The Killer App Is Dead

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Service providers, network owners, and content providers have always sought the "killer app," the service or application that ensures success. A killer app is overwhelming in its own right, and also enables other valuable but less universal services to ride on its coattails.

VoIP is the prototypical killer app. Not only does it produce huge revenues, it serves as the underpinning of other new and innovative applications.

This model may be fading. Instead of a killer app, the industry may be looking at a more nuanced and, in many ways, more interesting landscape in which a large number of smaller applications, each with its own relatively small constituency of end users, cumulatively shapes the path of the new platform. This trend could be pushed by the fact that planners are acknowledging they may not know which services will work until after the network is built.

This thought is brought out in two stories we've read recently. The first is a PC Pro piece that says that BT's 21CN network is eschewing fiber-to-the-home -- the full monty of fiber build-outs -- in favor of a plan in which the fiber terminates at a neighborhood node and gussied up copper wires ferry signals into and out of the premises. The reason is that BT planners saw no difference in revenue potential between the more and less expensive scenarios.

Perhaps the reason they didn't project a revenue differential is that that there is no killer app against which planners can figure.

The second story -- ironically posted at a site call KillerApp.com -- reports that Connexion, a service provider that builds fiber platforms in communities in the Southeast, found that popular applications for the fiber network includes home alarms, concierge services and in-home network maintenance. An executive from Jackson (Tenn.) Energy is quoted in the story as saying that a popular application for his network is streaming of local high school football games. Nice services, but hardly killer apps.

Enterprises are likely to be served by specialized carrier business units and don't need to follow this too closely. Small businesses should take note, however. Local providers may create FTTN systems capable of barely supporting residential voice, video and data services to a given number of homes.

The danger is that the provider may look at commercial clients as nice add-ons since they are in the neighborhood. The networks may work until crunch time. When the platform gets stressed, it may come up short. This is less likely to happen in FTTP scenarios because the connectivity is more direct and dedicated -- and the businesses more likely to be the main target.