Mobile World Congress 2014: Humanising technological developments

Gauging the future by looking at what is available now, or the ideas that are being turned into products and life-changing services, is perhaps the best feature of the annual Mobile World Congress.

This year’s edition, staged in Barcelona, Spain, did not disappoint as there was an array of products, applications and services that will most likely alter the technology space and by extension, relationships as we know it, in the future.

In three editions dating back to 2012, the congress has recorded a steady rise in attendees, moving from the region of 60,000 to over 80,000 people from over 200 countries. These statistics imply that a lot more people have become more interested in the new mobile era and how it is shaping the way people live, work and play and indeed, in search for ways to tap into the endless possibilities it guarantees.

This year’s edition, with the theme Creating What’s Next, presented a platform for organizations from various sectors to showcase ideas which are designed to improve on existing technology. With technology evolving in an unprecedented rate over the last decade, it has become imperative for businesses to align themselves with this growth in order not to be left behind.

During the congress, WhatsApp an over-the-top player in the communication space, which already offers a free messaging application to about 450 million subscribers on Android and iOS platforms, presented its goal to extend its bouquet of offerings to voice service. The decision was applauded by its growing subscriber base but did not go well with telecom operators in emerging markets whose revenue are mostly derived from voice service. Its free messaging application is already affecting the income accruing to telecom operators via SMS. The introduction of the new service may yet prove to be a knockout punch for the mobile operators who are also grappling with the issue of dwindling revenue arising from declining average revenue per user (ARPU).

The onus therefore, lies on the telecom operators in these markets to redefine their business model and also strive to identify other ways of maintaining a profitable relationship with their customers. A line they could toe is to partner with WhatsApp in delivering its services to its customers. Interestingly, the Chief Executive Officer of WhatsApp, Jan Koum revealed that the company is open to partnering with mobile operators in delivering its services. This in essence points to the fact that WhatsApp is not a strictly disruptive force in the value chain. Also, operators may need to look at the area of interconnect fees. They may be able to squeeze out some revenue when calls are terminated on their network from WhatsApp and from other applications such as Skype. Whichever decision they make, customers are angling for a regime that would best suit their pockets.

Also at this year’s congress, Ericsson the world’s leading mobile network infrastructure provider showcased a new technology it is currently developing that would provide information about anything with print to individuals who intend to purchase or use these items. The idea behind the technology is that the paper label on products can be connected and by mere touch of the product by individuals vital and specific information relating to these items will be accessed with a mobile device.

For instance, if an individual goes to a shop to get a cup ice cream and desires a comprehensive information on the ingredients in order to determine if it would be good for his health, with a single touch of the label which is connected to Ericsson’s cloud services network, he would be able to transfer the virtual information on the recipe, logistics involved in getting the product to the shop, condition of the content, among others, onto his mobile device where he can view these essential details of the product. The individual can also personalize the application on his device to prompt him on any product which contains ingredients that are harmful to him or he simply does not like. In essence, Ericsson’s connected paper will assist consumers in making rational decisions when shopping. Such decisions could go a long way to help individuals better manage health issues.

For this revolutionary technology to be available to all and sundry, companies will need to partner with Ericsson to get their product labels connected while mobile phone and other related device manufacturers will also collaborate with Ericsson to get the application inserted into their mobile products.

With the evolution of technology, many businesses outside of the traditional information and communication sector are beginning to find ways of playing a leading role in making the lives of their consumers more meaningful by adopting new technological ideas. According to Mobile World Congress forecasts, the next few years will see people surrounded by an increasing array of connected devices some of which will help in the reduction of energy consumption, the cost of health care among others. These devices are bound to usher in an era which analysts refer to as the Connected Lifestyle. However, for this to happen telcos and other industries will need to rethink the services they provide and the ways in which they do so.

A company already thinking in this direction and which plays in the fast moving consumer goods space is Procter and Gamble. At the Mobile World Congress, P & G as it is generally called all over the world introduced the “Connected Toothbrush”- Oral-B Smart Series 7000.

The electric Oral-B SmartSeries 7000 connects to the Oral Blue iPhone app using Bluetooth 4.0, allowing the app to provide real-time guidance on brushing habits. It is capable of informing the user when the bristle are pressing too hard on the teeth while brushing.

It records brushing activity on a chart that can be shared with dental professionals to create personalized brushing routines and because the Bluetooth connectivity works both ways, the app can also be used to program the toothbrush to brush the user’s teeth in a certain way as advised by his dentist.

For some, brushing their teeth could be a bore especially if they must maintain a prescribed routine for medical reasons. To aid such people, the app on the phone makes available news articles, local weather reports to help them hang in there while maintaining the routine. The speed of the brush is also adjustable to suit people with sensitive teeth. Using this toothbrush will help users reduce to the barest minimum tooth and gum troubles which will in turn translate to less dental visits to clinics.

 The Mobile World Congress is providing a platform for businesses to identify opportunities in the rapidly evolving world and for whom are the changes and what they mean for various industries and businesses. Hence attending the mobile world congress has become an essential part of business strategy with which to find new opportunities, which when executed will in the long run lead to profitable and sustainable growth of these businesses in the modern and complex environment of today. However, for the consumers like you and I, the annual congress points the way to how we could live a more connected and stress-free life, whether in business or at home.

Harry Okoruwa

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