The Future of Telecom – Eaten by Mobile Computing

googleglassTime is a wondrous thing. There is nothing we can do to stop it. Seconds, days, years go by with little tribute until cataclysmic events change the course of history.

First of all technology advances mixed with telecom deregulation unleashed a market place that has gone wild with personal communications and a remaking of the telecom industry as a whole. The Trends Digest™ team of experts has been performing research in this market for more than fifteen years and has captured, through hundreds of studies and analyses, trends foreshadowing the future. While we will give you a glimpse of the future right here in Trends Digest™ online, you can always find more data in our in-depth research studies.

An Increasingly Wireless World — Nearly Two Thirds of the World’s Population has access to a Mobile Phone! And in 2013 nearly two thirds of the world’s population was connected to the internet!

If only Alexander Graham Bell could be alive to see the telecom market today. Bell obtained the patent for the first telephone in 1876. Grown from his invention have been thousands of companies and tens of thousands of communications devices. Ok, you saw it coming, and we, at Trends Digest™, saw it coming about ten years ago. But the 2009 numbers spell the death of the landline as the economy pulled the final plug on wire-line services particularly in the U.S. where the “Baby Bells” are now practically giving away service. A lot of alternatives have been fighting for this market including cable, wireless, and satellite. For now, in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, mobile wireless is winning as hard wired communications become a thing of the past. In North America, 2010 saw the demise of Canadian company Nortel, the continued remaking of AT&T, and cable operators advance in packaged offerings for voice, data, and video services. In 2013, mobile computing eats everything including the mobile phone which finally brings reality to video calling (thank goodness you can turn those pesky cameras off if you want to).

The U.S. has actually been somewhat late to the party in full mobile wireless adoption, partly because of the rivalry between standards, incompatibility issues between coverage areas, handsets challenges, and regulatory issues. This tumult has created a lot of unknowns for the consumer. But, with competition, volume, and cheap handsets, the balance has finally been tipped. Many of the contributing factors included the 1996 Telecom Act’s provisions for permanent number portability (keeping your number if you switch carriers), escalation of email, text messaging, and a cultural shift in “being connected”. As North America has been playing tug-of-war with regulations and the old Bell operating companies, the rest of the world skipped wires, went straight to cell phones, and is now plunging full throttle into wireless banking from cell phones. Even though thatch houses in Kenya might not have many of today’s western conveniences, cell phones rule. Mobile computing is now reaching product maturation globally. So, now what? Devices are going to get even smaller as the computer and human begin to merge. Augmented reality by Google in the form of glasses is only the beginning. TD
Copyright Trends Digest™ All rights reserved. 2013

Light Radio – A Disruptive Lightning Strike for the Telecom Industry

Light CubeFinally, we can welcome a disruptive event in telecom industry –the arrival of a tiny two inch cube that threatens to topple thousands of tacky old telecom towers. The proud creators are Alcatel Lucent and Bell Labs. It’s a welcomed event, particularly since these little cubes can be cobbled together to create the right infrastructure and bandwidth at a shockingly enormous power and cost savings, according to Alcatel Lucent. This is one of the more disruptive trends that we’ve spotted for awhile in the telecom industry. First of all, carriers are wrestling with significant issues, such as having operated at low or below cost for many consecutive years. They’re now forced to make a profit while simultaneously upgrading networks to 3G-4G/LTE. Not to mention, standards globally are still shaking out, and networks are in various forms of evolutionary adoption from 2G to 4G via WiMax, Cellular, satellite, and everything in between. Furthermore, phone companies are staring down the dark abyss of some key trends, such as market saturation and must develop novel ways to increase growth, while maintaining enormous capital costs for upgrading technologies. Particularly in the U.S., baby boomers may be high tech but, like we told you ten years ago, older boomers are not necessarily taking advantage of all of the features. In fact, 80% of older boomers are only using 20% of the features. For cellular providers growth is always a bit of a good news/bad news story. The good news is that as mobile users make their mobile device their primary computing device, unlimited applications continue to grow. The bad news is that mobile providers, already in a state of price sensitivity, are constantly dealing with the proposition of diminishing returns. Alca-Lu’s adorable little cubes, if they work as planned, are a global market disruptor of gargantuan proportions. Not only do they offer a huge power savings as well as a configurable capability to extrapolate the right bandwidth configuration, but they offer the potential for a broad array of new business models. What business models you might ask? Let’s think creatively for a moment. Maybe the wireless companies should focus on customer service and let a business partner expand operations and pick up the more nominal capital costs of testing and deployment. In fact, in terms of creativity, we have a long ways to go in the telecom market. Doing away with those cumbersome, awful looking towers eliminates a range of problems including environmental issues, OSHA issues, property leasing, and some more complicated aspects of power supplies. Now let’s talk about disruptions to the rest of the market if these cute little cubes manage to take off. First of all, the tower market will be tripping over its guy wires to survive. Line of sight technologies might remain tethered to a tower for awhile until bandwidth, spectrum, handset, and meshed networks can be resolved in the public safety arena. Do you really want to haul a tower around the Grand Canyon when you could just drop a cube in your backpack? There are some definite winners and losers in this space if light radio takes off. Tower manufacturers and O&M providers could be the big losers in this disruptive swing unless they can adapt to other segments. Also, this raises an important question about the roles that carriers want to have in the longer term. In the U.S. market where Uncle Sam has been footing the bill for getting broadband out to the boonies, lower cost of ownership and ease of access might offer new franchising opportunities or opportunities for smaller companies to make more localized investments. As long as the carriers ultimately get subscribership and can guarantee quality of service, who cares?

As a general trend, companies often don’t recognize disruptive trends outside of their own markets because they are too caught up in an industry-specific myopic vision of the future. Don’t worry, this happens to every industry. But as new models take hold, convergence offers significant multi-market advantages that will bring about new business models as service providers look outside of their own industries for opportunities and advantages to gain economies of scale. TD

When Public Safety Joins The Hive

The Hive

In the U.S., with the signing of one piece of legislation, the Congress changed the technology direction of an entire marketplace by moving from the typical digital two way radio  standards, in use by public safety today, to those already adopted by the mobile wireless industry.  Of course, as with anything in government, don’t expect it to happen quickly.  But do expect it to have an impact on companies in this sector.

An Alternative Future Becomes Clearer

Standards, already adopted by the cellular phone world, will now begin to envelope public safety, ushering in a brave new world of interconnection.  Now, the public safety world is on its way to unlimited device connection and accessing real-time data at a moment’s notice.  In fact, we’re entering the onramp to a world where billions of devices are not only connected to us, but to each other, and are busy pulling double-duty and forming their own networks.  In the near future, emergency responders may be able to electronically cut off power and other utilities to a building, check vitals on people inside, and send commands to robotic team members to begin search & rescue operations – all before physically arriving on the scene.

An Unveiling of Things to Come

From a layperson perspective, our techno-future might begin looking a little too good, or perhaps, even a bit “Orwellian” given the advanced level of technological homogeneity that is being put into play.  As we watch the future unfold, we see a very mobile world of extensive and intricate interconnection between devices, advanced processing power, and smaller antennae, creating the emergence of the “Virtual Electronically Enabled Hive” .  Technologies are in-place to offer connectivity across an ever broadening range of devices, creating ubiquitous access to data, voice, and video interoperability for Total-Data-Communications On the Move (TDCOM).  Handsets that can connect via cellular, two way radio, WiFi, WiMAX, satellite, “Lego” style “build your own” configurable base stations, redundant centralized cloud processing with virtualization, next generation encryption, drop down apps, and secure/lightning speed/mobile applications, are all part of the nascent technological framework that will blanket the nation.

The U.S. Government’s allocation of radio spectrum in the so called “D block”, tipped the scales in favor of a standard known as Long Term Evolution (LTE).  This move is a bit disruptive as it means that Uncle Sam has finally drawn a line in the sand of technological direction – 4/G paving the way to 5/G.  As this tide turns, the landscape quickly begins looking more like the mobile wireless and cellular landscape, along with the associated supply chain.

We can begin to gain some insight into the future by looking at R&D investments in future technologies and the imprint they will have on the techno-landscape.  Companies like Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia-Siemens, and Motorola spent 12-26%  of their revenues on R&D.  This has yielded some incredible technologies that will fundamentally change mobile wireless and public safety communications as we move into 2020.  Evolving technologies have profoundly changed network and end user functionality in this virtual enclave, and will continue to do so.  An example of these emerging technologies is Alcatel Lucent’s light radio, 2×2” configurable cubes that have sought positioning in the marketplace to replace cell tower functions.  Edge of network devices like Motorola’s LEX 700 (which can leverage LTE and carrier networks, and interactively offer push to talk, video, and voice interoperability through P25 gateways) give us an idea of how user devices are defining the new landscape.

While it may take years to roll out, LTE eventually holds the promise of not only rich broadband data transmission for public safety applications, but also voice over LTE.  Many in the public safety community have already weighed in on the concerns for LTE eventually carrying mission critical voice.  Do we remember the early 2000’s when voice over IP (VOIP) made conversations sound like we were in the bottom of a rain barrel?  Even the early stages of second generation VOIP systems like Skype have had their challenges.  So have commercial VOIP systems that originally cannibalized internal bandwidth until better bandwidth management applications came along.

As public safety becomes part of the “virtual electronically enabled hive” (VEE-Hive), the environment beyond 2020 looks quite different than it does today.  P25 gives way to LTE/4G, and 4/G gives way to 5G or whatever becomes the accepted standard post 2020.  The 5G concept may not be as much about speed as it is about network loading and efficiency given the sheer number of devices communicating over the network.  The idea is to prioritize traffic and automate the process of prioritization.  P25 at least puts us in the modern electronic world.  Think of it as leaving a wash-boarded gravel back road and pulling onto a highway.  P25 to LTE is the onramp to the superhighway that connects us into the world of digital broadband devices and interoperating protocols that connect voice, data, video, sensors, and even robotic/unmanned systems.  The M2M (machine to machine) world of sensors and devices communicating with other devices will provide instantaneous updates, enable rapid, highly granular/high-fidelity life-saving capabilities, and enable time saving multi-step process reduction that can spare lives and reduce costs.  In the future 5G world, groups of devices talk to each other and are pre-programed for priority to make way for emergencies and free bandwidth to avoid mission-critical network congestion.

After 4G comes 5G, likely delivered through IMT Advanced (International Mobile Telecommunications) a specification of a collection of technologies for high speed global broadband approved by the ITU.  This bundle of technologies includes 802.16E (basically, souped-up WiMAX) and advanced LTE.  Since network traffic could grow 1000-fold between now and 2020, newer networks will accommodate growth by offloading processing functions to the cloud, and by getting machine to machine interfaces working effectively so latency can simultaneously be decreased.  Incorporating cognitive radio will also simultaneously enhance spectrum efficiency.

Glimpses of the Future Today

Even though the network may look more like a cellular carrier as we transition to 4G/LTE and 5G, the end user experience is often another story.  Have we ever been in the middle of sending an email or making a critical call when our “smart” phone decides to do something really dumb (like update handset operating system and reconfigure all applications to baseline in the middle of a busy work-day)?  These are the nightmarish visions first responders often have when they think of moving into the 4/G 5/G enabled world.  Automatic software updates, screen fades, power conservation, and loading data from the cloud onto the device all constitute potential ongoing challenges for unfettered end-to-end emergency coverage.

However, you can expect the bold move to 4G/LTE in the public safety market to continue the evolution of players in this market.  It is unlikely that the public safety community has yet grasped the impact to supply chains.  From a core network standpoint, where data/voice switching and routing occurs, the evolution of the supply chain leaves few U.S. manufacturing companies.  On the edge of the network we find device manufacturers who will have to focus on consolidation, specialization, or market exodus.  Trends Digest™ will continue to bring to you our specialized analysis of how we anticipate this market will unfold.  TD

Copyright Trends Digest™ all rights reserved.

RFID Enabled Cell phones – What it Means for Marketing

NFC Enabled Courtesy Microsoft

NFC Enabled
Courtesy Microsoft

Just picture yourself enjoying a new wine at a restaurant.  You love the ’91’ Pinot Noir and want to order a case for your wine cellar. So, you hold your phone close to the wine label, and zing! Up pops a tantalizing description of your wine with links to ratings and ordering information. All you need to do is enter “yes” to the “order now?” prompt. Well, pretty soon, you might be in luck because if all goes well, RFID enabled cell phones might open up a whole new avenue of shopping. Ok, just on the off-chance you haven’t heard of Radio Frequency Identification or better known as RFID, it’s basically a little chip that gets embedded into a label or money, or credit cards or whatever the object and transmits a signal to a reader. Of course, right now, RFID works best in situations where the object is closer to the reader. Quite intentionally — because you don’t want the object you are connecting with to be confused with other tagged objects. Future cell phone generations equipped with RFID readers may have some major uses for marketers. Thus far, the RFID industry has been a bit sluggish — stalled by privacy issues, costs, trying to get better scans of the target, and mitigating signal interference issues. The recreational uses present a new frontier for marketers looking for innovative ways of breaking through all of the messaging noise to sell their products. Future iPhone generations are supposedly planned to be equipped with RFID readers. Imagine all those new apps! According to the NFC Forum, Near Field Communication (NFC) technology provides global interoperability of contactless identification and interconnection technologies. NFC operates in the 13.56 MHz frequency range, over a typical distance of a few centimeters. The underlying technology is based upon common technology standards supported by global communication device manufacturers and network operators with the intention of being compatible with hundreds of millions of cards and readers already deployed globally. TD

%d bloggers like this: