Telecomms firms quietly gung-ho on Oahu

Suppliers who live and die by the fortunes of the telco industry were smiling last week about their 2002 prospects.

Suppliers who live and die by the fortunes of the telco industry were smiling last week about their 2002 prospects. Some of the smiles were merely of relief that they’d made it through 2001. Others were in response to tentative signs of an upturn in business (not enough to call it a trend yet, commented one).

But the biggest source of good cheer was undoubtedly due to where they happened to be gathering -- in the balmy atmosphere of a Hawaiian winter (warmer and more reliable than Auckland’s summer so far, based on the couple of days I was there).

The island of Oahu was overrun by telecomms industry figures, drawn there by three events. The Pacific Telecommunications Council has met in Hawaii every January for decades. An encounter with one delegate at a reception thrown by the governor eloquently made the point that telecomms is no fledgling business that will be held back for long by a single bad year. The man concerned was an American who introduced himself as one of the inventors of GPS technology, the forerunner of which was first deployed during the Vietnam war. Today, while surely old enough and rich enough to put his feet up after selling off the various bits of his business to Intel and AT&T, he divides his time between Stanford and Hawaii universities. There he’s working on caller location services for cellular networks.

Another encounter was with a member of the PTC executive, who reckoned this year’s numbers were down about 10% on last year. He didn’t think that bad considering how last year ended up. Aside from the 1300 or so PTC attendees, there was a much smaller group of telecomms and networking hardware and software vendors on the island, giving a group of analysts and journalists, myself included, a rundown on their expectations of the year. Since they had to pay the event organisers a hefty sum to be there, they were necessarily companies that had avoided becoming victims of the industry’s tough times, and were pretty cheery about the future. A common element of it is that it will be IP-based.

Whatever apparent hesitation there is in the conversion of telco voice networks from circuit- to packet-based is a mere blip, they contend. One of the companies putting itself on show was Orchestream, a UK-based outfit which provides the sort of software Telecom will be looking for when its IP-based network is in place. Orchestream’s Service Activator is an operational support system (OSS, for those in the game) for IP networks, implementations of which start at £200,000. It claims Telstra as a customer, for software that manages a bandwidth-on-demand VPN service.

Spirent, another company we heard from, already does business with Telecom, it says. Spirent sells network testing equipment such as Telecom might use for tracking down the cause of micro-outages in its DSL network, which we reported last year. Spirent sees some hopeful signs that the corner might have been turned for the industry, but isn’t willing quite to put its neck on the block and say it’s a sure thing.

“We’re certainly going through uncertain times” was how a representative of CDMA techology company Qualcomm put it. He also drew attention to Telecom, saying that he wished European telcos would just get on and deploy CDMA as Telecom has.

In the absence of a European market for CDMA, Qualcomm looks to Asia. In particular, China is the big prize, and a delegation from the China Mobile Communications Association was also in Hawaii, exciting much interest from the vendors. The Chinese government minister with responsibility for telecomms was reportedly part of the group, underlining the importance politics plays in doing business in China. Indeed, while Qualcomm touts recent successes selling CDMA to the Chinese, a Beijing-based analyst in Hawaii dared suggest the deal had more to do with currying favour with the US as China sought WTO membership than any real belief in the technology. You can always count on an analyst to add spice to an otherwise bland vendor success story.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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