The irrepressible power of new technologies both to create and to destroy reaches into every niche. No one is immune.
The phone companies were once the most secure industries and the safest investment you could make. ATT or earlier Bell Telephone were giants. And, like cable or over-the-air broadcasting they had a technological monopoly on ‘getting into people’s homes’. But instead of appending commercial spots to your phone calls, they just charged for the service.
It was a model that worked.
It worked so well, and for so long in fact, that when radio came into vogue in the early ’20s, Bell Telephone opened (and shortly closed) its first radio station in NY. It was called ‘toll radio’, and ‘users’ (ie, broadcasters) paid on a per-minute basis to ‘use’ Bell’s radio transmission studios and frequency to broadcast any message they wanted. Bell took the business model for telephony and simply applied it to radio.
Bell and ATT were children of technology – a linear, point to point technology. But like any revolution, technologies often eat their own children. And now it is the turn of the phone companies to be ‘eaten’.
The Daily Mail, a UK tabloid I read every morning online more for their stories of what happened to Madeline McCann then for tech news, is carrying a story about a new phone about to be offered in Britain this week.
Britain is rarely, if ever on the cutting edge of technology (at least not since James Watt and the steam engine), so when it appears in The Daily Mail, it is really in the mainstream.
The phone is being offered by a partnership between Network3, a UK company, and Skype.
For those of us who have been using Skype (or Vonage for that matter) for some time, the idea of VOIP is hardly new. I have not had a landline for several years, and don’t ever see getting one again. Almost all my calls now go over the web, and my phone bills have dropped to next to nothing. But we are all ‘early adapters’. Now it goes mainstream, and it goes straight to the heart of the phone company’s prime source of income – just as Craigslist went at the heart of newspaper’s revenue.
When your average ‘punter’ (UK term) starts making all their calls for free over the web, BT (British Telecom) can start thinking about turning their massive tower in central London into condos.
Releasing new technologies is a bit like opening Pandora’s Box – once opened, you never know what is going to leap out.