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Monday, January 16, 2017

My 2017 Plans: Research, Events & Client Focus

Excuse the narcissism: This blog post is about me. 

It's intended to clarify my current research focus, the ways I engage with clients, events I get involved in, and the other people and companies I work with.

Most of my work falls into 3 broad and overlapping areas:
  • Network Technology, Policy & Strategy: Evolution of telecom networks & operator business models. Fixed & mobile infrastructure, 5G, WiFi, LPWAN, NFV/SDN, spectrum policy, net neutrality, SD-WAN, MEC, MVNOs, eSIM, policy, mobile broadband, OSS/BSS and so on. (I don't do much on photonics & transport, or detailed product analysis or economic modelling though).
  • Communications Applications & Services: How humans & machines communicate & what that enables. Voice, telephony, video comms, messaging, WebRTC, cPaaS, VoLTE, UC/UCaaS, role of telcos, contextual communications, social communications, VoIP apps, bots & speech-tech, wholesale, numbering, collaboration etc.
  • TelcoFuturism: The intersection points of the telecoms / enterprise comms industry, with other orthogonal trends such as AI, blockchain, AR/VR, robotics, drones, IoT, self-driving vehicles, quantum technology, technological (un)employment, future government, human enhancement, geopolitics, advanced healthcare and demography.
In terms of client engagement and business model, I work as an analyst, consultant and futurist. This means several areas of activity:

  • Written reports, sometimes under my own Disruptive Analysis brand (eg recently on eSIM - link - and soon on Blockchain + Telecoms & maybe WebRTC/cPaaS once again). 
  • But in much greater volume, my report output goes through STL Partners / Telco 2.0, for which I act as Associate Director of the "Future of the Network" research stream (link). Recent FoN reports have covered 5G strategy, eSIM, LPWAN, Net Neutrality, SDN/NFV, SD-WAN. I'll be writing for STL on those topics plus also spectrum policy, VoLTE, satellite communications, vendor positioning & value-chain, network slicing & edge-computing in 2017. (If you're interested in subscribing to the Future of the Network programme, please contact me at information AT disruptive-analysis DOT com, or speak to an existing STL Partners sales contact).
  • Internal advisory projects and workshops for operators, vendors, regulators and investors. I participate in various private consulting assignments, under-NDA roundtables and presentations, or advisory workshops - sometimes for C-level executives and sometimes for departmental/product/strategy teams. Much of my work is on assisting companies to understand future market context & opportunities (especially across multiple silos), answer complex questions about value-chain & competitive dynamics, or "stress-testing" of existing plans and world-views. I'm happy to provide proposals & references on request.
  • Keynote speaker at public and private events. This spans both technology-specific issues ("what will 5G look like?", "what are the uses of blockchain in telecoms?") through to broader futurism ("what will the telecom industry look like in 2030, and what can we do about it?)". Get in touch if you want me to speak at something - fees/expenses apply for events that are company-specific, or require significant travel.
  • Providing input into M&A due-diligence, regulatory & policymaking processes or investment theses. I'm no longer a certified financial analyst, though.
  • Advisory boards and retainer relationships. I'm happy to work with clients on an ongoing basis, as long as it does not compromise my independence (eg ability to criticise). 
  • Writing white papers or custom reports for vendors and operators. I only write documents where my opinion is already aligned with my client's, or where they are looking for a contrarian or "provocative" piece. I retain editorial control. Given my trenchant and well-publicised views on many technology areas, there's no point asking me to write a glowing testimonial for stuff I criticise regularly. (Also, I don't do product comparisons or endorsements).
  • Some of my work is conducted in partnership with other independent consultants and analysts. I've worked with Martin Geddes (link), Alan Quayle (link) and Chris Lewis (link) before, and am open to other collaborations if they are mutually beneficial.
  • Interviews and other contributions for press and broadcast media. As well as industry specialists like TelecomTV, I've also been quoted by BBC, Economist, FT & many others.
I attend and speak at/moderate a lot of events - probably around 30-40 a year. These are mostly in the UK, rest of Europe and US, although I'd intend to spend more time at conferences in Asia and the rest of the world. My favourite events are those with 100-300 people, run by small-to-midsize event companies, and not over-controlled by sponsors paying for speaking slots or trying to censor the agenda. Any credible event has dissenting voices and debate. 

Conferences I visit or speak at are mostly a mix of public industry events (eg TADSummit, Great Telco Debate, Terrapinn, Layer123, WiFiNow, Cambridge Wireless & Upperside are among the best), company-specific forums run by vendors (eg Comptel Nexterday, Metaswitch Forum, GenBand Perspectives) and regulatory/policy workshops. Some Meetups are good as well - in particular London Futurists.

I go to a few midsize trade shows (eg Enterprise Connect, TMForum) but not the ones with 10's of thousands of people (CES, MWC, CeBIT etc). The latter I find a complete waste of time, as I'm spread too thinly to be able to focus on particular themes. In the past I've had 400+ briefing invitations for MWC, and it takes weeks just to process emails and say "no thanks" without being excessively rude. 

My current roster of upcoming events (some speaking, some just attending) includes:
Please get in touch if you're looking for a speaker, moderator, or just an attendee prepared to ask difficult questions & post a bunch of commentary on Twitter during the event. Also, let me know if you're an AR professional running an analyst summit - I try to get to as many as I can.

In the past, I've also co-run small workshop-style events with Martin Geddes (eg on "Future of Voice") and that's something I may well return to in 2017.

In terms of publishing short-form pieces, this blog will continue to be my main vehicle. I also republish most longer pieces on my LinkedIn page (link), which often gets more comments and engagement - and also I put some on Medium (link), which doesn't. Occasionally people ask to syndicate my posts - it depends on the site and whether it gets a different audience to me. I don't often write guest posts for other people, except occasionally for consulting / retainer clients - I'm quite a bit more costly than freelance writers.

I put up quite a lot of my public conference presentations on SlideShare (link) although I intend to update it more frequently. There's also quite a few of my recent presentations on YouTube (link) & a few on Vimeo (link). I'm going to be doing - and collating - more video content in 2017.

Otherwise, for 2017 I'm hopefully going to carry on my usual broad & pithy coverage & commentary on the telecoms industry, plus spend a rather larger fraction of my time on more general futurism and tech-policy topics. If you don't know already, I'm @disruptivedean on Twitter, and can be reached by email at information at disruptive-analysis dot com.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2016 was the first year I didn't buy a SIM card, for at least a decade

I've just realised that I didn't buy a single new SIM card in 2016.

In the past I've often got local SIMs when I've travelled (to avoid roaming charges), or sometimes replaced or got extra ones for the UK, for mobile-broadband dongles or second phones. Quite often I'd buy 5 or more in a year. I think my record was about 10.

But in 2016 I just kept the one Vodafone SIM I've had for quite a while, used on a data-heavy SIM-only plan in an unlocked iPhone.

There's a few reasons for this. The main one is that I use Vodafone's Euro/World Traveller plans, which cost £3 a day in Europe and £5 a day in various other countries. (IIRC, changing EU rules mean I may now be able to get "roam like home" free coverage - I need to check whether I need to change my current plan). 

In particular, for the US I find it pretty good (I'm there about once a month) and while it's more expensive than getting a local pre-pay SIM (T-Mobile used to be $2/day, not sure what it is now), it means I don't have to faff around with swapping over, plus I can call/SMS on my usual number & don't need to revalidate WhatsApp, iMessage and various others that also link to numbers. Put simply, £5/day is a bit of a rip-off (£2-3 would be fairer), but when I'm travelling I have other expenses that are higher on my list. It's the equivalent of a beer a day - although it gets expensive if you start to spend 50 or 100 days a year in a given country.

In theory, I could get one of the "roaming SIMs" from Truphone or 100 other sources. Or I could buy or rent a WiFi-hotspot type thing and use that. But it means more to carry/charge, and for the places I (mostly) go, it's just not that necessary. I don't need local numbers either (I hardly ever phone/SMS the country I'm visiting) so multi-IMSI isn't a big deal for me either.

The other main reason for not buying an SIMs is the countries I visited last year. Mostly it's been Europe and the US for work, plus South Africa, Israel - and Central America on my vacation recently. The VF plan has either covered them, or else (eg Nicaragua & Roatan in Honduras) there's been enough WiFi everywhere I needed to use the phone, plus offline maps. I haven't been elsewhere in SE Asia or MidEast, where I'd normally need cellular coverage. A week off-grid in the desert at AfrikaBurn in April proved that I don't *really* need to be connected 24x7, even though most of my friends think I'm glued to my phone.

And the last reason is that I haven't been tempted by any other cellular devices. I don't need a 4G-enabled tablet or PC. My FitBit works fine with Bluetooth. I don't drive or need/want a "connected car". I have no IoT devices at home, and wouldn't have cellular-connected ones even if I did.

Maybe 2017 will be different - I'm planning an Asia trip or two, and perhaps I'll be vacationing in places that are less WiFi-connected. I might churn from Vodafone if another UK operator has better coverage, roaming or other temptations. But it was really notable that on my recent trip, I didn't even bother going into a Nicaraguan mobile store to check SIM availability and price. Maybe if I was there on business, or for an extended period, I would have done so - I even had a spare phone I could have used as a WiFi tether.

Friend & fellow road-warrior Andy Abramson also mentions not buying SIMs in his latest blog (link), but that's more driven by Google Fi and Gigsky.  

All this has some interesting implications for eSIM - a topic I've looked at extensively over the past year & published a report on (link). 

Would an eSIM-powered iPhone make a big difference to me? Well, firstly it would need to be supported by VF UK, on the same SIM-only plan I use today with a removable, pre-provisioned card. And it would need to come with some sort of option for local data in the US & assorted other countries for £2-3 per day, while neatly re-routing my UK number calls/SMS and allow apps like WhatsApp to re-authorise or just continue unaffected. Given iMessage's occasional glitches when friends port or change numbers, I'd be wary anyway.

What about an eSIM-capable companion device like a WiFi hotspot or tablet? Maybe a hotspot, if I have to travel to random places which still have stupidly-priced roaming, or not much WiFi. But it would have to be very cheap, and very simple. Cellular tablet? Nope.

I can't really see myself getting an eSIM-powered car or other IoT gadget this year, either - although I may find myself renting one I guess.

In other words, unless my travel patterns in 2017 are very different to 2016, I can't see myself buying more than 2 or 3 SIMs, and it may well be zero again. If I do, I'll probably get them at airports with very little hassle, so "remote provisioning" won't be a huge boon to me personally. I continue to think that eSIM is going to be a slow-burn evolution and won't be a big deal for the mobile industry one way or another.