Perhaps the most fundamental change, both in terms of technology and its implications for industry structure, has occurred in the architecture of telecommunications networks. Architecture in this context refers to the functional description of the general structure of the system as a whole and how the different parts of the system relate to each other. Previously the PSTN, cable, and data networks coexisted as separately owned and operated networks carrying different types of communications, although they often shared a common technology base (such as point-to-point digital communications) and some facilities (e.g., high-speed digital pipes shared by different networks).
How are the new networks different? First, they are integrated, meaning that all media— be they voice, audio, video, or data—are increasingly communicated over a single common network. This integration offers economies of scope and scale in both capital expenditures and operational costs, and also allows different media to be mixed within common applications. As a result, both technology suppliers and service providers are increasingly in the business of providing telecommunications in all media simultaneously rather than specializing in a particular type such as voice, video, or data.
All these changes suggest a new definition of telecommunications: Telecommunications is the suite of technologies, devices, equipment, facilities, networks, and applications that support communication at a distance.
The range of telecommunications applications is broad and includes telephony and video conferencing, facsimile, broadcast and interactive television, instant messaging, e-mail, distributed collaboration, a host of Web- and Internet-based communication, and data transmission.3 Of course many if not most software applications communicate across the network in some fashion, even if it is for almost incidental purposes such as connecting to a license server or downloading updates. Deciding what is and is not telecommunications is always a judgment call. Applications of information technology range from those involving almost no communication at all (word processing) to simple voice communications (telephony in its purest and simplest form), with many gradations in between.