As regular readers of this blog know, I do public conference speakerships at a rate of twenty per year, on six continents. I've talked about the future of mobile telecoms at the biggest conferences in Japan, Korea and Finland; I've talked about strategy to the biggest telecoms event, 3GSM Congress in Cannes; about the evolution from 3G to 4G telecoms at the CTIA in New Orleans, etc. Last week I faced my toughest speaking assignment. In Ottawa Canada.
Last week Canada celebrated 20 years of cellular telecoms. The Canadian industry association, CWTA, invited me to deliver the keynote to that historic event, attended pretty well with the who's who of Canadian telecoms, from the minister on down to all the major CEOs of the major players etc. My topic? 20 years into the future of cellular telecoms in Canada.
20 years might not initially sound that bad, after all, I regularly make predictions and forecasts to the industry and at forecasting conferences, and comment on those regularly in my columns, etc. But my forecasts tend to be with a 3-5 year window into the very near future, where 8-10 years is a very long term forecast for me. So whats a couple more years?
Consider 20 year into the past. I should be forecasting mobile telecoms. 20 years ago obviously the mobile phone was not particularly mobile as in personal - the phones were carphones. The batteries were literally the size of briefcases and weighed as much. But consider the IT industry overall. Modems ran at 1,024 or 2,048 bit/s (current 3G modems run 384 kbit/s, WiFi and broadband modems at several Mbit/s). There were no PC digital cameras, no DVD players. Music was shifting from vinyl and c-cassette to music CD. There was no Kazaa, there was no Napster, there were no MP3 players, there was hardly any digital music whatsoever!
And what of the computer? The top line PC in 1985 was what was generally called the "Turbo PC" by IBM, the AT, or the first of the 286 systems with the CPU running at 6 MHz. With 512K RAM, an EGA (640 x 350) standard colour screen, a 20 MB hard drive, and one 5.25" floppy drive which was really those original FLOPPY diskettes. No mouse, no windows, no internet, no multimedia, no CD drive.
Then there was the rebel computer, the Apple Macintosh. The very first Mac was unveiled in 1984 and this introduced the graphical user interface (GUI) ie what then was copied by Microsoft and called Windows. The Mac brought us the mouse and hypertext (allowing us eventually to have HTML based web pages on the internet).
Finally, for all of us "road warriers" 1985 gave us the world's first laptop computer, by Toshiba. You couldn't get it here in Europe or in Canada or the USA in 1985 the only country you could buy this weird expensive gadget was in Japan. Check out these specs of the original T1000: 8088 processor at 4.77 MHz and 512K of RAM memory, CGA monochrome display at 640 x 200 (yes a letter-box style display more wide than high), with a total of one 720 kb diskette drive - and NO hard drive. (But it did run 5 hours on one battery charge - the great benefit from not having a hard drive..)
These PCs by the way ran at very fast speeds for their time, one half of one MIPS (Millions of Instructions Per Second). For contrast today's high-end smart mobile phones run about 200-300 MIPS.
Talking about the internet, its early incarnation, called the Arpanet, had 2000 connected computers in 1985, university and government computers essentially only in the USA (contrast with almost a billion connected computers today). The fastest computers in the world 20 years ago were the supercomputer Cray XMP, which had 32 MB of RAM (wow, that was so enormous at that time) and 2 GB of hard drive space. Its processor ran at 118 MHz, producing a top speed of 250 MIPS, and the operating system was Unix.
Notice that a top-line smartphone approaches that supercomputer Cray XMP with some of its performance, and obviously exceeds it by many measures.
With that in mind, now I was asked to look 20 years into the future. But I was honoured to do so, and did my very best. I decided to break down the forecast into parts, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and 20 years into the future. And keeping in mind, this is for Canada, so in some ways it was easier, as Canada is not as advanced as we in Europe or many parts of Asia, so some early forecasts I could do by just examining trends in Korea, Japan, Finland etc.
I argued that in very rough terms and considering the performance and specifications, a mobile phone of today will be like a laptop computer 5 years ago; a desktop PC 10 years ago; a mainframe computer 15 years ago; and a supercomputer 20 years ago. With Moore's Law we can expect those trends to roughly hold true into the next 20 years. So to see roughly what kind of processing power we can expect from top-end "smart phones" of 2025, we can look at a supercomputer today - such as the IBM BlueGene/L, which as 16 Terabytes (=16,000 Gigabytes = 16 million megabytes) of memory and which runs at 70,000 Teraflops (=70 Trillion floating point operations per second) of speed.
But such numbers are rather meaningless without context. I gave trends in the form factor of a typical "fashion phone" ie a small pocketable or smaller phone; and what kind of services and applications will become possible in those technical environments. Here are snippets into the future I imagined:
In 2010 the typical mainstream mobile phone will be 3.5G phone with a 5 Megapixel optical zoom cameraphone with WiFi type speeds and built-in TV tuners, and a gigabyte size hard drive (like today's i-Pods). The smallest phones are the size of a thick credit card. Credit cards merge with the mobile phone. Music and videgaming industries earn more from direct downloads to mobile phones that from sales of CD/DVD/gaming CDs in record stores/video stores. Mobile payments are commonplace for parking, vending machines, public transportation, lotteries, movies.
For 2015, I projected that the typical mobile phone will be the 4G phone. The optical and digital zoom has brought us "spy scopes" and telescope functionality to some cameraphones with 50x zooms and beyond. Speech recognition and synthesis introduces the sentence translator as a regular feature - from any language to any language. At this stage it is still cumbersome as we have to speak the sentences and wait for the translation, so this is not quite the Star Trek "universal translator" concept, but slowly getting there. Our phone will have so much storage ability that we can store every moving image and sound we experience around us for the past 15 minutes, and "rewind" live LIFE, much like today's PVRs like TiVo and Sky+ can rewind live TV. The small phones are of the size of a large matchbox. Obviously there are no keys on this phone and we don't hold it to our ear. Those interface matters are resolved.
As to services ten years from now in 2015 all major stores will accept payment by mobile phone, from petrol stations to supermarkets to hotels to convenience stores to restaurants etc. The total money transactions will shift where more money goes through mobile phones than stand-alone credit cards. m-Key applications become popular from our home and office keys being imbedded to our mobile phone, to hotels, car rentals etc issuing our keys directly to the mobile phone. A "virtual secretary" function appears to the phone, which handles accepting incoming calls and messages and we train the digital assistant to handle the calls and messages just like a real person - and the virtual secretatry is so realistic the other person does not know it is only software in our phone. By this time some major newspapers have stopped printing on paper.
By 2020 I forecasted that we get the 4.5G phone with 100 Mbit/s transmission speeds. By now the high end smartphones have built-in video projectors, like used at offices and conferences today to project large screen images. In that way we just place the phone on the table and can view any movie or videocall etc projected at any reasonably white wall. Storage ability is at the terabyte range, meaning that essentially "all recorded music" can be pre-loaded to the phone even before it is sold. The form factor of the smallest phones is a thick postage stamp.
By 2020 the personal secretary function evolves into a personality synthesizer - ie there will be software on my phone, that when you call it, you don't even know that you did not talk to me, you talked to my phone, which then makes necessary adjustments to my calendar, informs me briefly what was talked about etc. And the translator? by 2020 the bugs are fixed, and we have real-time translation, any language to any language.
By 2020 all payments go directly to the mobile phone account (ie it is the same as our bank account and our credit card account). We pay all relevant payments by mobile phone, from taxes to rents to monthly car payments etc. Most daily newspapers have stopped printing paper versions. Music CDs and movie DVDs are no longer made. And the "free" non-Mobile phone based "old-fashioned" internet has all but vanished.
Finally in 2025 we have the 5G phone. It is totally unfair to call this a phone and it certainly won't be called that. The form factor is more like a sugar cube or less, can easily be built into a ring for example. People will have these communication devices built into the body, into perhaps a tooth etc., With multi-multi terabyte hard drives these "phones" can ship with all the worlds' movies, or all the world's TV shows, or all the worlds' existing videogames, etc already preloaded, depending on what is your preference of entertainment. And of course mainstream phones come with the top 1000 fave movies, TV shows, videogames AND all existing music preloaded.
Of course in my presentation I also talked about community power - as Alan and I discuss to great depth in our book Communities Dominate Brands - and the emergence of Generation-C, etc. Regular readers of this blog know that this week's Business Week has community power on its cover story, saying it is the biggest change in business since the industrial revolution. In the April 2 issue of the Economist, the cover story went even further, stating that the very survival of all firms and companies is at stake - if you don't understand community power, you will not survive. More about all that as well as over 100 real business examples and 13 case studies of the emerging power of communities in our 274 page hardcover book that you can order by clicking here on the top left of this blogsite :-)
Perhaps the best forecast was that 20 years from now I will be 65 years old, and will be able to retire. I forecasted that I'd return to Ottawa in 2025 to celebrate 40 years of cellular telecoms in Canada, and laugh at all the silly predictions I made in 2005.
I want to thank the CWTA for the honour of presenting the keynote to the big celebrating event of 20 years of cellular phones is Canada and all the wonderful contacts I made and so nice people I met. I know that forecasts are merely guesses into the future, and I am likely to be as wrong as right with any of the above, but I had a great time thinking about that future, and hope that my ideas will spur some thoughts for people in the industry. And at least now, ha-ha, I have my vision stated in the public domain, so at least I cannot run away from it..