Friday, March 22, 2013

Mobile World Congress 2013 may have overlooked something important

By Shane Schick

It’s easy and understandable to look from afar at the coverage of this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and focus solely on the new devices – Firefox phones! Phablets! – that were announced by various hardware makers. None of those toys will mean much, however, if IT professionals don’t spend just as much time thinking about how IP networks should evolve to support them.

I was intrigued to see that the newswire service Reuters actually paid some attention to this, highlighting demonstrations from Qualcomm, Verizon, AT&T and others that illustrated the kind of space-age connectivity and context-based computing that has been envisioned for at least the last decade. As usual, the demonstrations were all about digital life at home, from coffeemakers that activated via a smartphone and speakers that turned themselves on when their owner enters a room. This quote summed up the underlying vision of Mobile World Congress 2013:

Glenn Lurie, AT&T president of emerging enterprises, said the next step would be . . . creating a smart ecosystem dedicated to an individual. “When my wife drives into the house and flips the garage door open, the house will know she’s home and unlock the door and turns the thermostat up; that’s the future,” Lurie said.

Well sure, it’s part of the future. But only part. If communication vendors put this much work into enabling a more seamlessly connected digital lifestyle for consumers, there will be an increased expectation of similar functionality and network-awareness at work. If your house can turn on the thermostat before you open the door, why should the average office worker need to sit through 10-minute boot times (or worse), tap through sluggish enterprise applications and search for the relevant files that they’ll need over the course of the day?

IT departments are stressed out right now in part because the IT industry allowed the consumer technology experience to overwhelmingly surpass what the average business can offer its personnel. As the next generation of networks manifest themselves, vendors and technology professionals have an opportunity to turn that situation around. It may begin with a migration to all-IP networks, but it will also mean the applications and even the physical infrastructure of business environments will need to be reconsidered. Call it unified communications 2.0 if you want, but it comes down to this: What do people need to do when they’re in “work” mode, and where will they be doing it?

Things that turn on or run automatically in a home will quickly be taken for granted. The real opportunity for next-generation network technologies will be about easing the processes carried out by business people of every description, making them more productive and collaborative than ever before. Hopefully some smart people at this week’s event in Barcelona will keep that in mind. A true “mobile world” should recognize that if we dedicate smart ecosystems to an individual, that individual isn’t just playing around. They have work to do, too.