This week we’re celebrating the 15th anniversary of the founding of Tata Communications. It’s an important milestone and as a company we have a lot to be proud of.
As I think about the passing of those 15 years, as well as my own 13 years within the company, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Theseus and Hippolyta look forward to their coming marriage, Theseus complains that the time is dragging. Hippolyta responds:
“Four days will quickly steep themselves in night.
Four nights will quickly dream away the time”
The last 15 years at Tata Communications have indeed flown by. The days have quickly steeped themselves in night and we’ve spent the nights dreaming about the further possibilities of our work. That said, no matter how much we dreamed, 15 years ago we could never have imagined today’s reality or foresaw how far we’ve come as a company – or indeed as a world – in that period.
That’s why it pays to look back and reflect, and when we do, we can see how much has changed.
In 2002, voice calls were still the dominant mode of communication, with most of our traffic made up of voice and SMS messages. The internet was growing quickly and had taken a hold in advanced economies but was still in its nascent stages. There were around 569 million internet users globally – around a tenth of the world’s population, with many still logging on by way of dial-up internet.
The social network Friendster had just been launched, while Friends Reunited was probably the most popular network with 2 million users – but “social media” as we understand the term today had no meaning. Nokia was by far the most popular mobile phone manufacturer with their 6100, 6610 and 3210 models selling 15 million units each. The iPod had just been launched, foreshadowing the dramatic changes that smartphones but would bring.
Today, Tata Communications routes around one quarter of all internet traffic, with internet making up a huge portion of our total network traffic. As internet networks have expanded globally and smartphones have exploded in availability, there are now around 3.5 billion internet users. That’s about half of the world’s population.
In the intervening period, the internet has come to truly dominate every aspect of our lives: work, home, the economy, politics, healthcare, education and much more besides. Two years ago, Cisco CEO John Chambers estimated that the “internet of everything” would generate $19 trillion of economic value over a ten year period. Looking back, that looks like a conservative estimate. The internet is without question the platform that our todays and tomorrows are built on.
The internet of things, VR, automation and artificial intelligence were more imagined than real in 2002 but all of these technologies have now fully taken root and will be the technological driving forces in our lives over the next 15 years.
The story of these dramatic changes has also been the story of Tata Communications. In that time, we have connected literally billions more people to the internet, expanding into new and emerging economies. We have provided a platform for the smartphone revolution and the cloud computing revolution, and helped billions of people across the globe connect with each other sharing new information and ideas. 15 years ago no one imagined the internet as more than words on a screen. There was no design or roadmap for creating the network that can carry what we now think of as the internet, so how we continue to deliver these experiences has been a constant process of new approaches and new ideas.
Yet as we look back, we must also reflect on the challenges along the way and those that still exist. When we see the progress in connecting more people to the internet, we must also ask why half the world’s population remain without access. As we have seen over the past year, security challenges abound and we must do our best to confront the threats of hacking and cybercrime. As we begin to understand and harness the transformative potential of artificial intelligence and automation, it’s also critical that we have an internet – and indeed a world – that works for everyone, and not just a select few.
The transformation since the founding of Tata Communications has been so great and all-encompassing that it’s sometimes tempting to think that the 15 years have been “but a dream”. However, it has been real and we look forward to a new reality in another 15 years’ time.
Read more of Vinod’s insights on Tata Communications, global connectivity, and beyond.