Summary of my blog entries from MWC 2010 Published at OnIslam.net
Day 1: Mobile Harmony
It is now 5:30 and I find myself typing at the end of the day without even having stepped inside any of the exhibition halls or listening to any of the lead speeches. Instead, I tracked the corporate pack heading from event to event, almost all outside the grounds of the congress venue.
The morning began with a breakfast introduction by Hans Vestberg, the 45 day old CEO of Ericsson. In the grounds of a maritime museum, his team introduced some of the targets that they are looking to address.
Take for example the 500 millin or so broadband connections which exist today, this number, it is estimated will reach 3 billion within 5 years.
This dramatic growth in the telecoms industry was echoed by John Donovan the CTO of AT&T who said, “devices have exploded”, not in the literal sense I´m sure, rather “it took 100 years for the first billion, and ten years for the next billion”- The rate of growth is staggering with, and with a backdrop of 4.6 billion mobile connections, Ericsson predicts that there will be some 50 billion connected devices by 2020 – try counting to 1 billion let alone 50!
Web of connectivity
Of course this includes more than just mobile phones and multiple subscriptions, items such as laptop dongles, cameras, tvs, even the fridge. Everyday household items, anything and everything that can have an identity is being given one.
As Hakan Eriksson described this later in the day at another GSMA event, this will be an ¨invisible connectivity layer¨- perhaps the best way to think of it is an all encompassing bubble which wraps its way around the planet.
Of course the skeptic in me wonders, given all of these waves floating around our atmosphere, if in ten years I throw a packet of microwave popcorn into the air, will it return to my hands popped, ready to consume? Of course Nokia understanding this connectivity issue are currently trialing a Point & Click camera solution where the camera on your phone can identify an item which has been tagged then provide you with information about that item from the database.
A version of the system is currently being trialed in Colchester, England, on the bus network, where in association with JCDecaux, bus shelters and bus timetables are being made available to users with the software – free to download – on their phones.
This isn´t just about the network, rather, the speed at which we as users will be able to access and engage with information on our phones. Putting this in context that you and I understand, and to illustrate the speed at which our technology demands are changing, consider that some youtube videos require as much data as sending 500,000 sms.
This is a far cry from your first phone where sending an sms was considered grand, this is an accelerated requirement which we as consumers not only expect, but often demand from our suppliers.
We are all familiar with the launch of the BBC iPlayer which took 5% of UK internet traffic when it launched, youtube despite much of the junk found on it, is taking up more than twice as much internet traffic.
Of course with just three main companies providing the infrastructure for the mobile network, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia Siemens Network – together they control 80% of the market – putting aside the fact that it is almost impossible for there to be new entrants to the market.
Windows 7 Mobile
But let’s return to the consumer, you and me. Today Microsoft announced their new windows mobile experience. Driven by the efforts of Joe Belfone, the phone, we are told, focuses on the end user experience.
There is much talk about replicating the desktop user experience for the mobile phone, all that while recognising that the two are very different indeed. With just three keys on the screen, Start, Search and Back, this newer user interface is designed to streamline our mobile experience.
Two of the key features, live tiles which can be somewhat customed to the users individual requirements and the idea of hubs, that is five categories of content which the consumer can choose to interact with in three ways which in the category of social networking. The three ways are: a quick reference to those you commonly interact with, a channel with everyone on your list, and a page which lets you see the latest updates from your list of friends.
To make matters better, or worse, there is a drive to merge the pesonal and business life. Personally, I prefer to keep the two very different, I do not expect to be working only to recieve an update from a friend on facebook. I prefer the control of being in charge with how and when I interact with whomever I choose to inteact with.
Still, there is no denying this is a positive step forward. That said, given that Microsoft were so disorganised as to leave so many of us waiting outside in the rain, knowing in advance how many people registered to attend, still failing to accomodate us. And worse, when we asked to go inside only to be sidelined by the lady at the door, there is still much Microsoft needs to learn about ´the consumer experience´. Hopefully their phones have better manners!
With numerous offerings from the leading technology companies one degree of comfort is the synchronity of standards. The next standard, LTE is growing in popularity with more and more operators jumping onto the LTE bandwagon.
What is LTE you may ask? To be honest, as far as most of us are concerned, it doesn´t matter, suffice to say that a single standard for communication across large swathes of our planet means the following:
(1) Economies of scale which filter down to cheaper pricing for you and me
(2) Improved energy efficiency in the networks and on our devices which to me translate to a more environmentally friendly resolve
(3) Better choice, something we always crave, particularly in terms of devices
In synch with nature
There is something beautiful about nature where, despite our failing to understand many things we can observe that they take place in balance, that is with the exception of when mankind interferes.
As the advances of technology accelerate so does our need to ensure that there are less obstacles to our usage of technology. To those with foresight, this is a parallel demonstration that for any eco-system to function, along with give and take, a subtle balance is struck.
I hope this mobile harmony will help us as consumers to understand the importance our environmental eco stsyem demands of us, such that we cut down on pollution and unnecessary waste.
And while after Samsungs brilliant party last night guests were not given a free wave phone to take away. We were none the less given wave clocks, where a simple glass of water will power the alarm clock for two weeks.
Perhaps it seems that some already understand this environmental lesson. For the rest in industry, let us hope their learning curve is just as exponential as the opportunities the next generation of technologies can provide.
Day 2: Wheels Go Round and Round
Being engaged in the telecoms industry for just less than a decade, I’ve seen some colorful things in many countries around the world. I wasn’t, however, prepared for last night.
With invitations to 5 different evening parties, I decided to keep up with all of them by spending 20 minutes at each.
Serving a Cause
Thankfully, this morning we were blessed with the speech of the highly articulate Queen Rania of Jordan, whose 1Goal campaign has re-affirmed my confidence in the telecoms industry.
I listened to her talking about her honored efforts to ensure that every child, regardless of where they are born, has access to a decent education.
The link between technology and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or income is quite surprising, a 10 per cent increase in mobile penetration results in a 0.8 per cent growth in GDP. Technology has an important role to play in this field, yet still, as she rightly said, “we have the money but not the political will to act.”
Consider that 16 billion US dollars a year is required to ensure that the 72 million uneducated children have access to education; co-incidentally, this is the same amount of money spent on mobile gaming. Sure one is more lucrative than the other.
Another initiative being pushed is MLearning, while a mobile phone can never replace a teacher, it does provide children with a valuable learning tool. This she terms as “digital justice,” “Phoneaid,” “Phoneanthropy” – whatever label we attach to it to boost our egos, it doesn’t really matter so long as the objective of helping deliver education is served. The morning itself began with a speech from Rob Conway, the CEO of the GSM Association. This year, he opined, would be the year of applications’ developers changing and shaping the way we both live and work.
“We have the money but not the political will to act.”
He illustrated his point of view by citing Apple’s experience, which began first with 11 apps, then with the launch of the app store, had some five hundred apps, and now it has more than 100,000 apps available for download.
Of course, these numbers despite being impressive, are not necessarily great. As we later heard from Mike Lazaridis, co-CEO of RIM that it isn’t quantity, rather quality which makes the true difference. Of course Lazaridis took the opportunity to promote his own product, Blackberry. And after illustrating the speed of download with the Acid3 test, he introduced the “Super App.”
Yes, you read that correctly, his marketing team have chosen the term “super app,” which pops the question: “what would a dose of kryptonite might do to their proposition?” Silliness aside, there is a growing trend for expanding the user’s experience. Blackberry’s “super apps,” for example, will enable a more efficient way of communicating us as users do using our phones.
In parallel, we see Windows Live 7 Mobile offering a similar, albeit visually different, user experience with their live tiles philosophy. And, so as not to fall behind, or perhaps to even lead the market, Qtel, the group with more than 53 million users is also toting their newly-developed solution named Ping.
Ping, a social networking aggregator, allows you to manage your whole mobile social experiences with a single central Ping identity. Yes, another account to add to your expanding list of online personalities. Let us put aside the fact that it takes us over an hour each day to try and organize our online social activities, worse, being connected to the same friends who share similar networks means an email on one subject, a poke on Facebook, a message on Twitter, an SMS to alert you if you haven’t responded in 5 minutes or a note on Gmail. Then there are the YouTube and Flickr accounts, sure, all of these services are great, but where and when will it end?
Day 3: Deja Vu
With so much going on it is often difficult to miss events. Thankfully, on my way out last night I found my way to one talk I’m glad I didn’t miss. The speaker drew in such a large crowd, I’ve never seen the conference hall as full.
The individual in question was Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google; you could say Mr. Google. His message was very clear. Of course it comes as no surprise, given the way this industry is growing.
What was his message you ask? Mobile first. Yes the internet had its draw, as did the television, but the future is the mobile platform. Erik Huggers, responsible for Future Media and Technology at BBC, shared this point of view with Schmidt. Huggers began by introducing the three main stages BBC had gone through, starting from a radio service, moving into a television service, and then engaging in the internet/mobile service.
To make matters more exciting, Huggers introduced a number of applications. The first of which is the BBC news application which as well as being rich in color and design, will enable users to access news media in the way they want, with a selection of customizable options, all on their phones.
To be released in the upcoming months, this will be followed with a BBC sports application. Those avid fans and followers of sports, starting with football, will find a database of interactive live information being made available to them as and when it happens.
If this wasn’t enough to impress you, the BBC holds more than 60 miles of shelves containing information, be it radio, film, or other, which they are looking forward to digitize without shortcuts. By this I mean that this content, when it becomes available, will be location and context specific. While the details have not been revealed yet, I can imagine a tourist standing by the side of the Tower of London, using an augmented reality feature which links to the BBC application and pulls out black and white footage of the area from the 1950s. Sure this may not appeal to everyone, but what a great fountain of knowledge to have, and all to be found in your pocket!
I can imagine a tourist standing by the side of the Tower of London, using an augmented reality feature which links to the BBC application and pulls out black and white footage of the area from the 1950s.
Conducting a number of surveys, Bharti Airtel, the largest operator in India with 120 million subscribers, discovered that 90 per cent of its users would not give up their mobile phones.
Clearly, such opinions can only be generated when an enhanced proposition offering true value services is being made available to the mass. And how have Bharti done this? One initiative has been to partner with the largest fertilizer company in India. Using their network across the country, they are penetrating rural parts of India providing information and relevant content, in one example, providing the music of southern India to migrants living in northern India. This quality of service has contributed to their rapid growth with some 60 per cent of subscribers coming on board from rural areas.
Share and Share Alike
Would mobile access to the internet exceed computer internet access someday?
Sure lifestyles in urban and rural areas are different, yet people still have common interests. One of these was highlighted in Huggers’ speech in which he spoke of two hikes in the consumer usage.
First one was in February 2009 when a snowy day caused 40 per cent increase in the mobile traffic to the BBC website as people were looking for information about the weather, travel, canceled schools etc. The second took place with the death of Michael Jackson which caused a 14 fold increase in mobile access to BBC content.
Surprisingly, after both hikes, the access didn’t fall. Instead, it continued to grow until today. More surprisingly was a slide he showed of BBC traffic usage, comparing the internet access to mobile access. While the former included the usual suspects, Europe, Asia and USA, the latter included Africa. While not in the double digits yet, the fact that users in Africa were using their mobile phones (presumably as they did not have computer internet access) is another sign of the importance of this technology. These amongst many other reasons help understand the growing trend to expand the functionality of available smartphones. Earlier this week I mentioned Samsung’s new Bada platform. Today I learnt that HTC are launching a new phone, named ‘Smart’. Designed to combine multiple accounts, IDs, sets of information, the phone, we are told will be made available on the O2 network in the UK at half the price of current smartphones on the market.
Sure, it will not be as advanced as some of the high end solutions. But, it will help bring that smartphone experience to more users.
They All Come Along Together
Ho Soo Lee, responsible for the Media Solution Center at Samsung, expanded the Bada platform and its device vision further. One of the most interesting applications he referenced was the SeoulBus, an app which tracks the location of a bus and lets you know how late it is running, with those of us in England knowing that you can wait for what seems like ‘ages’ only for 3 buses to come along at the same time; this can be very handy.
In many ways, this resembles the experience of the past few days where despite the talk of working together on single platforms to facilitate the portability of applications, almost all of the industry leaders have introduced a near new product or technology which mimics the functionality of almost all of their competitors.
Of course, something must be said about the nature of the industry, given the higher R&D costs, solutions do take time. But it would be nice if, every once in a while a company would be ahead of the pack. Who knows, perhaps tomorrow, the final day, will shed some light on this.
Day 4: Life Savers
As the congress comes to the end of another week of launches and keynotes, one thing becomes more apparent, the impact of the recession and those able to benefit from it.
If innovation flourishes in difficult times, then there can be no better time than the present. Earlier I heard Dr. Sally Stansfield from the World Health Organization (WHO) speaking about an incident in Ethiopia where she witnessed a woman die unnecessarily some two years ago. More recently, in a similar incident, fearing a similar outcome, technology came to the rescue. Someone managed to send an SMS which created a chain of events leading to another woman in crisis, and she was taken on a motorcycle to get treatment, she survived. Cases like this often go unreported, and while these two situations were more important than many others, there is a growing awareness of the need for mobile health. In rural South Africa, mobile phones are being used in villages which do not have electricity. The business model? Simple. Drivers shuttle phones to and from nearby locations that do have electricity, charge the phones, then return them to their owners.
This is happening today. Not only owners running their businesses, but also in doing so they are able to create more jobs, which in turn have a knock on effect.
So it comes as no surprise for us to see initiatives such as mHealth Alliance’s, who with support from leading foundations: Vodafone and Rockefeller, is looking for ways to deliver health services to the poor.
Understanding the Consumer
And in an effort to encourage innovation, Vodafone is offering grants of between $100,000 and $300,000 to individuals and companies who can demonstrate ways to use the mobile phone to aid in medicine. But there is more to this than just charity as Dr. Ajay Bakshi and Alessio Ascari from McKinsey showed. Conducting 30-minute interviews with 3,000 consumers, they asked a number of questions to know their points of view regarding mobile health.
As well as finding support in the developing world, they discovered that 31 per cent of Indians would pay to access a doctor through a mobile phone, specifically, they would pay $2 for a ten-minute call.
They also discovered the desire for mobile health services in the US and Germany, where in the case of the latter, 18 per cent of Germans showed interest in a service which reminds them of when to take their medications.
In fact, even in the US, interviewees showed interest in being able to talk to doctors on the phone. With the current evaluation of the American health system, this would be the ideal time to introduce technology as a means of increasing efficiency.
In fact, one member of the audience, a doctor from Saudi Arabia pointed out that they launched a medical information service in their hospital, a monthly subscription service by SMS, which has already seen more than 300,000 subscribers.
The key it seems is not necessarily the device or the network, rather the desire to have reliable information provided by a healthcare professional. Shahed Ahmed from Accenture observed that in a recent study where CT scans were shown to doctors on mobile phones as a part of a test study, only 1 doctor out of 125 made an error in his diagnosis.
These studies are but the tip of the iceberg. Certain diagnosis can be conducted by a phone, but for more detailed evaluations, more advanced offerings need to be put on the table.
For example, a file containing data on HIV can take up to 8 megabytes, which while not a major problem as the networks are being built to support such volumes of data (certainly in the developing world), devices also need to be able to display that information in a meaningful manner for doctors to conduct their assessments.
Considering the Eco-Systems
Companies must find ways of making their products transferable across platforms.
To this end Ericsson is playing a major part in ensuring that it is not just the network integrity which matters but that a whole solution is needed. They have showcased in their hall – yes, while many have stands or booths, Ericsson this year have their own hall – they showcased some of the mobile health applications that they are helping to develop.
And in an effort to encourage innovation, Vodafone is offering grants of between $100,000 and $300,000 to individuals and companies who can demonstrate ways to use the mobile phone to aid in medicine.
One example is of a grant winner who thought to use the camera on the phone as a type of microscope. Sure, these solutions are not complete and today a phone cannot replace a real microscope but it is a good start. Speaking of real and needed, my faith in the industry was renewed last night. After my uncomfortable experience at a previous party, last night’s hosted by Juniper Networks at Casa Batllo was a much needed reassurance that integrity does exist with strong commercial and moral standards combined.
In a way this is a reflection of both industry and life in general. Some conduct their affairs with transparency, gaining customer’s trust resulting in growth.
In the long run, the truth is that almost everyone who makes an effort will succeed but the real winners are those who do so with integrity.
The congress is a haven for those with a passion for innovations and technology. It is a space for individuals to network, share thoughts and of course meet persons whom they couldn’t meet elsewhere. My personal favorite was meeting Jon Landau, the producer of Avatar.
With all the talks, events, engagements, my message from this year is: Companies must find ways of making their products transferable across platforms. Islands of business do work, but if we create bridges connecting these islands, greater prosperity can be achieved.