It used to be all about handsets.
They were still there in abundance in Hall 8, including a very, well, square little number from LG, but when Ford launches a new motor at a mobile show rather than a car show
, you know times have changed.
As, indeed, had the underlying theme.
Across the entire conference, the message was one of ubiquitous connectivity: connected homes, connected cars, connected cows. (The late Times columnist Bernard Levin once wished for a symbol which would mean “I am not making this up”. Consider this hypothetical symbol inserted here. All I will say on this matter, brought to my attention by John Dillon of Alcatel-Lucent, is that the connection measures the internal temperature of the cow and enables a vet to know when the cow is about to give birth.)
This surge in connected devices has implications reaching far beyond the mobile industry to the ecosystems of everything that can be connected, ranging from the objects themselves (homes, cars, cows) to the businesses that are using this connectivity to increase their engagement with the consumer.
Retail is a case in point here: John Donahue, the President and CEO of eBay, observed in his keynote that we will see more change in how you will pay in the next 3 -5 years than we have in the last 10-20.
How many of you, Donahue asked, now consume media in a fundamentally different way? Because we want to get media immediately, on our
terms, this has had profound implications for the media industry. He continued: “We are on the verge of the same thing in the payment industry – the mobile device is blurring the boundary between ecommerce and retail.”
Up in Hall 7, eBay was busy showcasing a rather nifty little application: the eBay Fashion app. Consumers to photograph an item of clothing that takes their fancy; they are then directed to an eBay page showing them a dozen or so types of clothing in that colour. The consumer (let’s call her Mrs Holden) then clicks on the type of clothing that has taken her fancy (let’s say a blouse); she is then able to see not only which eBay merchants are offering that item online in her size, but also – if she needs the item of clothing urgently, say for her friend’s birthday bash this evening – which retail outlets in the vicinity stock the item, and how many blouses they have in stock. She can then reserve the item to collect later that day. All of which not neatly encapsulates this new world of connectivity of locality, but also had me fingering my credit card and going “Hmm” in a thoughtful voice.
The fact that we are undergoing this transition to ubiquitous connectivity, with the device itself providing a focal hub, itself throws up challenges to those responsible for enabling that connectivity: the network operators. Managing calls and texts is one thing; managing data from homes, cars and cows is quite another, particularly given the different customer experience in each case (not to mention the problems that may arise). While it is imperative for MNOs to develop new revenue streams by leveraging their core assets (e.g. their network and billing capabilities), to develop those streams will require a fairly fundamental shift, both in terms of mindset and in terms of restructuring the customer-facing side of the business: dealing with complaints about call drop-out is one thing, dealing with the fallout resulting from a faulty connected home security system, or car, or cow, quite another.
In many cases, as several speakers at the Congress pointed out, the MNO will not be the party at fault: but in those where they retain a direct relationship with the end user, they will be the first port of call for complaints. And in those where the relationship is strictly B2B, they will still need to be prepared to answer a dizzying range questions from anxious service providers.
Until, and almost certainly after, the cows come home…