The 7th Future of Wireless International Conference in London kicked off with the provocation that wireless technology, which has been a major disruptor of many traditional industries, is itself now in danger of being disrupted.
Dr David Cleevely, Chairman of Cambridge Wireless, which organised the conference, said that history is littered with failures by long established industries to spot the disruptive innovation that may destroy them.
He argued that there are many areas of our economy that have yet to be disrupted by mobile phones, but in looking ahead to try and predict what may happen next ‘we need to think of it from the customer point of view and not the embedded supplier point of view
He noted that the ‘mobile’ component of mobile phones is tiny, as it is used mostly in homes, especially where Wi-Fi is concerned and offices, so it is not really a mobile phone anymore. He argued that the smartphone now enables people to pervade the economy and change how things happen, pointing to how Uber has taken advantage of mobile phone technology to disrupt the traditional taxi market.
Trends challenging the wireless industry
David Wood, Principal at Delta Wisdom, gave a presentation on the trends that will challenge the wireless industry and offered some thoughts on how it might respond. Picking up on Dr Cleevely’s theme of spotting the disruptive innovation he pointed to how the Internet had destroyed newspaper ad revenues and how both HMV and Blockbuster had warnings of what was about to hit them, but ignored the advice to their cost.
‘You need to be able to see the steamroller, be able to see that the blip that has long-term potential,’ said Wood. ‘Then you need to be agile enough and strong enough as a company to turn that momentum around and use it positively.’
Amazon is an example here. It knew online books were coming (eBook sales passed physical sales in just three years), but it accepted the change and responded in time. Amazon saw the improvements in digital performance and widespread use of mobile technology.
But it also saw that other factors were also in play such as cheap digital storage, low energy screens that were pleasant to look at, high speed whisper net wireless distribution, customisable Linux/Android software platforms and they had a huge catalogue of books available to purchase. Amazon’s innovative business model was to develop the Kindle e-reader, sell it cheap, and make money from the book downloads.
However, in Wood’s view most companies are not agile enough to do this. Closer to home, BlackBerry, Palm, Nokia, Motorola and Symbian have all been hit by the changes in the industry in the last 5-6 years.
Why? ‘Inertia,’ said Wood. ‘It is hard to turn oil tanker, but even harder to turn around a flotilla of oil tankers, all moving in close formation. Some of these companies saw changes were necessary, but were unable to implement them. analysts advice is often accepted but then ignored. And when it isn’t sometimes it’s a lack of key skills in new areas that causes failure.’
He quoted Jorma Ollia, CEO of Nokia from 1992-2006 who in an interview in October 2013, said that Nokia failed because it lacked experience in software know-how. It saw the problem in 1992, made plans to fix it, but did not implement the changes due to a lack of deep knowledge at the highest levels of software design skills
Wood noted that there’s a sense within some parts of the communications industry that all the big things have happened, ‘but relatively speaking nothing has happened yet’, Wood asserted.
Looking ahead Wood noted that disruptive technology may seem to blossom quickly, but in fact it has often taken years to gestate. He predicted that smart glasses, or some evolved form of them, will be a major force in the near future with augmented reality being the killer app.
‘To make something work you need patience, foresight, platform foresight, good stakeholder management and decisive action at right time,’ said Wood.
He listed the skills needed to succeed with smart glasses as being: platform management; design; timing, agility, focus; augmented reality; optics - new materials; remote participation; and security management.
Meeting the data demand
In his presentation, Tim Whitley, Managing Director Research & Innovation at BT, looked at how the industry was meeting the ever growing demand for mobile data driven by the smartphone. ‘Disruption and innovation have been the driving force of telecommunications for over 170 years, from the early days of telegraphy to the current race for bandwidth,’ said Whitley.
‘We are seeing an underlying common technology evolution that is allowing mobile networks to deliver bandwidths previously thought to be the preserve of fixed networks, core optical networks to advance to multi-terabit capability and copper access systems to offer speeds of 500Mbit/s or greater. Innovation at the line coding level, powered by Moore’s Law, is driving these remarkable performance shifts and will help to support an increasingly connected world.’
In his presentation, Tim Rundle, Design Director at Conran and Partners, pointed to studies that show UK businesses loose around 105 million work days to stress related absences, equating to a loss of around £1.24 billion. ‘There’s little doubt that constant internet access and the expectation of constant contact-ability contributes to heightened work related stress,’ said Rundle.
‘We are going to want products that give us back some control over our appetite for information,’ said Rundle. ‘We need products that enable us to cure our tech inflicted nervous twitches, our incessant downswiping to refresh and constant pocket-ward glances in the hope of new notifications.’
‘As producers, makers and designers we set out to create products and services that address a need or solve a problem; but we’ve now succeeded in making products and services that have created a new need. Can technology solve the problem it has created? Absolutely, in fact technology is the only thing that can save us from itself.’
Smartphones – ‘best is yet to come’
Jeffrey Ju, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Wireless Communication at MediaTek traced the smartphone back to 1994, but believes the best is yet to come.
‘Smartphone innovation has already changed our lifestyles and disrupted other industries, from navigation to photography and gaming,’ said Ju.
‘Consumers are now putting design and usability first, presenting the challenge of delivering high performance and innovative multimedia, with larger displays, slim designs and power efficiency for longer battery life. And with photo taking having established itself as a key feature for most smart phone users, manufacturers will need to offer DSLR-like experiences plus other advanced vision processing to support exciting new applications from non-contact heart rate detection to identifying unknown objects.’
Ju also pointed to the increasing role of the Internet of Things. “The phone will play a major role in the smart home of the future, but it also won’t need to be at the centre of everything. Instead, we will see seamless hardware and software access and sharing between different devices from cameras and lights to TVs and kitchen appliances.”
Internet of Things
Michael Hobbs, Head of Smart Apps, Accenture Digital UK and Ireland, continued the IoT theme, noting that there are four enabling factors, which are fuelling the growth of IoT: decreasing cost of computing, sensors, bandwidth and processing.
‘Now everyday physical objects are becoming uniquely identifiable and embedded with the ability to connect to other devices or networks,’ said Hobbs. But he warned companies or organisations looking to harness M2M/IoT solutions: ‘f you cannot completely see the project, you cannot completely see the business case – so you should build incrementally if cannot see 10 years ahead.’
Typical aspirations behind IoT included: achieving operational efficiency; moving from a product focus to a service focus; and discovering ‘unconventional’ revenues – where and for what are consumers prepared to pay to get the benefits IoT can bring?
Hobbs concluded: ‘You need to go into IoT with a concept of how you are going to create value. It is about creating an agile business case. It is not just about increasing efficiency; you have to look at new ways of creating value.’
Nicolas Graube, Fellow, CSR tackled the vexed question of IoT standardisation, or more to the point, what part(s) of the IoT stack should be standardised. ‘The IoT is an immensely diverse eco-system due to the nascent markets and the essential question is to determine where the value is.’
In deciding what should be standardised, Graube suggested that the ‘things’ themselves were an unlikely choice as diversity is part of the essence of IoT. The communications layer is also an unlikely candidate as each IoT solution needs to chose the most appropriate connectivity solution and one solution will not fit most applications.
In Graube’s view the best choice for standardisation is the data, as ‘arguable that is where the value could be’. ‘We need to extract the ontology and that should be the focus of the standardisation.’
He pointed to oneM2M as a promising standard, ‘because it is trying to address the problem at the right level’.
See also: No need for 5G (yet) say Future of Wireless delegates