I am asked often about what I see coming in the future and anyone who reads this blog knows that I look into the future a lot, be that two years, five years or 100 years. One thing that I have thought about a lot is the future of the small triple-play carriers that make up the majority of my client base. What is there business going to look like ten or fifteen years from now?
I see two very contrasting choices and I think every small carrier that survives into that time is going to have to choose one of these two paths. I think the choices are between being a dumb-pipe provider or a full service provider, and I don’t think there is much room for success to stay at status quo and be somewhere in the middle.
I think by now that everybody understands that cable TV penetration rates are going to erode over time as more and more people eschew the high price of cable TV and opt out for programming on the web. And there is always the chance at some point where the migration away from traditional cable could become a flood if somebody can find a way to get enough programming to the web to make that an attractive alternative.
A lot of small carriers today offer the triple play in a fairly passive way. They market and try to sell their products somewhat, but in their footprint they have most of the customers and they don’t do a lot of hard selling. For instance, they don’t push upselling of existing products very hard. But as they lose cable customers and even more voice customers the way they have been doing business is not going to work any longer.
If a carrier elects to become a dumb-pipe provider (or maybe calling them a distribution provider sounds a little better), then they are going to make a living by bringing fast Internet pipes to their customers and they are going to let customers pick up most of their products over the Internet.
If you are a dumb-pipe provider you are going to increase the speeds of your Internet product enough to keep customers happy. You are going to have to charge a lot more for that Internet connection than you charge today. If you are a triple-play provider today you will probably keep some voice, and maybe even some cable customers years from now, but for the most part those will have gone away and the data pipe is going to be your only significant product. From an operational perspective you will have to cut your staff and overheads back to the bare bones needed to keep the pipes working. Your company will be a stripped down version of what you do today, but you can make a profit doing this.
The other alternative is going to be a full-service provider. That means you will replace telephone and cable revenues with a host of other products and services that your customers are going to want. I am always asked what the next big thing is that people can do to make money, and the unfortunate answer is that there is no one big thing. There are a whole host of new product lines that you might get into, but no one of them is going to be as big as your telephone or cable business you are trying to replace.
So you will offer a host of new products – things like security, home automation, energy management, medical monitoring, cloud service resale and device monitoring and maintenance. Every one of these product lines, and the dozens of other that might pop up over the next decade will be of interest to some of your customers. And by having a suite of products you will have something for everybody.
Being a full service provider is going to require you to operate very differently than today. These new product lines are going to need you to spend a lot of time in people’s homes doing things like connecting new devices to their home automation system, making sure their medical monitoring devices are working right, making sure all of their computer-like devices are properly accessing everything.
And there will be one other big change in the way small carriers operate. Today the typical small carrier handles every aspect of a product from beginning to end. If they are in the cable business they have a full cable headend. But in the future when you will need to be in many product lines you are instead going to partner with and buy a lot of these products from wholesalers. That is going to take a big shift in thinking.
Finally, you are going to have to be nimble. The products you sell are always going to be changing and you will need to keep up with those changes. You will not have the luxury you have today to leisurely analyze new business opportunities, but instead you will need to be able to implement new products on the fly. You will need a very well-oiled product implementation plan to make changes fast while keeping customers happy.