A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of moderating a roundtable on ‘The Future of International Wholesale’ at the Carriers World conference in London. This subject is obviously on many wholesalers’ minds at the moment, as there were not nearly enough chairs around the table to accommodate all the people who wanted to participate in this discussion.
In my opinion, a growing number of wholesalers are going through what we could call a ‘mid-life crisis’ and are reviewing their future as pure wholesalers and the legitimacy of focusing solely on voice services in the evolving International telecom ecosystem. The main triggers of this thought process being the power shift created by global mobile groups entering the wholesale market and serving their own community, coupled with the move to everything IP, data, wireless and free!
From the discussions that took place around the table, two things are clear in the minds of wholesalers: There will always be a role to play for wholesalers who play their cards right and in the long run, data and IP is the way to go.
There will always be a place for pure wholesalers, as long as they can remain relevant to service providers by enabling innovation, by providing high quality, secure global reach and by working closely with their customers to help them monetize data and new applications.
However, voice wholesalers will not be as lucky in the long run, as everything is evolving to IP, and eventually will become indistinguishable from data. At present, it is clear that voice calls are being transported as data across many wholesale networks, but they are still understood to be voice calls and charged as such. The migration of mobile networks to VoLTE completes this move right from the handset, and some of the complexities (and opportunities) of VoLTE will finally start to undermine this service understanding. When a voice call moves mid-stream to a video connection, how should that be charged?
Ultimately, voice will become as sub-set of IP services, perhaps not even understood by the networks in the middle as even forming part of a voice call and from there, the whole structure of the wholesale service offering will be transformed. With the advent of IPX and multiple services on a single pipe, mobile operators will expect their carriers to support all their services going forward, in addition to offering value added services such as number portability, fraud management and real time intelligence to name only a few.
The ones that will be able to meet these challenges and re-invent themselves into the new breed of super wholesalers will win big, while the others will probably survive for a while, but will eventually disappear.
So the $1,000,000 question is: What will the new world order look like?
In my opinion, consolidation is around the corner and the wholesale world as we know it today will not exist in 10 years’ time. The new world order will comprise of large mobile groups supporting their op-cos’ needs through their own wholesale arm, supplemented by a handful of global wholesalers able to provide extensive, scalable reach and leading edge services. In addition, we will probably find a number of niche wholesalers focused in meeting the needs of specific groups of customers (application providers, content providers and media companies for example), or offering deep in-region capillarity, or perhaps supporting specialized services for other wholesalers.
So let’s get ready to enjoy the ride, as it will be an exciting on!