Digital Swarms. The Mobile Generation. 4G. Sounds cool to me but what does it really mean for my business and future? Scott Snyder is here to tackle these questions as well as lay out a plethora of opportunity in his new book “The New World of Wireless: How to Compete in the 4G Revolution”. A senior fellow in the management department at The Wharton School, PHD in systems engineering from University of Penn and CEO of Decision Strategies International, Scott specializes in helping organizations in scenario planning and capitalizing on opportunity.
Scott, first…let’s talk technology. 3G, 4G…please explain.
3G is a technology that has been around several years and is really just an extension of the traditional cellular network approach with a little more bandwidth (up to several Megabits per Second where the capacity is available). However, it has been only moderately successful due to some inefficiencies in how it uses the airwaves, intellectual property licensing fees, and the need for more bandwidth and capacity. 4G is a completely different paradigm. Not only does 4G offer significantly higher speeds (up to 100 Megabits per Second and higher), it also supports seamless interoperability with other wireless and fixed networks, Internet Protocol (IP), sensor networks, smart devices, and end-to-end security. Maybe most importantly, it shifts more network decisions and capability to the user.
You’ve said that this wireless revolution may prove more disruptive than the Internet revolution. How?
Whereas the internet created new was to reach customers, become more productive, and break down entry barriers for companies, wireless takes this another step by allowing people and objects anywhere to become interconnected and threatens the basic structure of organizations. Whereas the internet is about content, wireless is also about “context”. It is no longer just about who and where you are versus what you are doing and who you are connected to in your “Swarm”.
Looking forward a few years, how will wireless technologies play a role in our daily lives?
Devices are becoming much more intelligent. We can see simple examples with iPhone’s position sensor or buddy beacon’s that immediately show the location of your friends. These “cognitive” devices will not only be able to help determine the best network to use, but will also become our personal concierge in deciding where we should shop, what we should eat based on our health profile, how to manage our energy usage, and with many other high value decisions. In addition, sensor networks will improve the ability of people, organizations, and even governments to sense opportunities and threats much faster from traffic patterns and customer feedback to climate disasters and terrorist attacks.
Help us understand Digital Swarms and where they are headed.
Because users are more empowered in 4G networks, they are able to self-organize and use network resources as needed to accomplish common goals. From real-time political activism to more productive sales teams, Digital Swarms will become a new model for getting things done across widely distributed people and objects in business and society.
How important will our social networks be in the wireless future?
Social Networks will become completely imbedded in how we operate and live. It is really the nexus of social networks, smart devices, and 4G that lay the foundation for Digital Swarms.
What should we as business people be doing to prepare? What questions do we need to ask ourselves?
We need to be willing to challenge the assumptions that have made us successful in the past in our current organizations and industries. This means we need to scan for emerging trends around emerging technologies and business models like 4G and Digital Swarms. We then need to experiment with new products and services leveraging these new platforms to adapt our strategy and business model. Failing “fast and cheap” is not only possible with 4G, but it is a required approach in a market environment and technology area that is changing so fast. This means your customers, partners, and suppliers must all be part of the innovation process to quickly determine what works and what doesn’t. Build an innovation ecosystem around 4G and Digital Swarms that includes them.
What are the top trends in wireless?
1) Increasing speeds for sure - We will be reaching speeds above 100 Megabits per second in the next few years (10-20X a typical home broadband connection).
2) Interoperability among networks – While this is not necessarily desired by network owners since it may devalue their asset, users and governments have been pushing for open networks as they will make more resources accessible for consumers and businesses to innovate.
3) The connection with social networks – we are already seeing the shift to mobile devices as the dominant form of connecting to social networks.
4) User-centric networks and applications – the iPhone app store model has put the power in the hands of small players to build compelling apps. Smart devices will also allow users to leverage many networks versus being captive to one as we are today.
5) Low-end disruption – Innovation in the developing world in some of the poorest economies is shaping new wireless applications elsewhere. Remote healthcare, commodity market pricing, and microfinancing are just some of the examples coming from regions where the only infrastructure is wireless and users have basic cell phones.
Where will there be opportunities for employment or entrepreneurship?
Absolutely. In almost every industry, there will be opportunities to reinvent many of the current models for doing business including sales, R&D, customer service, etc. There will also be great opportunities to develop Greenfield products and services. Most likely, these opportunities will exist at the intersections where wireless along with Digital Swarms will unlock new applications like energy, healthcare, retail, and security. All of these sectors face major challenges where distributed intelligence, mobility, interconnectedness, improved decision-making, and user-driven innovation could provide significant benefit.
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