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Phone Wars

The December 2017 release of the latest installment in the Star Wars movie franchise led me to some interesting observations about parallels between the Star Wars episodes and the evolution of the telecommunications industry.

Before we jump in, please allow me to offer my apologies to AT&T.  I don’t REALLY think you’re all Sith, but the compelling history/plot similarities and the uncanny way in which the AT&T logo resembles the Death Star are just too good to pass up.

Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t seen all of the Star Wars movies but still plan to, stop here and read no further until you’ve seen what you intend to see.  The movies present information in a very calculated way, and I’m less subtle in my chronological comparison.  For the uninformed, the proper viewing order matches theatrical release – Episodes 4, 5, and 6, then Episodes 1, 2, and 3 if you absolutely must, then Episodes 7, 3.5, 8 and eventually 9.

  Star Wars Telecommunications
Intro A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace – We are introduced to young Anakin Skywalker, who we now know will eventually grow up to be Darth Vader. Origins – In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone, which we now know will grow up to be a core part of the human experience.
Episode 2: Attack of the Clones – A Sith Lord orchestrates the creation of a vast army of clones, the creation of an army of droids, and (after getting himself named Chancellor) the battle between the two armies for control of the Republic.  Anakin falls in love with Princess Amidala. Attack of the Phones – The Bell Telephone Company (eventually AT&T) builds a vast communications network providing landline telephone service to most of North America.  The US and Canada fall in love with talking on the phone.
Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith – Anakin completes his journey to the Dark Side, but before becoming Darth Vader, fathers two children who will eventually be his undoing. Monopoly – AT&T develops into a full-blown monopoly, but competitors such as MCI and Sprint are starting to emerge.
Episode 3.5: Rogue One – A band of rebels find a weakness and steal plans for the Empire’s new Death Star so that other rebels (under Princess Leia) can destroy it. Competition – AT&T’s competitors find a weakness, figuring out that the most profitable way to compete with AT&T is to provide long distance service and leave the last mile infrastructure to AT&T.
Episode 4 A New Hope – Darth Vader’s children blow up his Death Star using something called the “Force”. Divestiture – The FCC blows up AT&T and competitors grow stronger using something called “Fiber Optics”
Episode 5 The Empire Strikes Back – The Empire forces the rebels out of hiding and begins to gain the upper hand.  Lando collaborates with the Empire to trap the rebel leaders. Mobility – Wireless communication emerges in oligopoly fashion as providers bid for spectrum and most markets have one or two dominant providers.  Apple collaborates with AT&T to allow only AT&T users to have an iPhone.
Episode 6 Return of the Jedi – Rebels fight to stop the completion of a second Death Star and win with the help of a small army of teddy bears (Ewoks). Choices – Vendors (even Apple) provide multiple smartphone options, breaking AT&T’s stranglehold.  Additional spectrum auctions enable mobile users to select their preferred device and provider in (almost) any market.
Episode 7 The Force Awakens – After a number of years, the Empire is replaced by the First Order.  A newcomer (Rey) emerges as the new threat to the leadership and plans of the First Order. Convergence – New/different players begin to appear as mergers and consolidation reduce the number of competitive providers.  A newcomer (IP convergence) emerges as the new threat to the traditional stable of TDM/PSTN services.
Episode 8 The Last Jedi – Rey develops her newly discovered abilities as Luke tries to convince her that the ways of the Jedi are becoming obsolete.  New faces emerge as key players in the Resistance as they prepare for battle with the First Order. Transformation – As we develop new capabilities in IP telephony, cloud computing, and storage, people are becoming convinced that the traditional approaches to telecom are becoming obsolete.  New companies emerge as key players in the provision of SD-WAN Equipment, Access, and Transport.
Episode 9 TBD – Won’t be released until December, 2019 Advocate can help you figure out what’s next.

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