People love predictions.  Some cable networks exist solely by airing pundits who are supposed to tell us how the future will unfold.  Personally, I hate predictions.  Not because they are usually wrong – I say and think lots of stuff that’s wrong.  I hate them because they are the best way to seriously mislead.  We live in a world that is so very complicated that people instantly gravitate to predictions that help them simplify the future.  I am not trying to simplify anything here and this is not one of those predictions.

In a meeting yesterday, I was asked to speak about the current (and future) telecom landscape.  Specifically, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol, Cell phones, Wireless IP Phones and POTS lines (plain old telephone service).  As I was giving my answer to the specific question I started to think about the reality of the new phone services and their impact on people as opposed to the business/investment context of the original question. 

My thoughts drifted to a probable future of an average household and their predicted (for business purposes) telecom reality.  Four household members each with some kind of cellphone or wireless device, broadband service from their cable company and with it, a couple of VoIP lines replacing their old-fashioned twisted-pairs from the telco.  This sounds like a very reasonable prediction and the room was gleefully crunching numbers about how they would profit from such a scenario.

I had a thought – not a pleasant one – what if the cellphone coverage was marginal or non-existent in their dwelling?  What if they forgot to opt-in for 911 coverage on the VoIP system?  What if they had opted in, but had a router problem or the network was down?  What if …

Sometime in the fairly near future someone is going to be in need of medical assistance in a middle to upper-class dwelling where, almost unbelievably, phone service will not be available – this is not a probable future, this is a guaranteed future and someone is going die because of it.  Sure the telcos advertise that 911 is the best reason not to switch to VoIP, but most people don’t think about rebooting their phones or spotty cell coverage in this context.  There’s a pretty strong warning on every pack of cigarettes sold in this country, does this mean that smokers can’t read?

I’d love to be wrong about this.  I really would.  But, sadly, I don’t think there is a way to prevent it.  After the incident occurs, there will be a whole bunch of laws passed and lots of press.  Pundits will go on cable television and talk about how and why it happened and new government regulations will prevent it from happening again … little solace for the poor soul who will have to die to make it so. Shelly Palmer

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com.


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