, Mobile Devices, and a variety of other interesting subjects. But these didn't necessarily get my mind juices pumping like the above four threads did. My own presentation was focused on aspects of the FTTH business model and I have uploaded it to slideshare.

This was my first Ecomm, and it's an understatement to say that it fulfilled its promises and then some. The organisation was spotless, the speakers were of very high caliber both content-wise and as speakers, the informal socialising was excellent and I came back loaded with business cards of really interesting people. If anything, I wondered at times if it wasn't too much. It suggests that perhaps there is a virtue in the occasional guy doing a sales pitch you care nothing about as it gives you an opportunity to check your emails or go to the loo…

I probably won't be able to make the San Francisco event in 2010, but I have every hope of attending a future European event and maybe heading out to California in 2011 if Lee will have me again. For a sense of what the conference and the speakers looked like, I have uploaded my photos of the first day of speakers and the evening social.