Friday, May 13, 2016

From "Convergence" to "OTT"

Most ideas and concepts have currency in a particular context and time. The use, or passing from use, of any such terms generally means that a specific big change has become routine, part of the background, and the new reality.

Convergence, for example, was a big idea in the 1990s. One almost never hears the term used, in the 2010s. Some 20 years ago, the big idea was that an era of application-specific networks was ending. All networks were “converging” on multi-purpose platforms that could deliver any media type.

The term also was used to describe the rise of multi-function devices able to display many media types, or to describe the the ability of applications to interact with each other.

At this point, we simply assume that is the case. On a more-granular level, it is hard to remember that “smartphone” and “Wi-Fi hotspots” once were “hyped” terms in the past.

At this point, all the “convergence” items are simply part of the existing fabric of networks, devices and apps. What was less well widely understood 20 years ago was the fundamental change in business models, however.

It now is clear that convergence was less important than another fundamental change, namely the separation of application creation, ownership and delivery from the actual “network” layer.

In the “non-converged” world, all networks were application specific, and that also meant that the network owner created, packaged and sold the apps the network supported.

That now is broken. While any network owner can create some managed apps and services (carrier voice, carrier messaging, linear TV and Internet access provide examples), most apps now are created and delivered independent of the access network.

In other words, no business relationship has to exist between any “Internet” app and any access network. That is why the term “over the top” has resonance with access provider executives, not “convergence.”

Convergence no longer matters. OTT does.

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