2002, we predict, will be the year in which mobile communications emerges as the dominant force in telecommunications - and the force which, over the next decade, will shape the entire information industry. Here's why.
Latest figures indicate that in Germany, mobile communications is now bigger business than wired telecommunications. Mobile also accounts for almost all of the growth in telecoms.
Meanwhile, in contrast with a swathe of bad news from technology suppliers, Nokia is estimating a 25% increase in sales of mobile handsets between the third and fourth quarters of 2001.
These figures mark a dramatic shift. Mobile was once the baby of the industry. Now, the boot is on the other foot.
The mobile handset is just a more convenient form of telephone, isn't it? No: in 'going mobile', the humble phone has undergone a serious sea change. Meanwhile in the IT world, the PC-dominated era is coming to an end, as attention shifts to mobile and portable devices. Out of this powerful witches' brew, some remarkable new things will emerge over the next twelve months.
A wired phone is part of the furniture. But not a mobile: a mobile is personal, and it comes with an emotional attachment no wired phone ever had. Once a status symbol, a mobile is now a personal statement. With downloadable ring tones, it's an audible as well as a visual statement. Perhaps the only other object which excites as much emotion is the car. Both are symbols of personal power.
Mobiles are also intelligent, and they store information. In fact, the latest generation of mobile phones has as much processing power as the first personal computers.
Within two to three years, one in six of the world's population is expected to have a personal, intelligent digital device: a mobile phone. Even without the next generation of mobile systems, expected in 2002, the latent processing power of this vast network of intelligent devices has barely been tapped. This is about to change, as the mobile network becomes the platform for a new generation of intelligent applications.
The Internet and the PC have been the technology story of the past decade. But neither of these has the global reach of the present - let alone the future - mobile network.
Most significantly, the mobile network comes with something neither the Internet nor the wired phone network can boast: an extremely adaptable personal payment system. The mobile industry has built very effective means of collecting, at low cost, small amounts of payments from large populations of users, through billing systems pre-paid cards. This can be used to pay for much more than just the cost of phone calls.
During 2002, the power of this global payment network will become clear, especially through the introduction of premium SMS text messaging. Crucially, this payment network will start to feed money not only to telecommunications operators, but to third parties who provide services through the network. The IT industry worldwide is working hard to transform itself into a service industry; mobile is already there.
As NTT DoCoMo's i-mode system has already done in Japan (see Learning from i-mode ), premium SMS will provide a business model that supports a wide range of content, application and service businesses. Unlike the Internet, mobile offers a sustainable commercial model on which real business can be built.
What is a mobile handset? Is it a phone, a thousand-channel radio, an MP3 player, a messaging device, an interactive quiz console, an electronic lottery ticket, a pocket-sized shopping mall, a guide book, a device for voting off the weakest link... or all of the above, and more? Many of these things do not need to wait for the next generation: they can be done with the systems and the handsets that exist today, and are already in the hands of millions of users.
See http://www.channel5.co.uk/mfpd for one example of the kind of application now possible - which we have developed in conjunction with partners including Microcon, mmO2 (formerly BT Wireless) and Channel 5.
For more information, contact us. Or watch this space: during 2002 the story of mobile applications will move to centre stage, as mobile becomes the dominant force in the information and communications industry.
©Mediation Technology 2002