The 10 Moves Reshaping The Telco Landscape In 2016 (So Far)

Telecoms In Transition

The historically slow-moving telecommunications industry has been busy this year keeping up with the fast-paced IT industry, with no signs of slowing down.

As many of the incumbent carriers react to industry trends, such as virtualization, the Internet of Things and hybrid cloud, many of the incumbent carriers are coming to the market armed with new solutions. At the same time, carriers are faced with new competitors at every turn as the telecom and IT industry continue to converge.

From major acquisitions, to new products and executive shakeups, here are 10 moves that are reshaping the telecom landscape in 2016 so far.

Verizon Scoops Up Yahoo For $4.83 Billion

It's no secret that internet giant Google is dipping its toe into the carrier services space with its voice and fiber connectivity offerings, which could give incumbent carriers a run for their money. In a heavily anticipated move, Verizon said it would acquire ailing internet company Yahoo in a cash deal for $4.83 billion.

The acquisition could better position Verizon, Basking Ridge, N.J., to compete in the content provider arena with the likes of both Google and Facebook -- two leaders in this market. The carrier's partners remain unclear what the impact will be on the channel, but some believe that the acquisition could draw Verizon's attention away from its core competency -- its voice and connectivity services.

Comcast Bulks Up Fiber Footprint

Cable giant Comcast is also stepping up to the plate to compete with Google. In this case, in the fiber arena. Comcast this year has mounted a massive fiber network rollout across several states, including areas in which Google has laid down fiber.

The Philadelphia-based provider in June said it would commit more than $9 million to a fiber expansion initiative in Virginia, which will reach more than 3,000 businesses. The provider also said it would roll out fiber throughout the Chicago area. Comcast's Business Ethernet service can deliver up to 100 Gbps of network speed -- faster than Google Fiber in some locations -- and Comcast's service is currently in 18 U.S. markets.

Net Neutrality Upheld In Federal Court

The long-awaited -- and hotly debated -- Net Neutrality doctrine was upheld by a federal appeals court in June. The ruling marked high-speed internet services as a utility.

Via the upheld doctrine, internet service providers can no longer prioritize specific traffic – a practice known as creating "fast lanes" -- or block or slow down certain websites or content -- otherwise known as "throttling." The ruling also reclassified wireless or fixed-line broadband providers as ’common carriers,’ which would allow the FCC to regulate these companies in the same way that telephone service providers are regulated.

Many of the large, incumbent carriers, including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, have stated plans to contest the ruling.

Verizon, Centurylink Name New Channel Chiefs

In April, Verizon's former channel chief, Adam Famularo, told CRN exclusively that he was taking the position as CEO of data modeling software company ERwin Inc. The carrier promoted five-year Verizon veteran Janet Schijns to vice president of global channels in April. Schijns, who is highly regarded by Verizon's partners, was instrumental in building the carrier's channel partner program.

CenturyLink's channel chief Blake Wetzel left the carrier in May for a position at Rackspace. In the interim, Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink is tapping industry veteran Bill Corbin as its channel chief. Corbin was originally hired as senior vice president of strategic partnerships and channel operations -- a positionthat was meant to work alongside the vice president of CenturyLink's Channel Alliance.

Comcast May Branch Out Into Wireless Market

All signs point to Comcast becoming a contender in the wireless and mobility space. veteran Comcast Cable sales and marketing executive Greg Butz was appointed to head up the company's brand-new Comcast Mobile business unit in July in a move that added fuel to the speculation that Comcast plans to pursue a mobile strategy.

The cable company also recently told competitor Verizon that it intended to make use of an existing mobile virtual network operator ( MVNO) agreement that would let Comcast use Verizon’s spectrum for a new wireless service. Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit said during an earnings call in 2015 that the company was in ’test and learn’ mode for wireless services.

Centurylink, Cisco Join Forces For IoT

Carriers have been bullish on Internet of Things services and solutions so far in 2016. Telecom provider CenturyLink revealed a new IoT partnership with IT giant Cisco at the vendor's Cisco Live show in July.

The two companies unveiled a joint location-based analytics system, CenturyLink Location-Based Analytics, that is aimed at helping channel partners and businesses operating in public spaces curate a more personal experience for end users. The system combines connected devices and big data so businesses running public venues or retail locations can learn about customer behavior in real time.

The system combines the Cisco Meraki line of cloud-controlled access points and security appliances, along with CenturyLink's managed Wi-Fi offering and an analytics platform, the two companies said.

AT&T, IBM Form IoT Partnership

Not to be outdone by CenturyLink, telecommunications provider AT&T and IT giant IBM in July unveiled a collaboration aimed at helping developers build and deploy IoT solutions using a common set of tools.

The partnership combines IBM's developer tools including Watson IoT platform and Node-Red, along with AT&T's IoT platforms, including Control Center, as well as its global network. The solution is being hosted on IBM's BlueMix cloud platform. Developers or partners using tools from either company will have access to both AT&T and IBM's platforms, which are based on open standards, the companies said.

Charter Acquires Time Warner Cable

In April, the long-awaited decision came down from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission giving Charter Communications the go-ahead to acquire Time Warner Cable for $78 billion. The combination of Time Warner Cable and Charter will form the second-largest service providers in the country, right behind Comcast.

The deal was not without conditions, however. Via the terms of the acquisition, Charter can't limit access to streaming video providers through contractual restrictions. The new company also can't use data caps or charge consumers more for using more data.

The Department of Justice Monday also approved Stamford, Conn.-based Charter to acquire Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion in the same month.

Carriers Pursue Virtualization

In an effort to differentiate, innovate faster, and offer more strategic IT solutions to their end customers and channel partners, many of the incumbent carriers are virtualizing their own networks by employing software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technology.

Leading the charge is AT&T with its new Network Functions on Demand managed service that lets businesses make adjustments to their networking services through virtualized functions deployed on one piece of on-premise equipment. AT&T has said it will virtualize 75 percent of its own network by 2020.

Verizon is also full-steam ahead with its virtualization strategy. The carrier recently unveiled its Virtual Network Services packages that include security, WAN optimization and SD-WAN services as fully managed offerings for channel partners and end customers. Verizon has been virtualizing its own network with SDN technology since 2009.

Verizon, CenturyLink Focus On Hybrid Cloud

Many of the major telecom providers are backing out of the data center space, but not the cloud arena. The carriers know that helping partners and business customers navigate cloud management is still a valuable opportunity.

CenturyLink, a provider that has yet to reveal its plans to keep or sell its data centers, is focused on hybrid cloud management. In May, CenturyLink unveiled Runner, its multi-cloud automation and orchestration service for partners and end customers.

Verizon, also focusing its energies on the private and hybrid cloud space, unveiled a hybrid cloud service in May. Verizon Premise to Cloud Backup is powered by data virtualization provider Actifio's copy data virtualization platform to let businesses move and store data across virtualized infrastructures, including third-party public cloud and co-location facilities, the customer's premises and the Verizon cloud.