In No Bundle of Joy, the Washington Post looks at consumer reaction to bundled offerings from carriers. Tellingly, consumers are rejecting the bundled offerings. Beyond a simple discount, most bundles force compromises few consumers really want to make. Furthermore, by shopping you can get a better deal. Here in Canada, for instance, I buy satellite TV from Bell, use VoIP long distance via PhoneGnome, buy cellular from Rogers, and DSL-based internet from Telecom Ottawa. Bell’s dish gives me a better television selection than cable. VoIP saves me more money than Bell. Cellular features on Rogers, combined with the selection of phones, beats Bell hands down. And my internet is $15/month cheaper than Bell or Rogers, and more reliable to boot. I saved money and got the features I wanted.
The consumer actually does want an integrated experience. Talk to anyone and they will tell you that it makes no sense that they have separate identities, separate mailboxes, separate applications of all kinds, depending on which network they are attached to, and which network identifier (ie phone number) they are logged in as. Consumers want common applications, which is why GoogleTalk Blackberry and GoogleTalk PC, for example, are such a powerful pair. But do they want these applications all from one provider? No.
As the Voice 2.0 world starts to mature, you will see these horizontal layers of functionality begin to appear. Applications, and common services such as identity, and access will be layered on the networks, rather than being baked in. This is the same transition that every other industry, save telecom, has undergone. It’s the reason that ethernet is successful as a networking standard, and that PC’s are built from components created by many industry players, rather than vertically integrated as mini-computers and mainframes were.
In the future, the physical networks are simply an afterthought. It’s the applications, directories and access models that matter. The IMS walled garden being touted by the incumbent telecom players allows them to control these. It’s a centrally controlled state-run economy built around a bundle where choice is erased, and one size fits all. Will customers tolerate this? Or will they demand a more open infrastructure akin to today’s Internet? I sincerely hope it’s the latter, because I honestly don’t want to buy my television from Rogers, or my cellular phone from Bell.