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November 28, 2004

Innovation at the edge

Telcos are hamstrung by the embedded worldview they have because they started off being a mobile TELEPHONE network.

With the transition from mobile voice to mobile data, new thinking is needed to truly ride this wave.

My article on McLuhans rear-view way of going forward is relevant here:
"gee, now that we've got much fatter pipes, we can run a video feed while we talk to someone."

Bollocks. A video feed of their chin maybe. Watch for the rise in cosmetic surgery bookings.

Broadband (and narrowband) wireless is much more than getting stuff to a handset. A handset/voice centric view will make an operator money (as has done in obscene amounts over the last decade) but do nothing to expand the pie of fresh new product ideas.

Those in play at the various operators need to think beyond the current device paradigm, and think in terms of the possibilities that this creates.

Think music subscription service - take iPod + iTunes Music Store + 3G connectivity. And a healthy dose of outward looking music industry execs. You now have an opportunity to offer consumers as much music as they can listen to for a limited period based on their monthly subscription. And since they're more likely to listen to more stuff, the chances are that they'll buy/keep at least some percent of that. The concept of The Long Tail plays out.

And I'm not talking about a wireless streaming audio service. No, this way you get to keep the music. Music of the Month club kind of stuff. Netflix for phones.

Extend this to audio books. A truly innovative product offering could be that Exclusive Books/Wordsworth, MTN/Vodacom/CellC and combine to offer commentaries/extensions on book like Dan Brown's Da Vinci code as a value add to buying the book in-store.

A hybrid DAB digital radio / UMTS service can provide exceptional programming and content choice in your car radio. Think iTrip + cellphone.

This reminds me of the Negroponte switch, except that the switching is between different radio/wireless technologies. (Include as well RFID and Bluetooth networks).

(My fascination with audio rather than video is because you can still do other stuff while listening.)

Back to the realities here at home.

UMTS-enabled medical teams can much more easily perform tele-medicine services. Regarding my comments about narrow-band wireless, smart sensors can monitor water levels in flood- or disease-prone (eg. cholera) areas and rely infomation in a timeous fashion. Read more about SmartDust here.

The big challenge in eradicating poverty with limited resources in the near future is putting the people and resources where they will be most effective. Wireless networks just make it easier to gather that information.

This is possible because of a BIG FAT WIRELESS PIPE.

The point is, be wary of being too definitive about what services you (as an operator) think the public wants. Rather provide the basic services and create a platform for the public to innovate and develop novelties. Boro Douthwaite and Eric von Hipple have some excellent thoughts about this.

By innovation platform I mean allow people who want to tinker have access to the resources. Create a tinker-licence for those early-adopters. See my article [.doc] on user-led innovation for more on this and novelty generation.

So Russell Beattie is 100% correct in saying that Yahoo Mobile should give their staff unlimited access to mobile internet. What an incredible innovation pool. The structures just need to be in place so that the ideas can float freely and cross-pollonate and build on each other.

TiVo has an amazing platform that allows for the tinkering and developing new services by end-users, thanks to it being Linux-based (see here for example. Except from what I've seen, their management has cocked those opportunities up royally.

Essentially what's happening out there is open source innovation, and the more you open up your products to tinkering (with obvious warranty-based and safety provisos), the more interesting stuff you'll get.

Innovation happens at the edge of markets, not in the mainstream.

UPDATE: I'm always amazed by synchonicity. I found these insightful articles after I posted this.

Hacking the Phone Platform

"...If I was a Nokia or a Hewlett-Packard, I would take a fraction of what I’m spending on those buildings full of expensive people and give out a whole bunch of prototypes to a whole bunch of 15-year-olds and have contracts with them where you can observe their behavior in an ethical way and enable them to suggest innovations, and give them some reasonable small reward for that. And once in a while, you’re going to make a billion dollars off it."

UPDATE 2: check this entry out on all-you-can-eat subscriptions and other emerging models in the music industry space.

Posted by sdehaast at November 28, 2004 04:08 PM Posted to food for thought

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