Naomi Weiser | June 6, 2014
“No-one really knows what 5G is. We need to spend some time defining it”. Since the person making this declaration at TM Forum Live! this week about the next (fifth) generation of mobile broadband technology to come was Anne Bouverot, Director General of the GSMA (and she, combined with the massive industry reach of the GSMA, would definitely be in the best position to know), I’d say the audience sat up a little straighter as she took us through the GSMA’s vision for the future of mobile.
“I think European operators’ balance sheets are loaded with debts from when they had to roll out 3G [as well as parallel capabilities like interoperability roaming] so this is why they’re being cautious with 4G. We should be careful to maximize the potential of 4G before we move into a new generation, and I’m not sure we should rush into 5G until we know what it is.”
Bouverot was sharing GSMA’s new Vision 2020 initiative which covers the four areas identified by mobile operators on which they’d like to focus: personal data (with operators becoming the secure guardians of consumer data) , connected living (i.e. connecting the physical and digital worlds), digital commerce (enabling and building the digital commerce industries) and Network 2020 (creating the network for secure, smart and seamless services).
Since TM Forum had a whole conference track devoted to security and privacy, it wasn’t surprising that these also figured strongly in Bouverot’s keynote presentation when she spoke about personal data. Describing herself as “passionate about mobile user identity”, Bouverot stressed that the user experience needs to be simplified with fewer passwords, describing her own frustrations when confronted in her everyday life by the lack of a single sign-on:
“My UK bank wants me to use a token to secure my access and my French bank account sends me an SMS that I have to enter on my screen to enable payment.”
She would like to be able to use her mobile identity to perform authentication across online services, describing mobile operators as ideally placed to provide these authentication capabilities since “your mobile is no less secure than a token so let’s just use that”.
She also spoke about identity theft which “appears almost daily in the news”, and referenced the recent massive-scale security breach at eBay, which left passwords – as well as names, addresses and telephone numbers – of 233 million eBay users worldwide in hands of hackers. She explained that GSMA are looking hard at network security, and have very clear guidelines on network protocols, and she stressed the importance role SIM cards will play in this area.
Whereby in the developed markets, digital commerce – the ability to pay with your mobile – is more about simplifying the interfaces and the process, Bouverot used this area of Vision 2020 to illustrate the point that innovation can come from emerging markets where more people have access to mobile than a bank account. There are now over 200M registered users of mobile money services, and over half of these are in Africa. So GSMA will be looking into accelerating scalable, interoperable mobile money services for people in the emerging markets, along with developing secure and interoperable digital wallets to aggregate and manage multiple services, and enabling a wide range of digital commerce services which will involve developing areas such as payments, ticketing, access and couponing.
And while we might already have connected cars and smart meters, that’s just a drop in the ocean compared with GSMA’s staggering forecast of 25 billion connected devices in 2020. According to Bouverot, the area of connected living/M2M (machine to machine) will transform sectors ranging from health and education, to transport and consumer electronics. GSMA are working on identifying ways to soften the impact that this will have on the network, such as supporting the development of all-IP networks that are self-aware and dynamically configurable. And mobile services will require ubiquitous, consistent high speed, low latency conditions to support all these devices:.
“Imagine millions of devices upgrading to a new version on the same day on the same network,” said Bouverot. “It will be a problem.”
And back to the subject of Network 2020. Bouverot describes 4G as being “only at the beginning), with 200M 4G connections in the world today, more than three quarters of which are accounted for at the end of last year by the US, Japan and Korea. But with China now launching 4G, she believes the 4G pendulum will swing firmly to Asia, with GSMA expecting that half of the world’s 4G connections will be in Asia by 2017
Bouverot also clarified a common misunderstanding that there are as many mobile devices in the world as people: although there are 7.1 billion connections in the world, this actually relates to the number of SIMs and not devices. In developed markets, we tend to have not one, but two mobile-enabled devices,but in emerging markets they tend to have two SIM cards, each of which offer a different benefit (i.e. different price plans, coverage, data plan, etc) and people swap them when necessary.
So while mobile might be the world’s furthest-reaching communications platform, only 3.6 Billion – half of the world’s population – use it. It shows, said Bouverot, that there’s still a lot of work to be done to give people access to the Internet and mobile, stressing the importance of clearing, harmonizing and allocating spectrum. And since it takes an average of 10 years to clear spectrum for other users and allocate it, GSMA are already working to identify the spectrum needed by 2025.
2025? Now that really is looking at the future of mobile.