The future of mobile telecommunications (@jonin60seconds at #digitalsurrey)

I’ve written before about Digital Surrey but I don’t think I’ve ever said what it is so, as Abigail Harrison (@abigailh) explained in her introduction to tonight’s event, Digital Surrey is a free community; a network to meet up, learn, share and to generate opportunities, whether that’s from the information found, someone you met, or something else.

What never ceases to amaze me is how the Digital Surrey organisers come up with a constant stream of great speakers and tonight was no exception, with PayPal UK’s Jon Bishop (@jonin60seconds) entertaining us all as he talked about the future (in fact, the now) of mobile communications – generating plenty of discussion in the process.

I’ve tried to capture the key points from Jon’s talk in this post, together with a few comments of my own in [ ]. Once the video/slides are available, I’ll come back and add some links to them too:

  • If you want to visit the future of mobile today, go to Africa:
    • South Africa has 6m Internet users, but only 750,000 are on fixed-line connections and 57% never use the “desktop” Internet.
    • Africa also has the most engaged social network in the world: MXit was launched in 2003 and has 22bn messages sent each month (compared with 8bn on Twitter), with 45 hours of average monthly usage (compared with 15 on Facebook).
    • Imagine paying for concert tickets, food, or a taxi in the UK using SMS – no chance! But it’s happening in Kenya using a system called M-Pesa (Swahili for mobile money) and, Vodafone subsidiary, Safaricom is now the biggest bank in east Africa. Half of the population uses it with no need for a bank accounts (only 20% of people have a bank account, whereas 60% have access to a mobile phone).
    • This sort of activity is a necessity in Africa because of underinvested wired networks, expensive broadband, a rural population, large informal sector (traders, etc.), low bank account penetration and high mobile penetration. On top of this, using a mobile is safer than carrying cash around!
    • Not only is Africa transforming mobile communications, but mobile is transforming Africa. According to Nokia, each 10% increase in mobile penetration corresponds to a 0.8% increase in GDP.
  • Attempting to push aside some misconceptions about mobile, Jon highlighted that:
    • Blackberry has younger users than the Apple iPhone (which is too expensive and doesn’t have Blackberry Messenger functionality).
    • Google Android beats iOS as the top selling mobile platform worldwide, although the Apple iPad is currently unrivaled in the tablet marketplace. Whilst [Apple] iOS and [Google] Android are the major players today, keep an eye on Amazon, Samsung, HTC, and [Microsoft/Nokia] Windows Phone.
    • Are mobile carriers profit generating machines? Apparently not on current models: the time will come when profitability will dissipate as the cost per GB transferred is going down but the volumes of data use are increasing. As those lines converge, mobile operators have a problem.
    • Is it true that mobile ads don’t work? Actually they do! They account for $3.3bn in advertising spend, with $1bn going to Google; 56% of executives click on mobile ads and they can deliver better value than web ads.
  • Using the example of his friend “Shane” (a 15 year-old), Jon highlighted that none of Shane’s friends have iPhones – almost all use Blackberrys. Some have Android as a second phone (for games like Farmville) but, without BBM (Blackberry Messenger), today’s teenagers are out of the loop. They don’t talk any more: the only person who calls Shane is his mum; and he only makes a call “ when I’m in shit mate, innit” (i.e. in trouble). This prompts some questions as to what happens when young people enter the business world – if they talk in front of their friends but not their teachers – what about their colleagues? Teenagers wake up with a phone in their hand [so does this 39- year-old]; they use them to organise everything (via BBM [, Facebook, etc.]). And they like phones with buttons (to type quickly).
  • Jon moved on to look at how online and mobile communications have changed communities:
    • We still have geographic communities but people come together to share a common interest, whether that’s the Ford RS Owners Club, Knitting, or whatever [Digital people in Surrey?]. The speed and level of interaction is fuelled by mobile, on the go, access although, of course, this depends on the capability of the platform and access to wireless communications.
    • Jon suggested that last month’s riots in London and elsewhere were interest based, not geographic as, in a few hours they jumped north to south London before spreading more widely across the city. Perhaps the common interest was that they don’t like the Police, or perhaps it was just that they wanted free stuff from JD Sports! After the first few hours media coverage fuelled the interest, so it’s difficult to say whether the mobile networks had any influence.
    • We’ve had social networks for years but now they are mobile. What does this mean for policing? Well, one senior Police Officer in the audience suggested that it means they need to be quicker!
  • Another area changed by mobile is photography. The social web has made the picture the beginning of the journey, not the end.
    • We used to take a roll of film, develop it, and put the pictures in an album, or a shoe box.
    • With digital we took the pictures, used the memory card to get them onto a computer and then share them/interact with them.
    • Mobile means we can skip the computer and gain instant gratification.
    • 150m images were shared on Instagram in a year [it may make bad pictures look deliberate, butAndy Piper commented it’s the 5th most valuable startup on the planet right now – and it’s not even on Android yet] and the Hudson River plane crash is often cited as an example of where news broke first on social networks.
    • Now we also know who took the picture, where it was taken (GPS), using what camera and what settings (EXIF), who’s in it (tagging), as well as the time and date.
  • Mobiles have also changed how we interact with the world, using a multitude of data points:
    • Compare jogging in the 80s with jogging in 2011. Whereas once we may have had a Sony Walkman and a Casio watch with an illuminated screen to track time, today we can track our steps, average speed, route, effort (calories burned), top speed, distance and time. We have become mobile data points. Phones can track sleep patterns too [and Runkeeper has established a health graph of interconnected services].
  • Mobile is not the future, it is now. Not quite as now as in Africa but it is mainstream:
    • According to Morgan Stanley, Last year there were 670m 3G subscriptions (up 37% year on year).
    • More mobile devices are connected to Wi-Fi than PCs.
    • Smartphones will outsell PCs in 2012 – we are approaching an inflection point.
    • There will be more mobile Internet than wired by 2015.
    • And if you want a signal as to the way in which things are heading, the world’s biggest PC maker may stop selling PCs.
    • When we look at mobile payments PayPal is processing $10m in transactions each day, with $3bn from mobile this year (globally) – and they expect that to double next year. Customers spent $1bn at Amazon using their mobiles in the past year (and that’s pre-Kindle Fire).
  • The question of “what is mobile?” generated some discussion. Jon suggested it’s phones and tablets; not laptops; and that the operating system is a good indicator. Other suggestions were that it should be anything with a SIM; to do with where you use it, not what it is; of that it’s about whether the device fits in a pocket.
  • Moving on to QR codes, Jon highlighted shopping in the Korean subway and interaction with posters [I saw an example where rail passengers could scan for the appropriate timetable for their route]. Whilst it’s true that the application is a barrier to entry,14m Americans scanned a barcode in July 2011.
  • Mobile is changing B2C marketing with multi-tasking users using a smartphone whilst they are doing something else (72%) including listing to music (44%), watching TV (33%), using the Internet (29%) or playing games (27%). After searching for a business on the phone, 77% call or visit and 44% purchase in store or online. So what does this mean?
    • We are always on, always accessible.
    • We multi-task – so include a mobile call to action in advertisements.
    • We’re in a hurry – so sort out the mobile flow (ensure websites are optimised for mobile devices – 76% are not)!
    • We are ready to take action – so make it easy for us to do so!
    • Think about entry (search results, barcode, email banner link); landing (results, mobile pages and search ads) and call to action (call, click, download, access map or directions).
  • On the B2B front, executives use up to 4 devices (laptop, company Blackberry, iPad, personal smartphone):
    • 55% use their mobile as a primary device with 80% preferring to access work email on the go.
    • We are ready to take action, to download and run B2B apps, click mobile ads, and to make purchases.
    • 200m people watch mobile videos on YouTube each day and 75% of executives watch work related videos and share.
  • So, how is the world of mobile changing? Whilst we can’t predict 10 years ahead, Jon highlighted some technologies that are already here but not mainstream:
    • Near Field Communications (NFC): for data sharing, payments, device pairing, advertising. Providing a communications platform with a simple tap, NFC is not as clumsy as a QR code and the chips are cheap so we’re Likely to see NFC widely adopted. Paypal have a video demonstrating the use of NFC for sending money.
    • HTML 5 arguably makes the web what it should be:
      • Application quality improves in a browser.
      • No more plugins (Flash, Silverlight, etc.).
      • More freedom and independence for publishers/developers.
      • 30% faster than Flash.
      • Improved profitability for publishers.
      • Easier compatibility, so quicker releases.
    • The cloud [which shouldn’t be marketed to consumers – it’s a B2B concept!] is changing our views on ownership of media [e.g. Spotify]. Storage is less important, connectivity more. Ordinary items can connect using the same technology.
    • Whilst it’s a bit early to be making predictions about its success, or otherwise, the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire looks like it will bring the first real competitor to Apple’s iPad ecosystem and Apple, Amazon and Google all have investments made (with more to make, potentially) in their content networks.

As ever, thanks to all at Digital Surrey for allowing me to attend – it always seems cheeky for a guy from the Buckinghamshire/Northamptonshire borders to visit a networking group for business people in Surrey but you make me so welcome! Thanks also to Jon, for letting me blog about his presentation contents. The next couple of events sound great too – watch the Digital Surrey website for details.

[Updated 3 October 2011:  to include Jon’s slides and link to his post]
[Updated 5 December 2011: to include the video of Jon’s talk]

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