A decade in quick review

The end of the decade is sneaking up on us--barely two months away (unless you're one of those people who insists the decade ends on a '0' year, in which case make a note to come back and read this next October). In any case, whether you are regarding the current decade in telecom terms or from a more general perspective, it's likely that many of us will be happy to see "the aughts" wind down.

From a broader perspective, it has been the decade of 9/11, which is really all anyone needs to say. Though, if you want more reasons to give the aughts a low grade, start with any of the following: Terrorism, war, the economic doldrums that book-ended the decade, the decline of several species, the warming of the planet, sub-prime mortgages, Jon & Kate, the "Saw" movie series, Michael Vick, Tucker Max, Paris Hilton, Octomom, Geroge W. Bush, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich, Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, SARS, swine flu, the Virginia Tech shooting, NIU shooting, the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Phil Spector, the London subway bombings, the India terror attacks, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea, the post-2000-election rise of vitriol as the dominant political lingo and the fact that the Chicago Cubs still have not won a World Series (and there's plenty more where that came from).

It's slightly more fun to regard this decade from a telecom perspective. We started in pretty promising fashion with most CLECs still in good shape, broadband wireless as a hot, new technology sector. IMS was the acronym of the moment that would soon change everything, and we had a business environment in which those of us who weren't working for start-ups and waiting on our stock options were planning our own start-ups. Convergence was on our minds, though we were still trying to figure out what it meant. Google was new and interesting, and not everyone knew what you meant when you said you would "Google it," but it sure yielded results. Long-distance was struggling, but DSL was rising. Verizon began, Qwest acquired US West and WorldCom was still buying.

The massive telecom downturn (or perhaps "nuclear winter" is your preferred phrasing) followed, undoing and destroying much of what seemed promising in the opening six months or so of the decade. Corporate scandals were frequent. The CLEC sector collapsed. The broadband wireless sector collapsed. Talk of IMS lingered in the background. Convergence remained top of mind, though we still didn't know what it meant. Operational efficiency and expense management became the watch-words. Lay-offs, lay-offs, lay-offs.

The mid-late part of the decade saw cautious--very cautious--recovery like the groundhog poking its head out of its hole to take a look around. There were new attitudes about running leaner operations. Talk of what would succeed DSL: fiber? Then, a new wave of consolidation. Then there was the emergence of social networking--the thing called MySpace and the other thing called Facebook. YouTube. Twitter. Hulu. The rise of widely-available WiFi access. The loss of telco access lines, and the corresponding video ambitions of telcos. DOCSIS 3.0. The beginning of a new mobile age, starting with the iPhone. Convergence? It's already happening. IMS? We're still waiting.

More recently, we saw the emergence of the Net neutrality debate, the slowing of broadband adoption and still so many towns and households without broadband. Mobile broadband has been rising quickly, along with online video. As video traffic has surged to a degree unforeseen a decade earlier, we have needed more bandwidth, more network investment. But, wait, it's another downturn and landline losses are getting out of control. Lay-offs, lay-offs, lay-offs. Broadband stimulus, Google as the enemy (and friend) and finally, Net neutrality reality.

That brings us to late October 2009 (I realize this as an imperfect review, but I'm pressed for time). For my money, the 1990s were a far less tumultuous decade, and the popular rise of the Internet during that decade beats much of what has happened in this decade for sheer transformative thrills (though social networking, the evolution of VoIP and the many applications innovations that have evolved how we use the Internet all work to make it a close contest). I'm also at least more hopeful for the decade to come when I look at how this one is ending. You can see the possibility that the telecom sector will become even more defined by mobile broadband, video, seamless convergence, open networks and ala carte applications, and even though a company called AT&T may be among those leading the charge, it will feel far removed from 1984.

I suppose you can say that any decade has had its fair share of ups and downs. So, how do you feel about the aughts, and how the telecom industry fared? Will you be happy to see this decade end, or sad? Do you feel better off than you did 10 years ago (I know that's a loaded question) Do you feel more hopeful or less? -Dan