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Alternative Methods for Networked Community

Historically, the dominant paradigms in communications media have been those of one-to-many, one-size-fits-all broadcasting and one-to-one personal communications within geographically defined national networks.

According to Analysys Research, telecoms and broadcasting are no longer under the sole control of national institutions, which opens up the possibility of alternative foundations for networked communities, and the possibility that these communities will use new tools to communicate.

Networked communities can be global, can be based around shared interests, or can have their foundations in brand affinities -- the brand affinity can be as simple as the use of a common communications application, such as Skype.

Many of the successful new Internet brands have stimulated the development of significant community-based communications traffic and have thereby become communications companies.

The question arises, will this new business complement or replace core telecoms usage? There are two main effects in play:

- The network effect, which causes a good or service to have a value to a potential customer dependent on the number of customers already owning that good or using that service.

- Deliberate attempts by these new communications companies to take a greater share of their users voice traffic by emulating PSTN services -- as in the case of Skype Pro, AIM Phoneline, or Yahoo! Phone Out.

The combined impact of these two effects could be considerable. In terms of fixed telephony traffic, Skype is already equivalent to a telecom market the size of Sweden and, if adoption levels continue to rise strongly, Skype and other similar services could rob traditional voice providers of as much as $18.2 billion per annum by 2011.

Analysys Research estimates that this is equivalent to 5.4 percent of the global fixed telephony market. Moreover, while new services from non-traditional players retain elements of time- and distance-based billing, pricing is merely one element of their value propositions.

Business models based on community networks offer alternative methods of revenue generation, such as advertising-supported services, software licensing, subscription-based services and the exploitation of context-based data.

Gizmo Project, for example, offers free calling to mobiles and landlines in exchange for permission to use the contents of users contact lists; the telecom companies have long had access to this rich personal data but have made little use of it.

Although the precise value associated with these services may be hard to ascertain, an expanded idea of the communications value proposition will emerge as non-traditional services continue to make inroads into the core telecom services market.

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