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Musings from CTIA

By Bill Gerhardt, Director, IBSG Service Provider

CTIA has certainly evolved a lot over the years. I’ve been attending for a long time, yet, whether in Orlando, Las Vegas, or New Orleans it seemingly takes on a new persona, a new vibe, and a new set of aspirations each year. This year was no different; through the chaos and change, however, I am beginning to see a major trend unfolding. Specifically, I see an industry in flux, one moving from device to application based innovation. What drew me initially to this conclusion was the lack of new designs and features on the floor this year from the device manufacturers. In fact, to some degree, there was even a lack of participation. No Nokia. No RIM. No Motorola.   Instead, there were just a few of the Asian OEM manufacturers and a lot of accessory distributors.

On the other hand, I did see some really cool applications getting attention. Is this the new paradigm? Will unique and compelling apps upstage the efforts of the device guys for attention going forward? Will consumers start to focus on what they can get over the top or from their service providers?

AT&T’s launch of their Digital Life platform is bringing excitement back into networking. Through this platform, AT&T offers a home security, monitoring solution that combines the best of a traditional burglary system, with live respondents, a variety of sensors and some new online applications. Moreover, the solution has a really nice mobile enabled interface that allows for simple navigation and control from the home or the road. Let’s say you need to lower the temperature of the house, but are traveling on business, no worries, the application can be accessed from any internet connection.

For the past five years, Cisco’s IBSG has emphasized the need for service providers to embrace a network enabled home strategy that keeps their customers connected with their friends, family, community, or society whether physically nearby or thousands of miles away. We called this the Connected Life and saw it as the way for service providers to regain control of their customers through a series of innovations on the network. From what I see, AT&T is embracing this concept and offering their customers another reason to remain loyal to their brand. If successful, and of course it is too early to say, as AT&T is just now preparing for market trials in Atlanta and Dallas, they may be able to retain one of their most powerful control points, the customer relationship.

On the financial side of the house, both Visa and MasterCard delivered keynotes that featured new innovations in their mobile banking platforms and plans for global reach.

Gary Flood of MasterCard announced safer, simpler and smarter electronic payments using EasyPass. He suggested a world beyond cash and plastic, driven by mobility, where consumers can simply pay via tap, click, or touch. Gary stated that the industry has witnessed a 38% increase in online buying over the last 12 months and that in response to this trend, they launched PayPass Mobile in the UK in 2011, the first such solution of its kind in that country.  Although today, the youth and affluent are the early adopters, Gary believes that by 2016 the majority of handsets will support Near Field Communications (NFC), which will further stimulate usage for mobile banking applications.

John Partridge from Visa acknowledged that 2.5B adults lack access to formal financial services, such as electronic payments, loans, and savings accounts. However, two-thirds of the unbanked actually have mobile phones. The challenge, in his opinion, is a lack of banking infrastructure in many countries, which opens the doors for mobile solutions. As a result, ten years ago, a small start-up in Zambia called Fundamo created Cellpay to offer mobile banking in that country. Visa eventually bought Fundamo and today there are over 100 mobile money services available in developing markets.

What has John excited is the emerging standardization of NFC solutions and the potential to make its way into both developed and undeveloped countries. It will not just change the way we do business, but it has the opportunity to change lives. John insists that Visa’s Digital Wallet, called V.me, will also focus on security and trust, elements of their offer that cannot be compromised. His goal is to offer secure, reliable, and convenient banking solutions around the globe. Just wave your phone and pay bills, buy train tickets, etc.

So, are these non-device based innovations the trend going forward? Let’s stay tuned and see if others join the fray. In the meantime, I encourage you to mark your calendars for The New Normal – How Mobility is Changing the Way We Live, Work, Play, and Learn, a webcast in which Kelly Ahuja and Kit Beall will explain how the capabilities of today’s advanced mobile networks have forever changed the way we communicate, collaborate, and entertain by helping enable new devices, new applications, and new business models.

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