So what exactly have we recognized as being the three catalyst technologies or products that emerged in the year 2007? Below is an overview of each of these and highlighted are the main factors that we believe have influenced their evolution and subsequent relevance today.
WiMAX was an early 4G technology that started the move of the U.S. market to wireless broadband; it is often likened to “Wi-Fi on steroids”. The fact that Sprint and Clearwire, a startup that was supported by Google and Intel, could deliver blisteringly fast mobile Internet service forced AT&T and Verizon, the two largest U.S. carriers, to accelerate their deployment of 4G LTE. This development meant that standards needed to be agreed upon and formalized, and that network equipment manufacturers needed to accelerate production in order to provide for these large customers.
Having AT&T and Verizon focus on a single frequency (700 MHz) made it easier for device manufacturers to accelerate their development of 4G Internet products and deliver consumer-ready devices. The fact that some of these device manufacturers had been working on WiMAX devices in cooperation with semiconductor providers meant that they could accelerate products based on the WiMAX chipsets that almost 80% matched LTE.
Subsequently, both Sprint and T-Mobile have also either invested in or announced plans to build a 4G LTE network on top of their existing systems. What this means is that for the first time all four large U.S. carriers are offering mobile Internet services utilizing the same technology as the rest of the world, enabling global interoperability and roaming.
The second catalyst product was the iPhone which has received much acclaim for its elegant design and simple user interface. The real essence of the catalytic change that the iPhone initiated, however, was a shift in the consumer paradigm of a mobile device being used solely for communication to one that enabled interaction. The iPhone allows users to connect easily on-the-go and to share information, content, pictures and video simply and effortlessly. When it was first released, users found the interface to be so effortless that data volumes climbed exponentially and severely disrupted the AT&T network that had not been designed for large data capability! This forced AT&T, as well as other mobile operators, to rethink the entire concept of network architecture to include Wi-Fi as an offload mechanism. It also resulted in AT&T acquiring Wayport, and in the process becoming the single largest operator of Wi-F in the U.S.
Not only did the iPhone change the existing consumer paradigm and network architectures, it also broke the carrier stranglehold on its relationship with the subscriber. The iPhone was and still is provisioned via iTunes, which had previously been the domain of the mobile operator. This relationship with the subscriber, initiated at the time of purchase, was then solidified through the introduction of the app store and ultimately the iCloud. Apple effectively took the existing mobile business model, tore it up and replaced it with a hybrid that established a stronger bond with the consumer based on end-to-end user experience. The impact of the iPhone’s innovative design, end-to-end system, business model, user paradigm and elegant packaging of an everyday technology has had a tsunami-like impact on RIM, Motorola and Nokia, as well as on major mobile operators around the globe.
The Amazon Kindle
The third catalyst product that has been an instrumental agent of change is the Amazon Kindle. This device did for a 500-year-old product concept, the book, what the Walkman or iPod did for music. Best sellers are now cheaper and easier to obtain via the Kindle which provides on-the-go access to the world’s largest library/bookstore. This simple to use, low cost device made the mobile Internet transparent to the user by incorporating the cost of access into the price of the book. Amazon achieved this by creating a blanket connection relationship with AT&T for global access. The fact that the Kindle e-Reader automatically creates a relationship with Amazon means that loyal subscribers are a natural evolution. Proof that this technological revolution is affecting the literary world is evidenced by the number of large bookstores, such as Borders in the U.S., that have closed, and Barnes & Noble swiftly producing their own e-Reader, the Nook.
The iPhone and the e-Reader together have evolved into an instant-on class of device – the tablet – that satisfies the mobile consumer’s need to instantly connect, be entertained and informed. While small enough to remain portable, smartphones and tablets facilitate sharing, learning, creating and interacting using wireless broadband connectivity (3G, 4G and WiMAX) and these in turn have become indispensable parts of our everyday digital lives.
Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global