In business, subtle gains are as valid an indicator of progress as big news. Perhaps more so.
Big announcements -- company acquisitions, lab breakthroughs, huge contracts -- generally are conceptual and point to great futures. Analysts, investors and reporters immediately see the question marks. Acquisitions don't always close, lab breakthroughs often flop in the field, and big contracts have escape clauses.
Small news usually is good news, however. It's generally about things that are really happening. No company would announce a relatively incremental advance -- such as AT&T's addition of softphone and softphone-based conferencing capabilities to its CallVantage menu -- if it wasn't actually good to go. Such an announcement is an indicator that we have passed the glitzy press conference/press release stage and entered the real world of small but real progress.
AT&T's minor move reflects the reality that high-bandwidth fiber networks are proliferating. It's an interesting dynamic. High-capacity fiber networks still are more common in Japan and elsewhere in the East than in the United States. That's not to say that nothing is happening here, however.
Small telephone companies, which aren't saddled with the administrative and regulatory headaches of the regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs), have long been at the forefront of research and innovation. During the past couple of years, the big boys have joined the fray -- with a vengence. In particular, Verizon and its FiOS project (the company should hold a contest just to figure out what the name means) has been very aggressive.
This pace of fiber rollouts is important. Today, phone companies' digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable operators' modem services are the predominant way in which convergence services are distributed. This infrastructure will be stressed as services get more bandwidth-intensive and more people use them.
We certainly hope there are more small announcements ahead.