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Innovation City: The operators' connected dreamworld

David Murphy

Touring the Innovation City section of Mobile World Congress this morning, I was struck by how little things seem to have changed from a year, or even two years ago. In terms of the stuff on display, you could tick all the usual boxes: connected cars; smart homes; smart cities; industrial wearables; 5G; Internet of Things.

An AT&T demo showing how its connected car platform works explained how it would authenticate the driver’s identity before allowing them to drive the vehicle, then once en route, it would alert them to any incoming text messages and read them out; confirm to them that they had left their home in a secure state; deliver traffic updates, naturally; and allow passengers in the vehicle to connect to the onboard wi-fi.

Jaguar’s demo of its InControl Touch Pro connected car platform, meanwhile explained how it enables drivers and passengers to keep in touch with the outside world via things like flight status and weather updates. And the University of Surrey was on hand to talk about how it is working with Jaguar to ensure that the Uni’s work – it is a world-renowned centre of excellence for 5G research – is focused on delivering solutions that are useful in the real world rather than the stuff that gets the academics’ juices flowing.

But the overwhelming feeling that struck me looking at these demos was one of ‘so what?’ It doesn’t seem particularly remarkable or far-fetched, just a logical progression towards this connected world that the GSMA is so keen to promote. That’s not a criticism of what’s on show, just a recognition of the fact that a world where your car ‘talks’ to your house and where you’re as connected in your car as you would be in the living room, seems nothing if not normal, even if there are some obstacles to overcome, around things like security, and common standards to avoid fragmentation.

In addition to AT&T, other operators, including Korea Telecom and Telefonica, have a strong presence in the Innovation City area, and it’s no surprise that the GSMA should be so keen on promoting the concept, since mobile operators have a lot to gain from a world in which everything is connected.
From high-bandwidth, in-car broadband networks at one end of the spectrum, to sensors in things like soap dispensers, litter bins and vending machines, sending polling status update messages back to base at the other, there are some serious revenues to be had for mobile operators who get it right.

The GSMA has worked hard in recent years to encourage a mobile marketing element to MWC, attracting more mobile marketing exhibitors, particulary from the ad tech space, and grouping them in one hall dubbed ‘App Planet’. With the march towards the Internet of Things and the connected world, the operators themselves are taking centre stage. With very few exceptions, mobile operators’ attempts at getting in on the mobile marketing act have resulted in glorious failure. You get the sense that with the Internet of Things/connected world, they should be on much more solid ground.