TECH TALK: Next-Generation Networks: Mirror Worlds
Over the past few months, it has become increasingly obvious that the mobile phone is going to become the personal device owned by more than half the world’s population in 5 years. (The current ownership figure is about 1.8 billion). The very nature of the device personal, always-on, always available and always-connected will bring forth a new set of services. These will go beyond voice, SMS and the holy trinity of ringtones, wallpapers and games that we are seeing today. The mobile will become the computer in our pocket. Others think of it as a teleputer or a social computer. Whatever we call it, it is a device unlike anything we have possessed before. Just as the Internet ushered in a new world, so will be the next-generation of mobile services.
It is important to distinguish today’s mobiles and data services from tomorrow’s. Today, the phone is mostly used for talk and messaging, with some personalisation being done through the choice of ringtones and ringback tones (or the lack thereof). Some of us download games for offlines entertainment. A few use the mobile to check email and browse the Internet. But for the most part, the mobile of data is 90% voice and 10% data. Of the data, the majority is person-to-person SMS.
Also, data services being offered today are very closely controlled by the operators. As such, the ecosystem of value-added service providers that has come up is focused on creating offerings for the operators. Independent entities have to work through one of these allies of the operators. So, what is present is a closed garden of data/value-added services.
I like to think of this as v1.0 of Mobile Data. The focus so far in countries like India has been on growth and customer acquisition naturally so. Little attention has been paid to widening the array of data services. The phone by itself has morphed into a multimedia-capable, networked device but the applications and services have not kept pace. There are obvious limitations in the input/output on the phone but this, along with the operator control, has prevented independent mobile data services vendors from coming up and thriving beyond the ringtones-wallpapers-games categories.
The time has come to now look ahead. Let us imagine what v2.0 of Mobile Data will be. The coming generation of phones are rapidly subsuming functionality from camera phones to the ability to play music and video to high-speed Internet access via 3G networks. The next version of Mobile Data services will be much more open as operators realise that opening up will help them generate greater revenue to offset the falling voice revenues from increasing competition in maturing markets.
It is in this context that we need to look ahead to what the mobile is capable of – by itself, and connected to networks. This world will be very different from the one we are currently seeing. Different countries are in varying stages of building this out with Japan and South Korea leading the way. This new world will have software and content play a far more important role than they have in the past where the phone was a closed system. There will be two key drivers: the mobile as an increasingly open development platform, and the need for centralised (server-based) software to complement the phone. Together, they will usher in a new set of services some of which will migrate from the PC world, while others will need to be created afresh for a world in which every mobile user is reachable 24×7.
Tomorrow: Mirror Worlds (continued)
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