Sam Evans, Partner
“Mobile is everything” – this year’s tagline for Mobile World Congress. I think we can agree that mobile is approaching ‘everywhere’ status, but to say that it is everything is probably overstated. I would rather say: mobile enables everything.
The mobile ‘everything’ is the ever expanding digital ecosystem which is well recognised for its disruption of traditional business models through technology innovation. Uber isn’t a mobile service, it’s a taxi service enabled by mobile; AirBnB isn’t a mobile service, it’s an accommodation service enabled by mobile; Apple Pay isn’t a mobile service, it’s a payments service enabled by mobile… the list goes on. So, although mobile might not be everything just yet, let us not understate its value as an enabler.
Today, mobile is an internet connection directly into the pocket of almost every consumer; it is the guarantee of wireless connectivity between machines; it is the platform on which to deliver a whole new generation of services driving socio-economic growth.
To have a world in which mobile enables everything, we need an ecosystem full of diverse players with specialisations at each layer of the digital stack. The majority of players in this ecosystem do not, and do not need to, invest in asset-heavy businesses or compete subject to local licence conditions. The players use the platform that the infrastructure creates to provide a service to their customers wherever they are in the world. These players rely on the infrastructure of operators’ networks to provide the mobile connectivity that enables their business, their ‘everything’. As services increasingly rely on seamless real-time access to customers across all devices, the value of mobile connectivity will increase.
Significant focus at Mobile World Congress in the coming days is likely to be on the extent to which mobile operators’ business models are being disrupted by internet players. In this regard, mobile operators are in no different position to any other industry that has been disrupted through technology innovation over the past ten years. Just ask the camera industry, the movie rental business and the music industry…
When I go to Barcelona next week I will be interested to see not only the impact of this disruption, but how mobile operators are re-evaluating their core assets and business models to ensure that they can sustain their growth through this disruption. By changing our perspective to ‘mobile enables everything’ we can have optimism – operators own the networks that are the enabler of a wide range of services. Operators can look to generate growth by building on top of connectivity with services such as personal identity, content and the billing relationship. They can maximise the value of local distribution networks and leverage the positive benefits of having a relationship with the local regulator.
Mobile, the internet connection in your pocket, is fundamentally changing the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we consume content and the way we interact with our surroundings. All of these changes have come from beyond the traditional boundaries of the mobile industry but they have all relied on the networks that lie at its heart. Technology disruption will continue and, to retain relevance, connectivity providers’ business models will need to evolve. Whilst mobile operators may struggle to be everything, the opportunity to enable everything is just as critical for the future growth of the digital ecosystem.
Sam Evans, partner at Redshift, will be moderating a conference session on Thursday at Mobile World Congress looking at the way that mobile has enabled the transformation of content (e.g. news, video, music) production and consumption. Speakers at the session will be representing Conde Nast, Ericsson, Sky News and AOL.