Big-time history is in the making. An industry is dying, nay, transforming. Patterns are getting broken. A new picture is emerging. Everyone who is anyone is getting involved. What’s up with Telecom!

Welcome to the world of ecosystems!

The top 15 internet companies of the world had a $16-billion valuation in the year 1995. It was considered “whopping” at that time. Fast forward. The year 2015. The top 15 platform companies (tech companies and born-digital organisations) of the world had a combined valuation of $2.6 trillion. Inflation adjustment! Obviously not. Something drastic has happened to the world.

The epic revolution is marked by the arrival of the platform economy. The most iconic and valuable companies around the world today are platform businesses. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb. In another world, Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, Byte Dance hog the limelight.

Platform businesses abound. Across industries. Across lines of businesses. And across geographies.

Digital transformation is increasingly becoming a transformation of the legacy businesses into ecosystem businesses. And everybody is out to have a go.

The India Telecom Moment

The Indian telecom market has seen a contentious playbook since the 1990s when Airtel and Essar Cellphone made their debut. Airtel remains in the fray even today even as beleaguered with mounting financial losses. Many others came and went. Essar metamorphosed into Vodafone and combined with Idea in the wake of a powerful force called Jio.

Everybody is scrambling up. The world majors have started taking positions. Facebook has found a ‘friend’ in Jio while Microsoft waits for its ‘window’ of opportunity. Google is ‘searching’ for one in Vodafone-Idea. Left slightly behind, Amazon, having invested $6.5 billion in the Indian e-commerce market, is reportedly attempting the ‘same-day delivery’ with Airtel even as Airtel dismisses it as speculative.

The telecom companies need a war chest for a capital-intensive sector. Just as the internet and mobile telephony revolutionised the last two decades, a new world marked by IoT, autonomous cars, home automation and AI is coming upon us. Leveraging 5G with edge computing requires deep technology expertise which is best brought through collaboration in a fast-changing world.

What is the mad rush about?

The top five areas of play are emerging in the big game: Messaging. Commerce. Content. Payments. Cloud.

The lines are blurring. Everybody is joining the party. The mad rush is on. Across major markets. Across major companies. Almost all of big-tech is scrambling to create ecosystem businesses around the core five areas in one way or the other.

Google, a search company, is trying to get into commerce after having successfully forayed into payments (Google Pay). Facebook, a social media behemoth, is trying to get into both commerce (Shops) and payments (WhatsApp). Amazon, an e-commerce and cloud computing giant is getting into content (prime video) while challenging Google with its product search and smart speaker market share.

Closer home, Amazon and Flipkart have company. Welcome the new kid on the block—JioMart—Desh ki Nayi Dukaan. In a post-pandemic world, India’s e-commerce is to take off in a big manner according to a Morgan Stanley report last week which predicts “the emergence of a few large tech companies (Super Apps or category leaders) in the next 5-10 years”.

Internet-based, technology-led, consumer-facing, digital platform businesses are eating the world. Large global digital ecosystems are the new success cases. Alphabet, Tencent, Alibaba, Jio.

Yes, Jio.

Tectonic shifts across technology, regulations, markets and investor expectations are the reason behind turbocharging Asia’s second-most populous nation’s digital economy. The upside in investing in one of the world’s growing and largest e-commerce, internet and telecom markets worldwide is what gets the most powerful tech companies, private equity (PE) funds and sovereign investors to make a beeline even in the rather strange panic-stuck times.

Technology has completely disrupted the industry-defining landscape. The old guard industries—telecom being one—are metamorphosing into ecosystem businesses to compete in dynamically evolving new age war zones. The line-up of big tech scrambling for space underscores the power of India as the world’s second-largest internet market with huge 700 million demographically relevant consuming population.

For a brief history of the future, brace up. The curtains are beginning to go up on the platformisation of Indian telecom. The big cats are on the prowl. The show is about to begin.

Views are personal.

The author is Executive-in-Residence at ISB and at UCLA, and a global CEO coach and a C-Suite + Start-up advisor.

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