Facebook, Google & Microsoft want it all - telecom's the prey

The Big Three of the tech world want to give you everything - email, voice- in one inbox. If they succeed, the telecom companies are dead meat. But they're assuming we want it all in one inbox

Kevin Anderson July 11, 2011 18:26:45 IST
Facebook, Google & Microsoft want it all - telecom's the prey

If executives of the world's telecom firms had a sudden panic attack last week, it's understandable. They are the prey in a high stakes hunt by Google, Facebook and Microsoft for new markets to conquer.

Google+, the search giant's most recent effort to crack social networking, and Facebook's 'awesome' announcement to integrate Microsoft's Skype are just part of the latest campaign in a battle for your inbox: Not just your email inbox, but your voicemail, text and IM inboxes as well. This is the fight for the future of communications and last week it suddenly got much more interesting.

Hunting for new markets to conquer

Microsoft is hungry, some might say desperate, for new markets, having become so successful with Windows and Office that it has had little room to grow. At one time, Microsoft Office had 98% of the office suite market. However, it's faltered in many of its attempts to grow new businesses.

Facebook Google  Microsoft want it all  telecoms the prey

Microsoft is hungry, some might say desperate, for new markets.Robyn Beck/AFP

Outside of Russia and China, Google dominates search and online advertising in major markets around the world. However, apart from its Android mobile operating system, it has struggled to repeat that success in other ventures.

Why should newcomer Facebook worry? It's growing globally by leaps and bounds, but its growth is starting to slow or even plateau in US, Canada and the UK, a pattern repeated in markets where it develops 50% penetration.

Now, all three companies seem to be zeroing in on the same market: Communications.

For years, companies have been trying to bring together our modern communications - emails, text messages and voice calls - in a single inbox.

By all rights, Microsoft should have long ago won this battle with the dominance of Outlook, but it hasn't.

Google has been testing the waters by adding Google Talk to Gmail and allowing people to make video and voice calls directly from their Gmail contacts and allowing voice calls in North America.

In the past, unified communications has been seen as a business service, but that changed when Facebook launched its unified messaging last year. If you want to get an insight into what Facebook has in mind, just listen to what Facebook engineer Joel Seligstein said when the service launched:

"Relatively soon, we'll probably all stop using arbitrary 10-digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters to contact each other. We will just select friends by name and be able to share with them instantly. We aren't there yet, but the changes today are a small first step."

That's the prize that Google, Microsoft and Facebook want. Art Wittman of InformationWeek says the tech giants have the telecommunications industry squarely in their sites. They want to "kill the phone network," relegating it to the dust heap of outdated technology.

Co-opetition and frenemies

If Microsoft wants this market, it's logical to ask why they would partner with Facebook.

In technology, there is a long pattern of co-opetition, cooperating with a competitor when it benefits you and competing against them when it doesn't. Microsoft needs a hedge against Google while it sorts out its mobile strategy and strengthens Windows Mobile to have some hope of competing against Android.

Microsoft might also be willing to cede personal unified communications to Facebook while keeping business unified communications for itself.

Google might seem to have the upper hand with Android, its mobile operating system that has completely upended the smartphone market, but that may be misleading. In a move that shows how much power has shifted in the technology industry in the past decade, Microsoft probably has more room to manoeuvre than Google, which is under anti-competition scrutiny in the US and Europe.

Of course, this all assumes that we want one inbox, one simple way to tie together our texts, our email and our calls.

Are you ready for a unified future? Are you ready for one company to have so much control over how you communicate?

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