I moderated the Broadband 2020 panel last week at IP Possibilities, an important industry event produced by NTCA and OPASTCO. Our panel was tasked with discussing the future of broadband for the independent telecom industry, with an eye towards the year 2020 – not the easiest of tasks considering the difficulty of accurately predicting the future in our ever changing marketplace.

I was joined by Kevin Morgan of Adtran, Ray Carey of NeoNova, Donovan Prostrollo of Calix, and Bill Barnes of NetAmerica Alliance. The most interesting result of our panel discussion is how little we spent talking about technology. While we did discuss the contrast of FTTH’s ascension against DSL’s future, and the growing impact of 4G wireless, we spent more time discussing the impact of broadband on service provider culture and business processes.

At the core of our discussion and debate was the fundamental shift that broadband and IP are creating within traditional telcos. When you really think about it, this shift is truly revolutionary. Consider that the PSTN was built for a consistent delivery of a single product – voice service. Initial data services came later but still used the PSTN’s underlying TDM technology. In some regards the PSTN was built to be boring because boring makes it easier to deliver a consistent and reliable quality of service. Certainty was the order of the day.

Contrast that with the Internet, broadband, and IP services where uncertainty is the order of the day. It’s anything but boring. Could the two be any further apart? So as telcos transform themselves to broadband carriers, deciding which broadband technology to use is the least of their problems. Transforming their culture and workforce to embrace the new uncertainty of broadband is a much more challenging task and significantly more important. You can have the most technically advanced broadband network on earth, but if your company doesn’t know how to leverage, market, and sell it, what good is it?

Issues like building a culture that accepts, maybe even embraces failure are more apropos. If you’re not failing at anything, you’re not trying enough new things. Product development and management become paramount and being able to pull the trigger on products that don’t have a well defined ROI are necessary. That’s hard for a ‘guaranteed rate of return’ culture to embrace.

So I walked away from our panel with a new appreciation for Broadband 2020 and the unique challenges that lie ahead for our industry. You can view this path to broadband as exhilarating or a royal pain in the you know what. Boring, it is not. What is it for you?

Image courtesy of flickr user h.koppdelaney

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