MWC19: What really happened and what to do about it

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Mobile World Congress 2019

According to the GSMA, 100,000 people gathered in Barcelona last week for the 2019 Mobile World Congress. It is a remarkable testament to the growth and size of the industry that the show has kept growing. I’d like to add our sincere thanks to the GSMA for partnering with STL Partners again for the event.

It was a vibrant and busy show, but what was behind all the noise and action?

While at the Congress last week, I wrote a brief pastiche of the visceral impact of the show’s 5G frenzy in MWC2019: Beyond beyond on Linked-In. On a more serious note, we’ve previously researched 5G intensively in over ten reports, including:

The point of the pastiche and these references is that 5G is both a significant development, but also at the peak of its hype-cycle. It’s being touted as the next great hope for growth for the telecoms industry, but its impact will be more piecemeal for reasons we explained in 5G: ‘Just another G’ – yet a catalyst of change. To drive more rational decision-making, 5G and telco strategy overall need to be understood within a broader context.

The question that last week’s article didn’t answer was “what were the deep and important signals that lay behind the 5G hype at MWC?”. That is what this report covers, along with recommendations for actions by telcos, vendors and indeed the GSMA.

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The Coordination Age: A fundamental change in the world economy

We’ve outlined in our previous reports The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms and How the Coordination Age changes the game that there is a massive change underway in the way economies work.

The ongoing transition to the Coordination Age presents an opportunity for telcos to redefine their roles and create new sources of value. It may also present a possible (albeit partial) swing of advantage back towards the nationally and locally organised telcos from the centralised, global scale technology players.

The Coordination Age is a result of the combination of the changing needs and demands of the world’s people, businesses, and governments, evolving technological solutions and possibilities, and  the need to preserve the most habitable possible future environment for the world’s population.

The underlying systemic world need is to improve the efficiency of the use of its many resources, which include food, materials, fuel, land, and water. It is also necessary and important to make the use of human resources (people, time, health, money, employment, etc,) productive and rewarding.

Its principle difference from the Information Age is the need to enable the better co-ordination of ‘real-world’ resources (e.g. people, time and other assets) and digital resources (i.e. information, computing power, etc.).

Overall, there are both changes in:

  • Demand, as individuals and organisations seek to improve their resource effectiveness
  • Supply, as a confluence of technological advances including AI, automation, IoT, NFV, 5G, edge, cloud, digital twins and the broad concept of ‘digitisation’ fundamentally change the operation and business models of industry production processes.

Figure 1: Global demand and supply trends are driving the Coordination Age

supply and demand are driving need for efficiency MWC theme

Source: STL Partners

Dr Che’s triangle of needs

We had many conversations at MWC19 about the Coordination Age. One fellow traveller that we met was Dr Haiping Che, the eminent SVP and Chief Digital Transformation Officer at Huawei.

Dr Che summarised one aspect of future success for the industry in with a rather neat triangle in his notebook, which I reproduce in the following chart.

Figure 2: Dr Che’s triangle – successful strategies will serve three goals

Huawei MWC19 customer, economy, environment

Source: Dr Haiping Che, SVP Chief Digital Transformation Officer, Huawei

Dr Che also made the insightful comment that a further major change will be that collaboration needs to increase in production networks to deliver increased coordination. While collaboration is increasingly common in the sharing economy on the demand side, it is not yet as strong a feature in production.

Accelerated evolution: Technologies versus problems solved

A further trend we’ve identified is that there is a general progression in the way that the increased combination of physical and digital assets produces benefits in the supply-side of the economy.

It broadly follows the steps laid out in Figure 3, taken from work in progress on a soon to be published STL Partners report on “Why we need an Internet for Things (I4T)”.

Figure 3: How production is changing in the Coordination Age

better data visualisation, models interact with the real world internally and then externally mwc19

Source: STL Partners

The rest of this report summarises where telcos and vendors are on all this, and what should they do next.

Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Mobile World Congress 2019
  • The Coordination Age: A fundamental change in the world economy
  • Dr Che’s triangle of needs
  • Accelerated evolution: Technologies versus problems solved
  • What’s happening now?
  • Signs of change at MWC 2019
  • Where are the telcos?
  • Vendors: Going any which way to enterprise
  • What should operators do?
  • Change the mindset
  • Make 5G pay
  • Get smarter in enterprise
  • How the GSMA should evolve MWC2020
  • Next steps for STL Partners

Figures

  1. Global demand and supply trends are driving the Coordination Age
  2. Dr Che’s triangle – successful future strategies will serve three goals
  3. How production is changing in the Coordination Age
  4. Every picture tells a story – growing transport industry presence at MWC 2019
  5. Elisa Automate at MWC 2019
  6. Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Höttges at MWC 2019
  7. Increasing telecoms capital investment is yielding lower and lower returns
  8. Three new telecoms industry business models

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MWC 2018: Desperately seeking a business case

What we found at MWC 2018

STL Partners were delighted to again be official partners of the GSMA for the Mobile World Congress (MWC 2018). Our team decamped to Barcelona for the week, and the following is an extract of our analysis of what we saw, heard and thought – and what telcos should do.

No big surprises, but plenty of nuance

As we expected (see MWC2018: 5 things to watch out for), IoT, 5G, NFV/SDN, edge computing and AI were the main topics of discussion, alongside telcos’ continuing struggles with the challenges of managing digital transformation and creating new revenues.

With consumers, and especially in more mature markets, telcos are fighting to retain and regain relevance with their customers, and struggling to justify why they should pay any more for data, lower latency or the insights IoT data can bring.

Hence the telco business cases for IoT, 5G, and edge computing are all eyeing the opportunity to digitalise and connect enterprise applications, sometimes hyped as ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’. But the enterprise market is notoriously difficult to serve due to its complex demands, so success requires a good understanding of industry-specific issues, and the business cases are hard to make.

So IoT, 5G, and edge computing are (somewhat inter-related) technologies that will initially deliver the same business benefits, i.e. helping enterprises adopt more efficient, agile and data-centric processes. AI is rather different and will have a more widespread impact in telecoms as we outline below. But each faces its own challenges.

5G: patchy to start

5G should deliver more than enterprise applications in the fullness of time. But most telcos are reluctant to step straight back into a major network capital investment cycle, and still have money to spend to meet the rising demand for 4G.

So, we think the market development of 5G will look different to the other ‘G’s, and the initial uptake of 5G will be patchy:

  • The US market is looking set to talk itself into a 5G war, with each operator having its own motivation to be seen as the leader in 5G. AT&T because it wants to do everything, Verizon because it has an instinct to retain its premium network tag, T-Mobile because it wants to punch all the other operators, and Sprint because it needs to find a way to differentiate. The US market is also big enough to tempt handset vendors into production – or at least into experimentation in 5G. From a PR perspective at least, the US operators’ fingers are twitching on their triggers, but it’s likely that the CFOs and shareholders will need a little more persuasion that it will work economically. This means there will probably be an initial period of ‘phoney war’ as they work out how to play it in various tests and trials, while making increasingly aggressive claims to win the opening propaganda contest.
  • South Korea and Japan also seem determined to head off on the 5G path, and are probably sufficiently advanced markets that are suited to taking the technology upgrade early.
  • Elsewhere though, the enthusiasm for 5G is a little more muted, but the enterprise applications could well make sense for reasons we discuss later in this brief report. Having said that, much of what we saw at MWC 2018 would best be described as “technology seeking a business case” – some interesting technical developments, but little coherent economic rationale that even vaguely approaches a credible business case. “If we build it they will come” may turn out to be the most pragmatic argument, so it is again initially likely to be something of a “test and pivot” approach, as operators dip a toe in the water to see what they can make work, and where, before betting more widely.
  • Wider new applications such as autonomous cars and AR/VR won’t move the needle until later in most markets. Autonomous cars because they won’t be able to rely on a network until it’s widespread and highly proven (see Autonomous cars: Where’s the money for telcos?), and AR/VR because it will take significant time to develop as a widespread and highly used technology (see AR/VR: Won’t move the 5G needle).

Many network vendors, notably Huawei, while hoping to bet big on 5G are sensibly taking an ‘incremental’ approach to 5G, and designing it as an add-on or upgrade to 4G or 4G+ solutions.

NB. We will soon be publishing a detailed report on our analysis of 5G’s progress.

Edge computing: the need to move beyond technology

MWC 2018 has shown that the industry is still mainly focussing on technology-focused PoCs in the area of edge computing. Key use cases that were demonstrated typically revolved around optimised video delivery, IoT edge gateways, and control of autonomous vehicles or drones.

However, it seems that the industry hasn’t got much closer to articulating viable business and monetisation models for these – technically impressive – use cases. Telcos still need to find out how to cope with three fundamental challenges and uncertainties which represent the key road blocks for success at the edge:

  • Commercialisation: It is – and will be for the foreseeable future – unclear which edge use cases will deliver significant commercial value to telcos (and to their customers for that matter). In addition, telcos lack clarity on which business models need to be employed to monetise individual use cases. We have addressed this issue in Edge computing: Five viable telco business models.
  • Operationalisation: Edge computing capabilities might be relevant for very different parts of the telco organisation – for both internal and external use cases, as well as wider efforts which are related to NFV and 5G. This calls for a certain degree of coordination within the organisation. Equally important is the need for an edge platform which ensures flexibility and speed in developing and onboarding applications.
  • Ecosystem orchestration: Telcos need to work out what their role in the wider distributed (multi-)cloud ecosystem should be, as edge computing is not solely a telco concept (see e.g. AWS Greengrass). This boils down to the question of who telcos should partner with and who they should compete with in the edge computing and edge cloud space. In addition, telcos are starting to acknowledge that there needs to be significant technical and commercial interoperability between operators providing edge computing capabilities to third parties. Otherwise, telcos will stumble over the usual problem of market fragmentation, which would make it unattractive for application providers and developers to offer their services through the telco edge cloud.

STL Partners is currently undertaking primary research on this topic to identify the key short-term and long-term strategic principles for telcos to overcome the above barriers and ensure commercial success at the edge. The findings will be discussed in an upcoming report.

IoT: the struggle to add value

What we saw at MWC 2018 lined up with what we said in Monetising IoT: Four steps for success. “IoT is not a quick win for telcos. The value of IoT connectivity is only a small portion of the total estimated value of the IoT ecosystem, and therefore telcos seeking to grow greater value in this area are actively moving into other layers, such as platforms and vertical end solutions.”

Telcos therefore face a conundrum in IoT. At one extreme, they can focus on the connectivity, and can do reasonably well by providing SIMs plus functionality in reporting and management. Above and beyond that, which is where the bulk of the economic value lies, industries need sophisticated and evolving solutions that integrate connectivity, applications, machines and data.

Such industry solutions need to be tailored to niche demands and limitations, such as specific regulations or legacy infrastructure. As an example, hospitals want to digitalise their operations, but they can’t afford to replace expensive medical equipment like 15-year-old MRI machines, which might not be compatible with the latest technologies and application programmes. On top of that, connecting sensitive medical data comes with sensitive data protection and security requirements. To make all this work well and securely is no small matter, and the province of some highly sophisticated specialist players, well beyond the appetite of most telcos. (NB. We discuss other possible healthcare approaches on page 8 of this report.)

To be successful at a wider level in Industrial IoT will take serious knowledge at both technical domain and sector level, and this is not easy to put together for even one industry, let alone several. It takes vision, commitment, time and investment.

NFV/SDN: grinding forward

NFV/SDN at MWC 2018 was again very much in line with our previous findings and expectations. Operators are making progress, but it is slow and piecemeal.

On the ‘progress’ side of the equation, two new open source initiatives to develop standards for RAN virtualisation were debuted at MWC: the Open RAN (ORAN) project (in which AT&T, China Mobile and Deutsche Telekom are pooling their efforts) and the Cisco-led Open vRAN initiative (vRAN and C-RAN will feature in our forward research). On the ‘piecemeal’ side of the equation, these developments only add to the sense of fragmentation in industry efforts to arrive at NFV standards and interoperability frameworks, which will be critical for realising the potential of NFV to support 5G use cases in areas such as IoT, edge computing and network slicing (as discussed above).

In our forthcoming reports on emerging NFV / SDN technology and use cases, we will build on the analysis in our recent report NFV/SDN deployment pathways: Three telco futures and attempt to show how strategic clarity about the type of telco they wish to be, and the social and economic functions they see their services as performing, is vital to inform operators’ engagement in NFV and SDN, and their selection of NFV / SDN use-cases and associated vertical markets (see discussion of expansion into new verticals below). The first of these reports will take in the MWC ‘hot topics’ of 5G, edge computing and network slicing, with subsequent analyses looking at SD-WAN / on-demand enterprise networking, and industrial and telco automation.

And of course, we are continuing to build our database of information on live, commercial deployments of NFV / SDN, the NFV Deployment Tracker, with further updates adding data on deployments in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, in addition to those recently completed for Europe and North America.

AI: Strategies taking form

AI is an exception to the other technologies because it has both

  • Internal applications for telcos, helping to streamline repetitive and data-intensive tasks across their businesses,
  • And the potential to complement external enterprise solutions.

While 5G, IoT and edge computing seem to be all about finding the use-cases, every sector and every part of telcos’ businesses, from network planning and operations, to back office functions, customer experience and product development, can be streamlined with more advanced data analytics and automation. So, it’s not surprising that all telcos are thinking about how to implement AI.

Tier 1 players such as AT&T, SK Telecom, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone already have clear plans on what they are prioritising in the short-term, and what they want to do internally versus partner with vendors like IBM. Improving customer experience is by far the priority area right now, reflecting telcos’ desire to regain credibility with consumers, as well as the relative maturity and awareness of natural language processing within the wider field of AI/machine learning (ML).

Despite having clear ideas of what they want to do, most telcos are still in the early days of implementation. Any live telco chatbots still have limited capabilities and are only operational in one or two markets, so 2018 will be a year of scaling into new markets and channels.

The crucial initial promise of AI is to save costs across the business, and behind the highly hyped chatbot programmes there is evidence that telcos are taking steps towards using machine learning for predictive care (see our report AI in customer services: It’s not all about chatbots), back office resource planning, and network maintenance and operations.

The major question for telcos is how they should organise their AI initiatives and skills for the highest impact, and where and with whom they should partner. Right now, most telcos are taking a decentralised approach to deploying AI, so as not to stifle or hold back progress across various business units or opcos, with an aim to shift towards becoming more centralised.

Whether this is the right approach is still up for debate. We are addressing this question as part of an interview programme with telcos on their progress and strategies around AI and will publish our findings in a forthcoming report outlining the telco AI roadmap.

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Contents:

  • What we found at MWC 2018
  • No big surprises, but plenty of nuance
  • 5G: patchy to start
  • Edge computing: the need to move beyond technology
  • IoT: the struggle to add value
  • NFV/SDN: grinding forward
  • AI: strategies taking form
  • So, what should telcos do?
  • Next steps

Figures:

  • Figure 1: TELUS Health Exchange

MWC 2016 Overview: 5G, the Cloud, and the Internet of Things

This 8 page Telco 2.0 report gives an overview of MWC 2016 and what we took away from it, including…

  • Executive Summary
  • 5G: The Pace Picks Up
  • Networks are Software
  • The Internet of Many Fewer Things Than Expected is Here
  • Conclusion

Members of the Executive Briefing Service can also access the following additional MWC 2016 reports:

MWC 2016: 5G and Wireless Networks

Getting Serious About 5G

MWC 2016 saw intense hype about 5G. This is typical for the run-up to a new “G”, but at least this year there was much less of the waffle about it being “a behaviour”, a “special generation”, the “last G”, or a “state of mind”. Instead, there was much more concrete activity from all stakeholders, including operators, technology vendors and standards bodies.

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri, notably, set a 2017 target for 5G deployment to begin, which has been taken up by carriers including Verizon Wireless. This is still controversial, but the major barriers seem to be around standardisation and spectrum, rather than the technology. Most vendors had a demonstration of 5G in some form, although the emphasis and timeframes varied. However, the general theme is that even the 2018-2019 timeframe set by the Korean operators may now be overtaken by events.

An important theme at the show was that expectations for 5G have been revised:

  • They have been revised up, when it comes to the potential of future radio technology, which is seen as being capable of delivering a useful version of 5G much faster;
  • They have been revised down, when it comes to some of the more science-fictional visions of ‘one network to cover every imaginable use case’. 5G is likely to be focused on mobile broadband plus a couple of other IoT options.

This is in part thanks to a strong operator voice on 5G, coordinated through the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN)1, reaching the standardisation process in 3GPP. It is also due to a strong presence by the silicon vendors in the standards process, which is important given the concentration of the device market into relatively few system-on-chip and even fewer RF component manufacturers.

Context: 3GPP 5G RAN Meeting Set the Scene for Faster Development

To understand the shift at MWC, it is useful to revisit what operators and vendors were focusing on at the September 2015 3GPP 5G RAN meeting in Phoenix. Operator concerns from the sessions can be summed up as the three Cs – cost (reducing total cost of ownership), capacity (more of it, specifically enhanced mobile broadband data and supporting massive numbers of IoT device connections), and carbon dioxide (less of it, through using less energy).

At that key meeting, most operators clearly wanted the three Cs, and most also highlighted a particular interest in one or another of the 5G benefit areas. Orange was interested in driving low-cost mobile broadband for its African operations. Deutsche Telekom was keen on network slicing and virtualisation for its enterprise customers. Verizon Wireless wanted more speed above all, to maintain its premium carrier status in the rich US cellular market. Vodafone was interested in the IoT/M2M aspects as a new growth opportunity.

This was reflected in operator views on timing of 5G standardisation and commercialisation. The more value a particular operator placed on capacity, the sooner they wanted “early 5G” and the more focused the specs would have to be, putting off the more visionary elements (device-to-device, no-cells networks, etc.) to a second phase.

A strong alliance between the silicon vendors – Qualcomm, Samsung, Mediatek, ARM, and Intel – and key network vendors, notably Nokia, emerged to push for an early 5G standardisation focused on a new radio access technology. This standard would be used in the context of existing 4G networks before the new 5G core network arrives2, and begins to deliver on the three Cs. On the other side of the discussion, Huawei (which was still talking about 5G in 2020 at MWC) was keen to keep the big expansive vision of an all-purpose multiservice 5G network alive, and to eke out 4G with incremental updates (LTE-A Pro) in the meantime.

Dino Flore, the Qualcomm executive who chairs 3GPP RAN, compromised by going for the early 5G radio access but keeping two of the special requests – for “massive” IoT and for “mission-critical” IoT – on the programme, while accepting continuing development of LTE as LTE-A Pro.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Getting Serious About 5G
  • Context: 3GPP 5G RAN Meeting Set the Scene for Faster Development
  • MWC showed the early 5G camp is getting stronger
  • A special relationship: Nokia, Qualcomm, Intel
  • Conclusions

MWC 2016: The Cloud/NFV Transformation Needle Moves

Enter the open-source software leaders: IT takes telco cloud seriously

One of the most important trends from MWC 2016 was the increased presence, engagement, and enthusiasm of the key open-source software vendors. Companies like Red Hat, IBM, Canonical, HP Enterprise, and Intel are the biggest contributors of code, next to independent developers, to the key open-source projects like OpenStack, OPNFV, and Linux itself. Their growing engagement in telecoms software is a major positive for the prospects of NFV/SDN and telco re-engagement in cloud.

OpenStack, the open-source cloud operating system, is emerging as the key platform for telco cloud and also for NFV implementations. Figure 1, taken from the official OpenStack statistics tracker at Stackalytics.com, shows contributions to the current release of OpenStack by organisational affiliation and by module; this highlights both which companies are contributing heavily to OpenStack development, and which modules are attracting the most development effort.

AT&T’s specialist partner Mirantis shows up as a leading contributor of code for OpenStack, some of which we believe is developed inside AT&T Shannon Labs. Tellingly, among OpenStack modules, the single biggest focus area is Neutron, the OpenStack module which takes care of its networking functions. Anything NFV-related will tend to end up in here.

Figure 1: The contributor ecosystem for OpenStack (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company and module)

Source: Stackalytics

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Enter the open-source software leaders: IT takes telco cloud seriously
  • And (some) telcos get serious about software
  • Open-source development is influencing the standards process
  • The cloud is the network is the cloud
  • Nokia and Intel: ever closer union?

 

  • Figure 1: The contributor ecosystem for OpenStack (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company and module)
  • Figure 2: Mirantis contributes more to OpenStack networking than Red Hat or Cisco (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company, for networking module)
  • Figure 3: Mirantis (and therefore AT&T) drive the key Fuel project forwards

MWC 2016: IoT & Enterprise

IoT Enthusiasm Hits a Peak…

MWC demonstrated beyond a doubt that the IoT merits its recently-awarded reigning spot at the top of the Gartner hype cycle. The vendors present at MWC were more than keen to demonstrate their IoT solutions, using the full range of established and emerging network standards. Notable IoT announcements from operators at the show included AT&T announcing another round of lucrative connected-car deals; and Deutsche Telekom and SKT announcing a major IoT-focused strategic alliance (the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance). SKT even showed a range of Android-based devices for dogs, although it couldn’t run to an actual dog to demonstrate them.

There were significant announcements from ARM about low-power chips, from the Linux Foundation about device operating systems, and from Actility, Jasper, Gemalto, and Cisco about service platforms. We also noted that the special relationship between Nokia and Intel touches on the IoT – the two tech vendors took part in a (Narrow Band) NB-IoT trial with Vodafone.

According to one analyst firm, we’re now up to 300 identifiable IoT “platforms” – a testament both to the creative energy being applied to IoT development, and to the potentially crippling degree of fragmentation affecting it. For the industry to progress on IoT, a shakeout – and clearer winners on the standardisation of technologies and platforms – must be coming up somewhere along the line.

The fight between the platforms, however, is not the only important story. There’s also a big question about the level of the IoT stack at which the most value will accrue. The candidates: IoT devices, the network, the service-enablement platform, the data layer, or individual apps? This cuts across the question of which vendor’s platform will ‘win’. There will certainly be multiple IoT platforms that find traction, with some particularly suited to specific verticals and use cases, but understanding where operators and others can most effectively monetise the IoT opportunity is a fundamental question that most players still seem unclear on.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • IoT Enthusiasm Hits a Peak…
  • Identifying IoT value – IT vendor strategies, cognitive computing
  • NB-IoT: the LPWAN option that suits telcos, but does it suit customers?
  • …But the ’50 Billion Connected Device by 2020′ Dream Is Over

 

  • Figure 1: Selected telco involvement in key LPWAN projects
  • Figure 2: This used to say “50bn connected devices”. Now it doesn’t.

Software Defined People: How it Shapes Strategy (and us)

Introduction: software’s defining influence

Our knowledge, employment opportunities, work itself, healthcare, potential partners, purchases from properties to groceries, and much else can now be delivered or managed via software and mobile apps.

So are we all becoming increasingly ‘Software Defined’? It’s a question that has been stimulated in part by producing research on ‘Software Defined Networks (SDN): A Potential Game Changer’ and Enterprise Mobility, this video from McKinsey and Eric Schmidt, Google’s Exec Chairman, a number of observations throughout the past year, and particularly at this and last year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).

But is software really the key?

The rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets, enabled by ever faster networks, is perhaps the most visible and tangible phenomenon in the market. Less visible but equally significant is the huge growth in ‘big data’ – the use of massive computing power to process types and volume of data that were previously inaccessible, as well as ‘small data’ – the increasing use of more personalised datasets.

However, what is now fuelling these trends is that many core life and business tools are now software of some form or another. In other words, programmes and ‘apps’ that create economic value, utility, fun or efficiency. Software is now the driving force, and the evolving data and hardware are by-products and enablers of the applications respectively.

Software: your virtual extra hand

In effect, mobile software is the latest great tool in humanity’s evolutionary path. With nearly a quarter of the world’s population using a smartphone, the human race has never had so much computing power by its side in every moment of everyday life. Many feature phones also possess significant processing power, and the extraordinary reach of mobile can now deliver highly innovative solutions like mobile money transfer even in markets with relatively underdeveloped financial service infrastructure.

How we are educated, employed and cared for are all starting to change with the growing power of mobile technologies, and will all change further and with increasing pace in the next phase of the mobile revolution. Knowing how to get the best from this world is now a key life skill.

The way that software is used is changing and will change further. While mobile apps have become a mainstream consumer phenomenon in many markets in the last few years, the application of mobile, personalised technologies is also changing education, health, employment, and the very fabric of our social lives. For example:

  • Back at MWC 2013 we saw the following fascinating video from Ericsson as part of its ‘Networked Society’ vision of why education has evolved as is has (to mass-produce workers to work in factories), and what the possibilities are with advanced technology, which is well worth a few minutes of your time whether you have kids or not.
  • We also saw this education demo video from a Singapore school from Qualcomm, based on the creative use of phones in all aspects of schooling in the WE Learn project.
  • There are now a growing number of eHealth applications (heart rate, blood pressure, stroke and outpatient care), and productivity apps and outreach of CRM applications like Salesforce into the mobile employment context are having an increasingly massive impact.
  • While originally a ‘fixed’ phenomena, the way we meet and find partners has seen a massive change in recent years. For example, in the US, 17% of recent marriages and 20% of ‘committed relationships’ started in the $1Bn online dating world – another world which is now increasingly going mobile.

The growing sophistication in human-software interactivity

Horace Dediu pointed out at a previous Brainstorm that the disruptive jumps in mobile handset technology have come from changes in the user interface – most recently in the touch-screen revolution accompanying smartphones and tablets.

And the way in which we interact with the software will continue to evolve, from the touch screens of smartphones, through voice activation, gesture recognition, retina tracking, on-body devices like watches, in-body sensors in the blood and digestive system, and even potentially by monitoring brainwaves, as illustrated in the demonstration from Samsung labs shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Software that reads your mind?

Source: Samsung Labs

Clearly, some of these techniques are still at an early stage of development. It is a hard call as to which will be the one to trigger the next major wave of innovation (e.g. see Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift), as there are so many factors that influence the likely take-up of new technologies, from price through user experience to social acceptance.

Exploring and enhancing the senses

Interactive goggles / glasses such as Google Glass have now been around for over a year, and AR applications that overlay information from the virtual world onto images of the real world continue to evolve.

Search is also becoming a visual science – innovations such as Cortexica, recognise everyday objects (cereal packets, cars, signs, advertisements, stills from a film, etc.) and return information on how and where you can buy the related items. While it works from a smartphone today, it makes it possible to imagine a world where you open the kitchen cupboard and tell your glasses what items you want to re-order.

Screens will be in increasing abundance, able to interact with passers-by on the street or with you in your home or car. What will be on these screens could be anything that is on any of your existing screens or more – communication, information, entertainment, advertising – whatever the world can imagine.

Segmented by OS?

But is it really possible to define a person by the software they use? There is certainly an ‘a priori’ segmentation originating from device makers’ segmentation and positioning:

  • Apple’s brand and design ethos have held consistently strong appeal for upmarket, creative users. In contrast, Blackberry for a long time held a strong appeal in the enterprise segment, albeit significantly weakened in the last few years.
  • It is perhaps slightly harder to label Android users, now the largest group of smartphone users. However, the openness of the software leads to freedom, bringing with it a plurality of applications and widgets, some security issues, and perhaps a greater emphasis on ‘work it out for yourself’.
  • Microsoft, once ubiquitous through its domination of the PC universe, now finds itself a challenger in the world of mobiles and tablets, and despite gradually improving sales and reported OS experience and design has yet to find a clear identity, other than perhaps now being the domain of those willing to try something different. While Microsoft still has a strong hand in the software world through its evolving Office applications, these are not yet hugely mobile-friendly, and this is creating a niche for new players, such as Evernote and others, that have a more focused ‘mobile first’ approach.

Other segments

From a research perspective, there are many other approaches to thinking about what defines different types of user. For example:

  • In adoption, the Bass Diffusion Model segments e.g. Innovators, Early Adopters, Mass Market, Laggards;
  • Segments based on attitudes to usage, e.g. Lovers, Haters, Functional Users, Social Users, Cost Conscious, etc.;
  • Approaches to privacy and the use of personal data, e.g. Pragmatic, Passive, Paranoid.

It is tempting to hypothesise that there could be meta-segments combining these and other behavioural distinctions (e.g. you might theorise that there would be more ‘haters’ among the ‘laggards’ and the ‘paranoids’ than the ‘innovators’ and ‘pragmatics’), and there may indeed be underlying psychological drivers such as extraversion that drive people to use certain applications (e.g. personal communications) more.

However, other than anecdotal observations, we don’t currently have the data to explore or prove this. This knowledge may of course exist within the research and insight departments of major players and we’d welcome any insight that our partners and readers can contribute (please email contact@telco2.net if so).

Hypothesis: a ‘software fingerprint’?

The collection of apps and software each person uses, and how they use them, could be seen as a software fingerprint – a unique combination of tools showing interests, activities and preferences.

Human beings are complex creatures, and it may be a stretch to say a person could truly be defined by the software they use. However, there is a degree of cause and effect with software. Once you have the ability to use it, it changes what you can achieve. So while the software you use may not totally define you, it will play an increasing role in shaping you, and may ultimately form a distinctive part of your identity.

For example, Minecraft is a phenomenally successful and addictive game. If you haven’t seen it, imagine interactive digital Lego (or watch the intro video here). Children and adults all over the world play on it, make YouTube films about their creations, and share knowledge and stories from it as with any game.

To be really good at it, and to add enhanced features, players install ‘mods’ – essentially software upgrades, requiring the use of quite sophisticated codes and procedures, and the understanding of numerous file types and locations. So through this one game, ten year old kids are developing creative, social and IT skills, as well as exploring and creating new identities for themselves.

Figure 2: Minecraft – building, killing ‘creepers’ and coding by a kid near you

Minecraft March 2014

Source: Planetminecraft.com

But who is in charge – you or the software?

There are also two broad schools of thought in advanced IT design. One is that IT should augment human abilities and its application should always be controlled by its users. The other is the idea that IT can assist people by providing recommendations and suggestions that are outside the control of the user. An example of this second approach is Google showing you targeted ads based on your search history.

Being properly aware of this will become increasingly important to individuals’ freedom from unrecognised manipulation. Just as knowing that embarrassing photos on Facebook will be seen by prospective employers, knowing who’s pulling your data strings will be an increasingly important to controlling one’s own destiny in the future.

Back to the law of the Jungle?

Many of the opportunities and abilities conferred by software seem perhaps trivial or entertaining. But some will ultimately confer advantages on their users over those who do not possess the extra information, gain those extra moments, or learn that extra winning idea. The questions are: which will you use well; and which will you enable others to use? The answer to the first may reflect your personal success, and the second that of your business.

So while it used to be that your genetics, parents, and education most strongly steered your path, now how you take advantage of the increasingly mobile cyber-world will be a key additional competitive asset. It’s increasingly what you use and how you use it (as well as who you know, of course) that will count.

And for businesses, competing in an ever more resource constrained world, the effective use of software to track and manage activities and assets, and give insight to underlying trends and ways to improve performance, is an increasingly critical competence. Importantly for telcos and other ICT providers, it’s one that is enabled and enhanced by cloud, big data, and mobile.

The Software as a Service (SaaS) application Salesforce is an excellent case in point. It can brings instantaneous data on customers and business operations to managers’ and employees’ fingertips to any device. This can confer huge advantages over businesses without such capabilities.

Figure 3: Salesforce delivers big data and cloud to mobile

Salesforce delivers big data and cloud to mobile March 2014

Source: Powerbrokersoftware.com

 

  • Executive Summary: the key role of mobile
  • Why aren’t telcos more involved?
  • Revenue Declines + Skills Shortage = Digital Hunger Gap
  • What should businesses do about it?
  • All Businesses
  • Technology Businesses and Enablers
  • Telcos
  • Next steps for STL Partners and Telco 2.0

 

  • Figure 1: Software that reads your mind?
  • Figure 2: Minecraft – building, killing ‘creepers’ and coding by a kid near you
  • Figure 3: Salesforce delivers big data and cloud to mobile
  • Figure 4: The Digital Hunger Gap for Telcos
  • Figure 5: Telcos need Software Skills to deliver a ‘Telco 2.0 Service Provider’ Strategy
  • Figure 6: The GSMA’s Vision 2020