The telecommunications industry is ripe for disruption. Giant companies and service providers are slow to innovate, operating in a monopolistic fashion.
But the power in the telecom industry is shifting. It's not shifting to small organizations–it's shifting to end users. The seeds were planted in 1983 with the split-up of AT&T, and open source is a large part of this disruption.
At a session called "Big Innovations in Open Source Communications," Danny Windham, CEO of Digium, shared his thoughts on how Asterisk, an open source telephony project, is leading the disruption of the telecom industry.
Communications innovations are not coming from just telecom companies. As Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, mentioned in yesterday's Open Source Business Conference keynote, this is "end-user-driven innovation."
Open standards are important--they lay the groundwork for user-driven innovation to occur. Standards are what lets users plug in devices that use the same open protocols into a PBX network. (A PBX is a private branch exchange, a telephone exchange that serves a particular business or office.) Open standards also allow new systems to be built and constructed with legacy equipment.
Would you be surprised to know that many innovative ideas and projects are coming from within the Asterisk community? Digium has employees who contribute code to the project, and the company continuously balances the interest of the commercial entity with the interest of the community. They also manage the community (through forums and software releases) and have identified a liason to the community. Many ideas are generated during an annual conference that fosters communication and allows end users to collaborate in-person.
There were several examples Windham cited, highlighting how community members are engaged in projects impacting our world using open communications. I was impressed with the humanitarian relief efforts, disaster relief stories, and, perhaps especially, the government creating a communication system for a tiny island country.
Open communication stories
- The sub-country of Bukuuku, in Uganda, installed a solar- and pedal-powered communications system and improved the quality of life for several villages. The communications system connects villages together where there were no landlines or other technical communications.
- The Rele Anmwe Call for Help project provides vital information in Haiti. Initially, it helped earthquake survivors locate life-saving information such as the location of hospitals, pharmacies, food distribution centers, shelters, and security.
- The government from the Island of Niue in the South Pacific saw an opportunity to connect the people in their nation. They installed mobile phone coverage for over 1,000 of the island's inhabitants.
What does the future hold for user-driven innovation in open communications? Windham commented that you may see systems--such as an alert notification system for college students--that may be used for only 10 hours a year. This type of scenario is perfect example of an elastic need in the cloud, where the systems are configured and ready to spin up when needed, and turned off when not in use.
What are other examples you've seen of an open communications platform to improve the world around us?