Mobility rules the world

Read time 7min 00sec

All digital technology is gravitating towards mobile.

So said James Munn, VP sub-Saharan region at Qualcomm, speaking last week at Popular Mechanics' FutureTech event on how mobility rules the world.

The entire mobile connected base globally is now six billion, noted Munn, representing the largest, fastest growing and most profitable platform in the history of mankind. In 2011, he pointed out, the mobile industry generated $1.2 trillion, or 2%, of the global GDP.

According to Munn, mobile operators across the globe are moving over to 3G because it provides more voice capacity, saves energy, and data can be provided at speeds higher than those accommodated by GSM, a move he described as a "natural evolution".

Referring to the growth rate of 3G, Munn revealed that, globally, about one million 3G connections are activated every day and that there are 1.8 billion 3G connections globally, 900 million of these in emerging regions.

Some 175 million people access Facebook every day, and more than half of them do so via their mobile phones. "Most of them will require 3G to have a decent experience," said Munn. About 95 million people tweet every day, he continued, about 180 million songs are downloaded illegally every minute, and about 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every hour. "We live in exponential times," he said, referring to stats of just one or two years ago, which were a tenth of that.

"We're looking at data requirements growing by 49 times between now and 2016. In the case of Africa, it's going to be mostly wireless."

Munn noted that SA has exceeded 100% mobile penetration as most people have more than one SIM card. Growth, in terms of smartphones in SA, is about 79% year-on-year, he said.

The key drivers in terms of mobile, said Munn, is not just smartphones. It includes other devices, such as tablets, laptops, data devices, routers, etc, all areas that are also growing as talk turns to smart grids, and how to smartly control the home in order to put power back into the grid, as opposed to building more power stations, so we can manage what we have more effectively.

Advanced networks and emerging regions are also driving mobile, said Munn.

"Mobile is really what all the digital technologies are gravitating towards," noted Munn. Referring to advertising, he said: "The most powerful real estate today is the phone, that little device you look at, apparently, 150 times a day, minimum. It is much more powerful than a television, so advertising can now become a very important aspect of mobile, as can retailing and using your device to move money around.

"As the network speeds pick up and the memory capability of the devices pick up, we'll see a lot more of the mobile TV aspect coming online. In fact, video on mobile is expected to grow by 400% between now and 2016, just think of the data traffic that will create," he said.

As we move into an environment where everything gravitates towards the smartphone and the tablet, said Munn, the mobile is seen as the centre of all other aspects that mobility can drive. Soon, smartphone users' TVs, lights, everything that happens in the home, will be somehow connected to the handset, as will vehicles and everything work-related.

Munn revealed that Qualcomm is working with an application that allows mobile phones to learn users' habits. "For example, when you go shopping, you always stop at the golf shop, or you stop at the fishing shop, you always buy the same groceries; the phone learns that habit. So, for example, you could be walking through Sandton City and your phone will know that you're not interested in the hairdressers, or that particular apparel. It knows that you want to look at the golf shops and immediately that type of information starts coming through.

"Making things smarter is what I'm referring to. Imagine you arrive at the airport; as soon as the network picks up that you're in the building, it will know 'this guy is travelling on South African Airways to Nigeria', and before you even get to the counter, your boarding pass will be ready for you, and the airport and the airline will know exactly where you are in the building. Your imagination is pretty much the limitation.

"To make this all happen, we need a huge amount of technology to pull all these pieces together, and this is where Qualcomm comes in, in terms of its massive R&D and investment. We see the huge opportunity that mobile has for us; it's not just voice and SMS, it goes way, way beyond that."

Data explosion

Turning to data, Munn noted: "It's clear to [Qualcomm] and other technology-based companies that, between now and 2020, we see data growing by well over 1 000%. That's a massive requirement."

In SA, operators have reached 42Mbps and are rolling out fibre furiously. He mentioned LTE, which will provide another chunk of high-speed wireless access. Here, he noted that LTE is not better than HSPA and that the two technologies are complementary.

"HSPA will give you the coverage, whereas LTE will give you the hotspot, high-speed capability. In terms of technological difference, when you look at Shannon's Law, you've basically reached that limitation. The only reason why LTE is faster than HSPA is because it works on a much higher spectrum chunk. If we gave the same spectrum chunk to HSPA, you'd be flying at the same speeds. In fact, with the narrow spectrum HSPA works on at the moment, you'll see that we're going to move from 42Mbps to 84Mbps to 120Mbps, so, in short, there are a lot of good things to look forward to when it comes to the mobile operators in South Africa," he explained.

Connecting Africa

Qualcomm understands that not one chipset fits all smartphones and that there's a variety of requirements, said Munn. In terms of the African context, Qualcomm has been working closely with manufacturers to develop reference designs that allow them to get to market faster for lower-cost smartphones.

"If we look at the African context, the statistic last year was that one in 32 phones are smartphones, and by 2015, there will be one in four or one in five. But to get to that in the African context, where affordability is a big issue, we have to make the phones affordable; they have to be well below R1 000, in fact approaching the R500 mark this year and getting cheaper next year and the year after. We, certainly, can't grow 3G adoption in Africa if we don't address the emerging market requirements for affordable smartphones."

The smartphone is really the Internet of everything, said Munn, which is why mobility is going to rule the world, "because everything is going to gravitate towards that little device that sits in your pocket."

We can look forward to the connected house, the connected car, smart grids, better insights into safety and security, for example, why a car was involved in an accident, and health transformation. We consume less when we develop technologies that make us consume less, he said.

"From Qualcomm's perspective, we see that the mobile world is converging on the mobile device and we're in a position to try and accelerate this as quickly as possible."

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