After Personal Communications…

Ahead of MEF’s 4th annual CEO Summit, Global Chair Andrew Bud takes time out to reflect on the mobile industry’s ever-evolving journey. rtemagicc_andrew_bud_05_jpg

I was deeply moved by this week’s news of the purchase by Microsoft of Nokia’s mobile phone division, which those of us old enough remember as Mobira.  It felt like a final punctuating mark: the full-stop at the end of a script, in which Nokia was but one protagonist, lasting 30 years.

The latter part of that long and glorious narrative engaged the whole of the mobile entertainment, content and commerce industry, and its end suggests both lessons, questions and challenges for our community.

I’m referring to the vision of Personal Communications. 

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, so let me pillage his rhetoric to say that we too had a dream, in which every person – rich or poor, black or white, would enjoy the revolutionary freedom to telephone and talk with whoever they wanted, whenever they chose, wherever they were.  We dreamed that we could, quite literally, make freedom ring.

In the mid 1980’s, this was simply quixotic.  Yet as everyone knows, that vision has in the last 25 years been fully realized and even surpassed.  In fact, it has been so amply delivered that in many parts of the world it has become a banality, even obsolete.

The means of its delivery were digital communications technology, international standards, and the institution of the mobile network operator as the celestial body whose mass and power held the industry together and powered its growth.  And Nokia.

Nokia dominated the handset industry for fifteen years, delivering continuous innovation on a vast scale.  Its recent story reflects the completion and obsolescence of the Personal Communications dream, the technologies that powered it, and of many of the structures that flourished with that dream.   This week’s buyout of the Verizon Wireless stake from Vodafone hints at the dramatic changes taking place in the mobile operator sector as it too adjusts to the end of Personal Communications as a motivating force.

Throughout our industry, numerous companies were formed and flourished in the Personal Communications eco-system.  Now they too are seeking to comprehend and adjust to the enormously different environment that characterizes today’s market.

What is the new vision of that market?

We can all see the emergence of a world in which a vast quantity and variety of data is continuously fed by every mobile device into a series of great computer models, from which inferences will be drawn.  These will be used to offer each of us insight, help and simplicity in knowing, communicating and transacting.  Whatever we call it, its rules, players, skills, networks structures and centres of power are utterly different from those of the world of Personal Communications.

London.236211601_stdTo succeed in this new environment, mobile companies need to innovate – and often reinvent themselves – at an extraordinary rate to keep pace with the molten shape-shifting of our market, yet rapidly achieve and sustain scale in order to generate relevance and value.

To the entrepreneurs leading such companies, this tension creates exciting and invigorating challenges.   The industry must also understand how to partner effectively with mobile operators in this new environment, and how to generate shareholder value.  These are all themes to be discussed in the intimate context of the MEF CEO Summit on 19th September. 

So let us mark the week in which Nokia Devices became part of the software industry by recognizing that, though Personal Communications is done, the great vaults of opportunity for mobile content and commerce are fuller than ever before – they just need different keys.

Andrew Bud is founder of mBlox and CEO of iProov. The CEO Summit is a MEF member only event, taking place on 19th September at Level 39 in Canary Wharf. Supported by AMEX speakers include Amazon, Dropbox and Magister Advisor.

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