Converging challenges

Convergence is a term that often seems to mean different things to different people. But for attendees at SAMENA Council's "Beyond Convergence" conference in Dubai in April, the convergence of technologies in the ICT sector is likely to create a sea change in the way the industry operates.

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By  Roger Field Published  May 6, 2008

Convergence is a term that often seems to mean different things to different people. But for attendees at SAMENA Council's "Beyond Convergence" conference in Dubai in April, the convergence of technologies in the ICT sector is likely to create a sea change in the way the industry operates.

Furthermore, the merging of internet, mobile and fixed line technologies is already changing the way operators are doing business - or at least the way they should be doing business.

Senior representatives from a cross-section of the industry, including infrastructure providers and operators, met to discuss the potential benefits and challenges of convergence at the event. While most had varying opinions on how convergence will affect the industry, all agreed that it is already starting to change the sector.

This is important for operators, who at first glance appear to have the most to lose. Indeed, there is a perception among many operators, particularly some regional incumbents, that convergence can only lead to falling revenues.

This is perhaps not surprising. Technologies such as VoIP are becoming increasingly integrated into mainstream communication, whether as part of business communication systems, or through social networking sites such as Facebook.

Operators face other threats too, with technologies such as HSPA and WiMAX offering web users alternative ways of accessing the internet.

But the good news for operators is that they can also profit from convergence by finding new ways of making their services relevant. Operators that offer fixed and mobile services can consider offering the two services converged as one.

They could also offer enterprise clients a converged office communications suite, incorporating data, fixed and mobile services.

And as Karim Sabbagh, a partner at Booz Allen Hamilton, points out, operators also have the inherent value that comes with having a huge customer base, as well as an understanding of what makes them tick. "People are paying for customer ownership," he said.

"This is a very valuable tool that operators have, and very few others have."

For operators that are prepared to adapt their services to the rapidly changing market, convergence is likely to offer more opportunities than threats.

Roger Field is the editor of Communications Middle East & Africa.

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