After 20 years of growth fueled by mobile services and emerging markets, the industry has reached a key turning point, argue analysts at PRTM, and the future will include drastic changes in the respective roles of fixed line and mobile networks.

Over the next decade, “we are likely to see a fundamental role reversal between fixed and mobile networks in developed markets, according to analysts at PRTM. Over the next 10 years, mobile operators will be the ones providing universal voice service, and fixed operators will provide high-performance “premium” services, something of a complete reversal of the past 25 years, where it was the mobile networks that provided “premium” services, while fixed line networks were relied upon to provide universal service.

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Get the full document here: http://www.prtm.com/strategicviewpointarticle.aspx?id=4424&langtype=1033.

That is a stunning development, with implications for U.S. national communications policy, which always has seen the fixed networks as the way of supplying “universal service” to all Americans, for example. If PRTM is right (and who could credibly argue that mobility is not ubiquitous and becoming the natural way consumers use voice?), then universal service policies “should” focus on wireless services, not fixed line.

That will have huge implications, and provoke a huge fight. To a real extent, “voice” services, as a universal service, will already have largely shifted to mobility. To the extent that “broadband” starts to be seen as the service that also is a “universal service” issue, it will not be clear which forms of delivery makes most sense, and where.

The business function of fixed networks likely will change as well. It is common to view broadband access–and entertainment video to a large extent–as the “core” services a fixed line network is best suited to provide. Though largely true, there are key business issues. Many, if not most broadband-based services can be provided “over the top.”

That means fixed-line service providers are going to have to work much harder at adding services and features that make particular broadband offerings more attractive than others. It will not be especially easy.

Over time, services sold to business customers are likely to become quite important to fixed-line network providers. In a sense, mobile networks will be best positioned to sell “mass market” services such as voice and on-the-go communications and mobile broadband apps. Business customers will become more important for moderately-complex services that cannot be sold using “mass media” channels.

The other angle is that if “network neutrality” rules remain in force, only business-class services that prioritize applications, bandwidth and performance will be lawful. Where mobile might remain the sphere where commodity consumer voice and mobile broadband are dominant, business services might be the only place a fixed-line operator can legally sell managed services providing latency control.

Though many will resist the notion, the mobile network might become the “universal mass market” channel, while the fixed-line network specializes in business class services, video-heavy apps and other managed services.

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