It was not so very long ago that the Mobile World Congress – the World’s largest gathering for the mobile industry in Barcelona – was fairly focussed on mobile phones. Not anymore. This year’s MWC was all about the Internet of Things (IoT) and content delivery, and the underpinning 5G network and software that will help make it possible.
The thing about IoT and 5G is that until very recently the hype tended to trump the reality. Again, not any more. Every major network operator at MWC had 4G enabled IoT technology or technology planned for 5G powering real-world, real-time IoT applications (including our own trial demonstration where IoT data gathered via our new 4G Category M capability was transmitted from Pooley Winery’s in Tasmania and displayed data in Barcelona on things like soil moisture, temperature, rainfall, solar radiation, and wind speed and direction).
Every IoT use case I saw at MWC this year – including the smart, connected cars and trucks; the planes and trains; the houses and businesses, the domestic appliances and even the manhole covers – were an unambiguous reminder that IoT and 5G networks are not so far off in the future anymore. In fact they are just around the corner. They were also a reminder that the key to understanding IoT is that this is not just a technology revolution, it is a customer experience revolution.
Reality trumps hype
IoT is fundamentally about using information from smart, connected devices running on smart 4G enabled networks today and, in the future, networks with ultra-low latency 5G technology, to enable smart decisions and incredible customer experiences.
Think about all of the electronic devices you use in your life every day—not just the computers and smartphones you use for work and play but things like the infrastructure around you, the weather and transport systems, appliances and even your car.
These devices all have the potential to collect information about the patterns and processes in the way you move through and interact with the world. If all these devices are connected and communicating with one another (which they will in an IoT world), imagine the kind of possibilities you could create from the information they collect.
The oft-used domestic appliance example of IoT-enabled fridges or washing machines mean sensors will detect a potential problem before it becomes an issue and relay that information both to you and directly back the manufacturer and the service team.
The service department immediately knows how serious the problem is, what needs to be fixed or replaced, and how that effects your warranty. Further upstream the manufacturer also learns in real-time what parts might not be durable or operating as designed and that helps them create better products as well as keeping their warranty and service costs down. IoT saves time and money but fundamentally it is about creating a better customer experience.
IoT has implications for every business because it forces a complete re-think of just about everything we do. And that is a good thing because it raises all sorts of exciting questions and opportunities to think about how we can create the best possible customer experience. Questions like:
What opportunities are created if we can see and analyse how products are used in real time and what can we do with that knowledge to improve the customer experience?
What are the opportunities created by being able to update or customise products remotely through software upgrades from the cloud?
What if your systems could become autonomous and capable of learning as they are fed data from monitoring and control systems? What could you learn and what could you do with that knowledge in terms of the customer experience?
A thousand other questions come to mind but the point is the internet of billions of smart, connected things creates a whole world of new opportunities to take a fresh look at how technology can deliver undreamt of customer experiences.
Networks – making it possible
At a fundamental level what makes all of this possible is the great convergence between technology and telecommunications. The level of innovation at that point of convergence is without precedent as every market, every experience and even the purpose of objects are completely redefined.
All of this incredible change relies on network connectivity and the step change in bandwidth, latency and reliability that 5G brings; along with cheap and powerful sensors that are emerging today on 4G, that is what makes IoT possible.
The bandwidth of 5G becomes particularly important in media and content delivery, and this was a major focus at MWC. The huge growth in demand for video means network operators around the world, in collaboration with content owners, are looking at innovative and more efficient ways of getting content like sport and entertainment to customers’ devices.
So much of the investment in network infrastructure for 2G, 3G and 4G was about hardware – the physical towers, cables and associated data centres that makes the magic possible. 5G is the same in one sense – an investment in new hardware is still required – but different in another because equally as important will be the investment in software to create smarter networks that can better manage data traffic while at the same time delivering an improved customer experience.
We are already trialling new technologies to deliver content to our customers’ mobile devices and at MWC announced a pilot with Ericsson and 20st Century Fox where we are using LTE-B technology to deliver studio quality movies to our customers’ devices at off-peak times to better manage network traffic.
The pilot (and partnership) is an opportunity for us to explore new ways of delivering high quality content to our customers and experiment with using innovative, customer-friendly solutions to achieve network efficiencies.
The cutting edge IoT and 5G technologies on show at the Mobile World Congress this year confirmed two related things for me. Firstly that we have reached a point where IoT and 5G are less hype and more reality. Secondly, and far more importantly, that technology might be the driver but the most exciting thing about the super-connected, super-smart future is the customer experiences that it will make possible.
This post originally appeared on Linkedin.
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