In April 2007, The Economist had a special feature looking forward to a “connected world” where everything from garden sprinklers and refrigerators could connect, interact and be managed from anywhere. The key premise of this feature was that in the future, more and more different types of devices would have inbuilt connectivity, which would allow them to communicate and interact with people using other machines. The “connected world” would open up huge new opportunities in terms of activities and services for both consumers and enterprises.
If we are not there yet, we must be on the threshold, but as with many a revolution, change can often have cascading impacts.
The first wave of connected devices was mobile phones. The second wave, happening now, consists of a variety of connected computing devices. A new wave of connected machines and other consumer electronics is currently building and will eventually outstrip the first two categories.
The phenomenal growth in mobile phone use is well understood. All sorts of mobile devices are undertaking a wide range of activities and transactions in this new millennium. Many of these devices have the processing power and memory of computing devices. Both consumers and enterprises use these mobile devices in much the same way as they use their computing devices — to manage personal and work activities. More than 1 billion smartphones and feature phones shipped in 2010. By the middle of the decade, shipments are expected to reach 1.5 billion, with about 50 percent being smartphones with extensive computing capabilities.
At the same time, mobile broadband devices are shipping in large absolute numbers and usage is growing at phenomenal rates. For the purposes of this article, a mobile broadband device is one that supports cellular (WAN) connectivity via an embedded or peripheral modem and includes notebooks, tablets, netbooks, USB and connect cards. Around 300 million of these devices shipped in 2010 — almost all support Wi-Fi connectivity, and about half support cellular network connectivity. By the middle of the decade, it is expected that more than 600 million of these devices will ship, about 400 million of which will ship with cellular connectivity. That is a lot of consumers and road warriors always connected on one — or several — of their computing devices. Layer in a couple of hundred million connected machines and other connected consumer electronic devices, and this looks like a connected world to me! Given the potential uptake of wirelessly connected machines and consumer electronic devices, it is clear that these will eventually dwarf mobile phone subscriptions by an order of magnitude.
These connected mobile broadband devices are prevalent in both the enterprise and consumer segments. For enterprises, mobile broadband is another capability that supports ongoing enterprise mobilization efforts. The challenge for the enterprise is to seamlessly extend management capabilities and processes from a fixed to a wirelessly connected context. For consumers, mobile broadband devices support a much more flexible mobile Internet access model. To ensure a high-quality mobile broadband experience in both of these critical segments, remote management will become increasingly important to the support of mobile broadband devices and services.
A fully functioning and operating connected world requires that the devices and the services work correctly and are optimized, wherever they are being used. Classic mobile device management capabilities are needed to seamlessly support all of these new device classes. Necessary capabilities include such things as: over-the-air and automated detection, activation and configuration of devices to ensure that they are correctly set up and operational; the ability to collect detailed inventory information from devices — from device make/model to OS, firmware, and embedded module version information; the ability for IT administrators or call-center agents to troubleshoot and resolve device and service issues over the air; security for the devices and the data on them, particularly if they are lost or stolen; policy management for interactions between the embedded modules, the connection manager and the host operating systems of notebooks/netbooks; and monitoring of the performance and availability of mobile broadband services to ensure quality.
Until operators were able to address these types of requirements with smartphones, every time a new phone was launched, costs spiraled out of control. The advent of mobile broadband devices now poses a similar if not more complex challenge due to the variety of new form factors and software platforms. Failure to proactively control and manage these devices will result in highly unpredictable costs and/or revenue forecast underperformance that ultimately impacts ARPU. Going forwards, we can see similar dynamics as the machine from a variety of verticals become increasingly connected.
The “connected world” is here or very close to being here now — huge numbers of smartphones and computing devices are already in the hands of employees and consumers. If a connected world is one where one more category of device, other than the phone, is connected wirelessly, then the category of “connected computing devices” passes that hurdle now. In any case, this connected world is unlocking and unleashing a range of new services and activities — a group of services and activities that will keep growing as more and more device types are connected.
As with traditional mobile markets like phones, manageability will be increasingly important for delivering services, supporting mobile broadband customers and managing other connected devices. With the right manageability tools in place, operators and enterprises will be able to leverage the opportunities available for advanced mobile broadband networks and services.
Rob Dalgety is strategy director at Mformation.