The Connected City is a demonstration of mobile devices and fast networks that bring to life the connected life: sensor-embedded road bikes, home security, hotel check-ins that instantly recognize personal preferences, smart home energy management that responds to changes in ambience, and medical care delivered by mobile devices.
What makes all of these innovations work? Beneath the dazzling array of devices and apps, application developers and systems integrators are hard at work with network operators to demonstrate how networked APIs can enhance mobile applications. For example, one bike rental app uses operator identity API and payment APIs to make it easy for customers to log in and pay for rentals. Open platform has unleashed the creativity and innovation that is defining the mobile world today.
I’m at Mobile World Congress to get a taste of the future and experience the connected city, connected car, connected device, connected commerce – a connected life – brought about by innovation and development in smart mobile devices and expanding mobile networks. The four-day event from Feb 25 to Feb 28 attracted operators, device vendors, equipment manufacturers, application developers, systems integrators, and everything and anything mobile, from all over the world.
Smartphones took center stage, as expected, although I’m sure each of the 70,000 attendees came to “gawk” at their unique topics or gadgets of interest. What struck a chord with me from a service enablement perspective was the talk of service assurance, predicative modeling, and trouble-shooting to ensure apps run on a network without a glitch. To do that, operators must utilize tools from device provisioning, service activation, and customer care applications that track usage behavior. Usage patterns on mobile devices and network performance all yield critical data for improved services and revenue opportunities.
With the onslaught of data, especially video on smartphones, mobile operators are racing to increase network capacity and there was of discussion about small cell deployment, WiFi hotspots, and user authorization and authentication, which enables a seamless off-loading experience when a user shifts from the cellular network to the local, authenticated WiFi network. Activating, suspending or deactivating services easily is key to customer adoption and loyalty.
MWC is a global event that brings issues facing both mature and emerging markets to the fore. Operators in saturated, developed markets have been focused on pursuing value rather than market share to transition users to next-gen networks and services. Service plans involving service bundling and integrated packaging that incorporate personal services like social networking and multimedia-rich messaging – as well as business services like Groupware, converged communication, and mobile productivity – are being deployed to provide additional value for sustained customer loyalty. Meanwhile, in the developing world, the focus is on building networks and offering affordable handsets with access to enhanced services. Some device manufacturers aim to deliver low-cost handsets with a built-in, cloud-based browser that saves on data consumption through compression and battery power that lasts for a month. According to a mobile industry intelligence report, the next billion people to be connected to the Internet will come from developing markets and through mobile routes.
MWC showcased services utilizing advancements in mobile technology, including machine to machine communications, medical care delivered remotely, distance learning, home networking with smart energy, and security solutions. There were also displays illustrating enhanced mobile retail shopping experiences. One example was the application of the Near-Field Communication (NFC) enabled handsets and readers. These link point-of-sales to credit cards and mobile devices with a tap to provide a touchless customer experience – for example, you can receive a notification on your phone about something nearby and purchase it directly. This technology is simple and secure, and already used by some credit card providers such as Mastercard’s “PayPass”, where a customer simply taps a card or other payment device, such as a phone or key fob, on a point-of-sale terminal reader, rather than swiping or inserting a card into the reader. This technology is simple and secure, and financial services firms were on hand to tout their progress in working with operators to create NFC-enabled financial transactions.
The sheer social-economic impact of mobile goes far beyond the realm of technology. You can sense that every small technological development is adding up to help bring us forward to a totally integrated and connected life. As someone who interacts with customers and a team in literally each corner of the world, the lines between personal and business hours can be blurred, and I often find myself using the same device for work and entertainment, at any time of day or night. Although the iPad is convenient, holding onto it can be tiresome. I want something with a display big enough to read easily, powerful enough to allow me to search files to find a particular document, and intuitive enough to remind me about a calendar event, with a battery that doesn’t have to be charged every day. It’s encouraging to read the ABI Research report on Phablets, a device with a touch screen of between 4.6 to 5.5 inches, bigger than a phone, smaller than a tablet hybrid. ABI predicts that 208 million phablets will be shipped by 2015. As the computing power of smartphones increase, they are becoming pocket-sized laptops.
Now picture me, the globe-trotting business executive and suburban parent of school-age kids, able to easily access, communicate, and interact at any time, whether I’m in a car, at the office, on a couch, or even in bed. The mobile industry has just made my life that much productive, fulfilling, and rewarding. Life, Connected!