If you’re a fan of keenly focussed and very informed comment on mobile, then you really should sign up for the Mobile Industry Review weekly newsletter. This week’s edition really chimed with me as a vision of what a truly connected mobile life could be, and how the iPhone is a pathfinder, edging towards it.
As Ewan of MIR points out, the signifying role of the mobile of the future can be summed up in one word: Enablement. That is, allowing the mobile user to do whatever they need to do, seamlessly and easily.
But there’s a big problem, which may stop this party before it gets started.
The title of this post is drawn from Ewan’s updated version of The Cannes Doctrine. Here’s an excerpt of his vision:
I’m in Cannes, South of France, supervising the implementation of our online networking service, Eventscope , for a very popular financial conference. The nature of the work requires me on-site ’til 4pm. I exit the building and, as I walk along the boulevard admiring the beach, I snap a few photos with my mobile device. They’re automatically distributed to my sites and services as necessary. Indeed I tag one of the photos as ‘mum’ and another and ‘gran’. Both are queued for sending as physical ‘postcards’ for delivery in the UK tomorrow morning. The service already has addresses and credit card details registered so the transaction is as seamless as a tag. I see that — unexpectedly — I’ve got a notification top right on my device. There’s a beer icon flashing away. I select it and find out that Mike Stead of INQ is five minutes away at the Grand Hotel. He’s activated his ‘bored and up for a beer’ status which automatically broadcasted his availability to those nearby.
Please read the MIR newsletter for the rest of The Cannes Doctrine, in which Ewan considers a normal day, using his mobile for:
- mapping services
- paying the taxman and customs duty with one click
- interacting with his hotel’s booking system
- ordering flowers
- hailing a taxi an online auction and peer recommendation
- buying shoelaces
- (and many more…)
Some of this can be done today. But some of this will takes years to achieve, and require either an incredible amount of cooperation between operators, handset makers and others, or a massively disruptive market entrance (probably based on open web standards *cough* Google).
Yet even if all this can come together, then what is the one thing that will still be missing?
As enticing as The Cannes Doctrine sounds, it is predicated on plentiful bandwidth for all. Modern smartphones, and especially the iPhone – as an enabling platform on which people can actually *do stuff* – demand a constant and reliable data connection. I don’t know how much data future mobile phones will require, but it won’t be any less than we need now. Unfortunately, there isn’t even enough to go around at the moment.
I read a post by Ben Fitter on Talk3G recently called “iPhone liberated”. He excoriates O2’s focus on retaining youth customers with text-heavy tariffs, and avoiding capex in favour of squeezing existing infrastructure. This, he believes, placed O2 in the position of being unable to provide adequate data services for the massive number of data-hungry customers who joined when they won the iPhone – not to mention having to divert resources into building an EDGE network for the original 2.5G iPhone, which could have been spend on 3G rollout. In short, he believes O2 should never have bid for Apple’s flagship device.
(Although O2 couldn’t not have bid for it. Every operator wanted it and shareholders would have thrown a wobbler if management had said they weren’t bidding. But Orange would have been a better technical fit, already having an EDGE network. This leads me to wonder about Apple’s commitment to the customer experience – but I digress).
Anyone who has experienced O2’s data network must agree that the service is shocking. I was in Canterbury at the weekend – not a small place – and couldn’t get a 3G signal anywhere. But are things likely to get any better?
As Ben points out:
It will be years before all the networks are truly in a position to offer the coverage and speeds that devices like the iPhone will require as our hunger for data-centric services grows. Will the investment be there? Is there the vision and leadership in big business these days to plan ahead more than 10 minutes? Will shareholder short-termism and greed prevail?
From what we’ve seen so far, I’m pessimistic.
In the short-term, will the network of the new iPhone provider – Orange – be sufficient to cope with the iPhone influx? I sincerely hope so, especially as it will gain spectrum dominance when it merges with T-Mobile. But that advantage won’t last long, given future data demands. Ben is right to be pessimistic, especially when you consider what one industry heavyweight has to say on it.
The Mobile Data Apocalypse
The real worry comes via a blog post from Michael Mace (formerly of Palm and Apple), who was looking at Cisco’s Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update for 2009. Don’t forget – we’re not just talking smartphones, but laptops as well (which use even more data), and people swapping out their fixed broadband for mobile. Here’s the one key line from Cisco’s report,
Globally, mobile data traffic will double every year through 2013, increasing 66 times between 2008 and 2013
How the hell are operators going to deal with this?!
Hence the title of Michael Mace’s post – “The Mobile Data apocalypse“. This graphic says it all:
The consensus is that there’s no way their networks can grow quickly enough to support all that data traffic.
Money constraints, technical limitations, and market pressure will combine to create an untenable situation. Operators can’t afford to build the necessary infrastructure, which couldn’t handle huge future bandwidth requirements anyway, but will have to continue to offer generous data plans – because every other operator will.
In short: they’re buggered.
Is there a solution?
Michael Mace contends that “the big picture is that we really need a single integrated data network that encompasses mobile and fixed connections, and switches between them seamlessly”. Without a doubt, this will make “mobile” data less mobile, with wifi/Wimax doing the lifting wherever possible. But this brings me back to my earlier point that there needs to be an awful lot of co-operation in order to make this work, probably of the sort that only governments are likely to impose.
So where will the data apocalypse leave us? Will we be harking back to the good old days of O2 3G?
I do love the sense of enablement that my iPhone gives me. Sure, I’m a geek and could make it all work on another platform, but it would be more time messing around rather than getting things done. And I want to do so much more. But I’ve a feeling it will be a bumpy ride on the road to Cannes.