What Lies Ahead

What Lies Ahead

Carol Wilson

In the days following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there was great speculation that America would change the way it does business and rely more on telecommunications than on personal travel.

The stocks of videoconferencing companies shot up, along with those of defense contractors and security firms. There was reason to believe that widely available bandwidth could be transformed into a new generation of services using virtual private networking, packet-based voice, Web-based conferencing, streaming video and broadband access to connect businesses reliably and with enough personality to replace a significant portion of face-to-face contact.

All of this makes sense, in a logical fashion, if one doesn’t factor in human nature. In the course of pulling together this special issue, however, we have chosen to factor in all conceivable variables and have reached a set of potentially conflicting conclusions.

First, technology is certainly ready and able to let companies reduce business travel not only for security and peace-of-mind issues, but also for long-term benefits of cutting costs, reducing stress and improving quality of life.

Second, while the technology exists, it is not always ready for prime time. Videoconferencing, for example, has been around forever but is still not plug and play. Voice over IP is gaining in maturity and stability but there is still no economic driver for a mass change-out of voice networks.

Third, and last, the horrific events of Sept. 11 haven’t left anyone in the mood for massive change. If anything, businesses seem to be seeking out a return to “as usual” and may even fall back on old reliable services and service providers.

It would be foolish, however, to let fears and insecurities drive the future. In this issue, we look at some of the real opportunities for creating a network that more readily survives potential disasters. We also look at opportunities to create services that more readily meet the needs of a society forever changed by terrorism.

We have just lived through a period of massive consumption. Business travel reached a frenzied pace, conferences and trade shows overflowed along with many hotels, restaurants boomed and entertainment venues flourished, fueled in no small part by business revenues.

Much of the business travel, at least within telecom, was done grudgingly by increasingly weary executives and staff people. At the same time, millions were commuting on crowded highways and risking road rage to gather at massive office buildings.

Telecommunications has the potential to address both these issues in creative, environmentally responsive and cost-effective ways. The knee-jerk responses to terrorist acts will eventually wane. The long-term benefits of using this time to reflect wisely don’t have to.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in The Net Economy.