The oracle dusts himself off for 2000

It's time again to pick the trends for the murky near-future

So, 'tis the season for oracular musings on the prospects for the year that lies before us. Tangled Web would be remiss not to join in, so here are our best guesses for the trends, top-raters and turkeys of 2000.

• Ready yourself for a kinder, gentler Telecom - in appearance, anyway. CEO Theresa Gattung is clearly more comfortable with the vision thing than her predecessor, and she can be expected to range beyond Dr Deane's rather terse focus on shareholder value in her public statements. Regard the 30-hour Telecom branding statement that was TVNZ's Millennium broadcast as a starting point.

Telecom will also be at pains to show goodwill towards the new government's telecommunications enquiry - whilst simultaneously looking to delay as long as possible any ramifications for its hold on the market.

Telecom will also be depicting itself as the Kiwi battler against the foreign giants - ie, Telstra and the BT-owned Clear. At the same time it will continue to pursue a network development strategy that seeks to make all other carriers and ISPs sales agents for the Telecom network - and to set their margins by also competing against them at the retail level.

• Telecom's eSolutions venture with Microsoft and EDS will give e-business an unprecedented profile and respectability. On past form, it will grow the market beyond what Telecom can service, making the rest of the industry happy. Telecom will sell Microsoft solutions, but won't eat its own dogfood, preferring to stick largely with its Novell suite internally.

• Telecom's new Australian venture, based on its 80% stake in AAPT, will be much more successful than its first dabble across the Tasman (it could hardly be worse). Its development of a trans-Tasman synergy will, of course, make Telecom a more attractive takeover target.

• Trans-Tasman Internet and e-commerce synergies will be important to everyone else, too - but won't always work in favour of New Zealand companies, given the traditionally dismissive attitude of Australians towards their Kiwi cousins. The big Australian new media ventures - MediaOne, eCorp, News Interactive - will get caught up in their own politics and the cracks will start to show.

• Telstra's investment in Netlink will prove fruitful, its ownership of OzEmail's New Zealand assets less so. Telstra will handle New Zealand much better than the Aussie media companies.

• Saturn will move into Auckland but it will be slooooow to roll out. Saturn's truce with Telecom will sour.

• Clear's new marketing pitch - based around its partnerships successful New Zealand companies - will be much more effective than the puzzling "I am not a number" campaign. Clear/BT will also pull something out of the hat later in the year.

• The sad old NZSE will not be the scene of any scorching IPOs. The better-regulated, more robust Australian bourses will become ever more important.

• The serious capital - and many new development opportunities - will come from Asia rather than Australia. Asian VC firms will turn this way, and the free ISP trend in Asia will have the likes of Singapore's Pacific Internet sniffing around here.

• Free ISPs won't work in New Zealand.

• More and more local Web developers will work for customers outside New Zealand. Somebody in the overstressed European market will realise that they can get good, cheap development done here and set up a base.

• There will be a pile-up of music-related e-commerce ventures - and one or two players will not emerge from the wreckage.

• Plan a drunken bandwidth orgy around October, the likely commissioning date for the Southern Cross cable. Until then, expect a squeeze.

• An INL team will go through hell getting the publisher's complex Vignette Story Server platform up to speed (remember, it took Xtra two years). Their competitors at Wilson and Horton will ditch the Cold Fusion platform from which the Herald is currently delivered.

• A move by Sky Television to deliver Internet via its digital set-top boxes is possible, but it will be really, really hard. The OpenTV-based boxes are "dumb" - all they do is display MPEG-2 frames, meaning all the IP will have to be handled centrally. Be afraid.

• Ihug will be under financial pressure until an IPO or a buyout, whatever comes first. A porn channel will kick off IDTV sales but the holy grail will be a wireless local loop later in the year. If they can make that work, glory beckons. But people will start to fret about electromagnetic emissions.

• TVNZ's licensing of high-bandwidth content from Snap.com will drive sales of Telecom Jetstream more than anything Telecom does. TVNZ New Media, which is already setting up off-site, will become a joint venture with the UK cable firm NTL. NTL will emerge as a glamour company. There will be speculation about a pact between Telecom and Sky.

• The new government's promised e-commerce summit will be a success, largely because it will give major players a chance to strut their stuff - meaning they have an interest in what happens subsequently.

• The impetus of new employment laws will see major players supporting - and probably helping to fund - a new Internet/service union that they feel understands their industry. Solidarity on those stock options, brothers.

Russell Brown is IDGNet's news editor

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