RealTime IT News

Skype Spinoff a Telecom Disruption?

Steve Jurvetson and Ann Winblad debate trends.
Source: David Needle

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- What's next in tech? For the past eleven years, the Churchill Club has taken a crack at answering that question with a panel of high profile venture capitalists proposing and debating trends as part of the annual Top 10 Tech Trends event.

Last night's dinner event before a packed Hyatt Regency hall here covered Web trends, alternative energy and even a bit of hardware -- the latter proving one of the few predictions to be roundly voted down, at least from an investment perspective.

The hardware prediction was that e-reading devices, like Amazon's Kindle and future ones based on flexible displays are primed to take off. "Oh, it's coming, we'll all have one," said Joe Schoendorf, a partner at venture capital firm Accel Partners. "But no one [i.e. investors] will make money any money on them." Schoendorf and others on the panel agreed e-readers are one of many hardware categories that end up being low margin, commodity items.

One very specific and potentially disruptive prediction came from Steve Jurvetson, managing partner at Draper Jurvetson Fisher, who said telecom is becoming radically restructured.

Jurvetson said if eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) follows through on its plans to spin-off VoIP provider Skype as a separate company, it will spawn a spate of mobile devices with built-in Wi-Fi for making free phone calls.

"We're finally going to see Wi-Fi phones you can use to talk on for free and that will be a catalyst for changing data services," he said.

Jurvetson actually made similar predictions at the Tech Trends event back in 2006, noting "Cordless phones with Skype and then the Wi-Fi phones are coming."

The data deluge

Anne Winblad, a partner at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, predicted the "unstructured data deluge" will spawn a new class of companies focused on managing and extracting value from such real-time sources as Twitter.

"Every click, message and tweet is rich data amassing at exponential rates," she said. "Gartner predicts enterprise data growth of 650 percent in the next five years and 80 percent of that data will be unstructured."

She said current back-end systems and relational databases aren't designed to handle unstructured data. "We see this as a disruptive trend and a huge opportunity."

Winblad's prediction garnered the most debate, with Jurvetson arguing that predictions of massive data growth were nothing new and date back at least 17 years to forecasts by IBM (NYSE: IBM). "Oracle's been aware of this for over a decade," he added.

Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, jumped to Winblad's defense, noting that the difference is that new approaches are being taken to deal with the onslaught of data. "I contend there's a massive opportunity where things find you based on your proxy, like we'll all have personal assistants to sort and filter and connect you based on unstructured data.

"This is unlikely to come from IBM [or other traditional software company," Khosla added. "It's more likely to come from another Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin]," the founders of Google (NASDAQ: GOOG). "I personally believe there's a lot of value in this because the next thing we need is data reduction."

Next page: The YouTube generation.