I was over at CTIA for a while the other day. I already wrote about the BAMF meeting that we had afterward, that kicked ass. But I really should write something of my own about CTIA. I was personally pretty disappointed. I forget who exactly said it, but someone at the BAMF meeting said “it was all about how to make the carriers even more money.” Yea, unfortunately, that is very accurate. It’s not that I expect everyone to have the same overall view of mobility as I have. But I would expect someone to be able to get some representation for the interesting new apps out there. The closest that I really saw were a couple of booths talking about interesting applications for location based services. For the most part the location based stuff was all the same normal pitch. “We have the largest point of interest database anywhere!” Yea, sure, but I bet most of the points I’m most highly interested in still aren’t in there.
So why do I keep bitching about mobility. Why am I working on getting the BAMF meetings together and trying to hook up people whenever I can? Cause I really do think that mobility is due for a discontinuous innovation cycle. What’s that all about? The whole concept of discontinuous innovation I’ve heard most often associated with Clayton Christenson. If you’re interested in hearing a heavily tech industry slanted version of his take, go over to IT Conversations and pick up his speech from the Open Source Business Conference. At a very very high level, the concept is that a new type of technology comes along (or a new type of business model, or a new method of transportation, etc) and eventually completely destroys the old way of doing things. I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing in the mobility industry. There are a lot of really valuable applications that could be out there making peoples lives better. But the deployment of those applications is really held up because the mobile industry is very tied to the old old telecom industry. The telecom industry would really love for mobility to be another one of their cash cows. But the telecom industry wants the mobile industry to fit into the patterns that the telecom industry is already familiar with and is set up to exploit.
So what’s the big deal you might ask? If there’s so much great mobility stuff that could be done, why aren’t people out there doing it? Normally that is how it happens. New companies come up and just wipe out the old companies. For some information about the concepts behind that look up Schumpeter, and the concepts of Creative Destruction. The idea there is that markets don’t allow companies to evolve so much as the market itself evolves through a series of new companies, each set more fit than the last. So something should come along and replace telecom to form a new version of the mobile market, right? Well in theory. One of the problems is that there’s limited spectrum on which wireless can run. The actual radio signals used to communicate from handsets to the cell towers have to be licensed from the government. Those licenses cost a hell of a lot of money, and there are limited slots available. That means the only people even in the running have to be extremely well funded. That really rules out just about any form of upstart being able to come in and compete. So the mobile industry is kinds stuck in this world of the old telecom industry, and regulation does it’s best to make sure that things stay that way.
I personally think that this is one of the reasons that 802.11 and other short range alternatives are positioned as alternatives to cellular. Technically they should be a completely different category. Although they do some of the same stuff, I think there’s more different than there is that’s the same. However, 802.11 is unregulated. Anyone can come in and setup a base station and provide service over all small area. 802.11 has grown very rapidly because of that. A somewhat normal user an service their own needs. Businesses can make inroads to setting up a service network without the crippling charges that they would have to pay for license fees. 802.11 creates a low barrier to entry alternative to cellular, and that encourages experimentation. It invites the startups to play with new ideas, and becomes the defacto platform for the innovative sollutions. In some ways the cellular market is cutting itself off from interesting new applications.
So would I really expect CTIA to pay a lot of attention to the new medium of mobility rather than the existing market of mobility? No, not really. But I can still hope sometimes. At CTIA, the hope was misplaced.