A Dose Of Perspective


Reviewing my work week, it comes as no surprise that I am completely knackered out. I have an entire Disclaimer to remind me not to ever blog about work issues, but once in a while I feel the need to digress at length about the overall experience of working where I do, so here's my general train of thought as I left the office tonight.

The general public, the press pundits, the mobile industry guru wanabees and even technical people that work outside a telco environment have absolutely no idea of how complex and intertwining some issues are.

It's not that the problems can't be broken down or that people aren't organized and efficient at their own tasks, but the sheer complexity of it all is akin to juggling a firebrand, a crystal vase, two lemons, a halibut and a ballpoint pen while solving a Rubik's Cube and mixing a Martini for your chess partner during a discussion of next year's budget with the audience.

And yes, it vaguely echoes Dilbert occasionally, for one very simple reason: It is extremely difficult to communicate across several organizational boundaries at once, especially when each boundary is also a technological one. Modern telecommunications companies have a lot of equipment and infrastructure out there, and even when technology progresses and financial write-offs allow them to renew that equipment, it is never a neat and homogenous set of boxes, and although the teams managing those boxes are sometimes the same and crammed with intelligent and capable people, there are always hundreds of little issues to sort out when moving forward.

So, no matter how many nice press releases vendors send out saying that so-and-so bought their amazing new Blue Packet technology, it will always be only a part of whatever that telco already has deployed. All of those fancy buzzword technologies making the rounds have to work together on top of existing networks, and it doesn't happen by signing a few papers and leaving it to chance.

Financially-oriented people look at short overviews of telecoms infrastructure and their brains collapse - which is why analysts and consultants in the field try to simplify things by defining broad ranges of investment and expense categories, breaking those down further into radio access, aggregation and core, etc.

Planners and designers, however, have to hold it all in their heads and try to figure out what is the most efficient and cheap way to provide the best service quality possible, in an industry where (unlike IT, for instance) faults are simply not an option. And all of this while patiently adding new pieces to the puzzle and phasing out old technologies in favor of new ones.

Rolling out (and expanding) country-wide networks takes literally years. Some things (if they prove to be financially viable, of course) are even planned to be rolled out years in advance of the technology being publicly available - or even visible to the end user.

The fact that you can simply flick open your trendy clamshell and place a call to anywhere on the world takes some doing, and most of it is far beyond a lot of people's understanding (fortunately, I don't have to worry about most of the details).

So it is somewhat amusing reading pie-in-the-sky pieces from pundits harping on about vaporware like WiMax or Wi-Fi-based VoIP being "just around the corner", or gadget freaks lusting for the latest all-in-one pocket gizmo and wishing it had "free wireless broadband", telepathic ringtones and a Pez dispenser.

Believe me, my life would be a lot easier if we only had to bother with deploying Pez dispensers.