Ovum: The genie’s out the bottle re: Egypt/Telcos

Some interesting perspective in from telecoms industry analyst Angel Dobardziev of Ovum regarding the recent excitement with Vodafone in Egypt:

“Press reports that internet connectivity has been shut down in Egypt, and that mobile operators have been ordered to shut down services have several broad implications for the wider telecoms industry, and the Middle East in particular.

“At a most basic level it underlines the political risk of operating in the emerging markets for players as diverse such as Vodafone, Blackberry, and Google, which they have to weight against the undoubted growth opportunity.

“More importantly, it is clear that the massive growth of mobile and internet services, while bringing massive productivity and social benefits to the region, has also brought a whole new level of social connectness, openness, information access, and aspiration. Particularly in the younger generation that goes against the more conservative and authoritarian tradition that has been the norm hitherto.

“In this context, the telecoms boom in the region accelerated the clash between tradition and modernity, the open versus closed society, which we are now witnessing in the Middle East, and other places (e.g. China), which regimes are trying to contain.

“All said, the genie is out of the bottle, and while some regimes may try, there is no way of reversing the impact communications have made on the emerging markets and their people. But as events in Egypt show, the road ahead may be rocky for all, including telcos and the people they serve.”

Angel has a key point. Have we just experienced a watershed moment? Is this going to be a regular thing whenever a country enters a period of instability? Instead of calling for the Army, will the first response be to deactivate the cellular networks in specific localised regions to stop folk talking and spreading their messages?

And what kind of signal will this send to the population and the wider community?

How long will a population tolerate having zero communications capabilities for extended periods in today’s connected world?

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

One reply on “Ovum: The genie’s out the bottle re: Egypt/Telcos”

Although it’s insignificant at a time when people are putting themselves at risk, there is a branding issue here too. Many of the major groups are looking to position themselves as empowering the populace, perhaps most noticably with Vodafone’s ‘Power to You’ tagline. Headlines of governments being able to pull the plug on mobile networks when they don’t like the multiplying effect of connected people doesn’t seem well aligned to the brand message those same networks are pushing.

Of course the reality is that for many networks the ultimate ability for governments to control communications networks is a condition of their radio spectrum licenses, but that’s not a reason that will be easily understood. It also doesn’t make it right, but if Angel is right and this becomes a more regular occurence the issue of consistency between marketing message and action is also going to become a bigger problem.

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