21 Feb The true impact of mobile communications
Next week I am off to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. No doubt the talk will be of the transformational impact of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and augmented reality (AR) on the mobile industry and wider world. There is little the mobile industry likes better than a new acronym or a killer technology to apply.
Finding the killer app
Despite this the mobile industry has been spectacularly bad at predicting the future. From the early attempts by network operators to create a walled garden for access to the internet over a phone (anyone remember Vodafone Live?) to telling everyone that video calling was the future of communications, pretty much every attempt to pick the next “killer mobile application” has failed. Mobile first services such as WhatsApp, Uber, Deliveroo and others have come from outside of the industry, not from the current leaders in mobile.
While the mobile industry ponders, others act
Mobile World Congress is a fantastic event. But it is probably not the best place to seek the ‘next great mobile innovation’. Historically it has been eye-wateringly expensive for companies to exhibit, meaning few start-ups to meet. To give credit to the show’s organiser’s, the GSMA, Four Years from Now – a show within a show – has recently made this easier and it is refreshing to see both shows under one roof this year, saving a lot of unnecessary walking.
But for all the chatter around 5G (and I am certain this year 6G) the industry still tends to speak technical talk without addressing what this means to users. There are too many gigabytes and megapixels and not enough conversation around what that means for the average end user.
An example of the impact mobile makes
I was struck by this on Friday 18th February. With the UK gripped by a powerful storm and high winds, an amateur YouTube channel stationed itself at Heathrow airport to live stream the incoming aircraft as they tried to land. Big Jet TV became an instant internet sensation and, at one point, had more than 250,000 viewers watching simultaneously as it tracked and charted the difficulties of planes trying to get on the ground in the UK during a big storm. Big Jet TV ended the week as one of the most watched events of the week.
This was all made possible by the channel’s ability to broadcast live across the mobile network in real time, something that would have been impossible even a decade ago. To generate an audience that big, that quickly, through word of mouth, demonstrates how mobile can democratise access to a platform for anyone. It also enables those with a passion to share this with others, helping them experience some of the thrill and enthusiasm of a particular event, or moment in time.
My hope is that, at Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry can find time not only to look forward to the next technology platforms and milestones, but to celebrate what it has achieved to date and what a profound impact mobile communications has had on us all.