RealTime IT News

Qwest at The Crossroads

CHICAGO -- Attendees at the NXTcomm conference that kicks off today had a bit of at surprise when they entered into the one of opening keynotes for the event.

Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert had originally been scheduled to speak but that was before the company announced his departure last week. Instead, Dan Yost, Qwest executive vice president and the man some in the audience speculated to be Notebaert's successor, took the podium to discuss the role of the service provider in the modern converged world.

"Many of you had probably expected to see Dick Notebaert but he had a scheduling conflict and he also made a decision to retire," Yost told the audience.

Yost praised his soon to be former boss and said that Notebaert is leaving Qwest well positioned for the future. It's a future that challenges the traditional role of the network service provider.

The evolving word of video and the service provider role in that evolution was a key talking point for Yost. He advised service providers that no one size fits all for video content delivery.

"The on-demand era changes not only how you watch but also about how you're watching and that has all changed thanks to user-generated content," Yost said. "It represents continued growth for my business."

It also represents new challenges.

"As we've reduced layers for consumers to get to content we've added players," Yost said. "There are many providers fighting over the same real estate and everyone wants to be the hub. But will there be just one hub?"

Both Microsoft with its Xbox and Apple with Apple TV are trying to become hubs with their respective product offerings. Yost wasn't too sure that either one would win or that there would even be a winner.

From the service provider point of view, it's all about picking the right partners. "How do you find the right partners and not get distracted by shiny objects?" Yost asked rhetorically.

Yost said the company has just introduced Microsoft Windows Live for Qwest customers, which he said will help improve the company's relationship with its own customers.

"Service providers have a two-prong challenge: how they show value and how do they carve out their place in the market?" Yost asked. "This industry is full of questions, but uncertainty is also an opportunity. "

Fundamentally it's about trust. Yost advised that consumers must view their service provider as a trusted way of doing business. He also advised that the consumer must believe that the provider is the place where they can get 100 percent of the solution. Thirdly the service provider needs to serve as a resource to help consumers find content.

Yost wants to simplify access for consumers.

"With simplicity, consumers benefit from choice, while on the other hand some will curse the complexity of too many choices," Yost joked.

Fundamentally, service providers need be a simplifying influence for consumers. "We've spoken of trust and simplicity," Yost said. "Providers also need to evolve and satisfy the need for more complete access to content."

That means more mobile access. One example Yost noted is a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) controlled via a cell phone. It's something that Yost referred to as lifestyle freedom.

"Freedom is key to what we're talking about, as customers want freedom to access content whenever and however they want," Yost said. In his view it is the role of the service provider to help enable that freedom.

"Providers who ignore the demand for simplicity and unification will suffer," Yost said. "For those that get it, simplicity will be a win-win for service providers and customers."