Connecting the World

Reflections on the Past and Future of the Mobile Industry

The mobile world sometimes makes me stop and think. There’s no doubt we find ourselves in an amazing industry. It’s responsible for changing people’s lives every day, and home to technology that would have seemed magical a couple of decades ago.

It’s seen astonishing growth, with many of today’s big brands leaping from initial public stock offering to global domination in less than 10 years. In my view, the main reasons for the industry’s success over this period are spectrum, processing power, battery life, screen technology and affordability.

The release of spectrum by governments across the world has enabled data rates on mobile devices to rival those in fixed networks. To make the most of these speeds, people need devices that can create and process large amounts of information; this has led to demand for mobile products with dual- and quad-core processors and matching architectures.

Asking so much of these devices requires significant battery life, which in turn has lead to progress in battery technology. Screen technology has also improved markedly in the last few years, to the point where Apple claims its “retina” displays surpass the ability of the human eye.

Connectivity in this century will be as important as electricity was in the previous one. There are about 7 billion people on the planet but more than 50 billion connected devices. The “Internet of things” will explode over the next few years and will touch our health, our homes and our cars, among many other areas.

Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do. We highlight a few areas of concern in this Hotline, for example.

Nevertheless, total global wireless coverage will become a reality soon. This will give Internet access to the planet’s population wherever they are. The same networks will start to connect everything as well as everybody. Embedded SIM cards in machines will become the norm and the communications industry will see upheavals every bit as dramatic as the ones prompted by the first mobile call or the first smartphone.

We expect traditional players in the market to undergo a wave of consolidation; the number of device manufacturers and network operators will fall, with the remaining names becoming truly global brands. At the same time, new influencers and disruptors will continue to emerge. In the last five years Apple, Google and Facebook have altered the wireless landscape and become household names.

Wireless communications, between people and between things, will have an increasing impact on all our lives. The cost of entering the mobile market can be huge, and very deep pockets are needed to stay in the game, but the rewards are potentially enormous.