The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

April - 2009 - issue > Technology

Mobile Phones The Convergent Device for Ubiquitous Computing

Sankalp Saxena
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Sankalp Saxena
Mobile phones have rapidly become an essential and integral part of our daily lives. We feel as if a part of us is missing if we forgetfully leave our mobile phones at home – so much so that many times we go back to retrieve this pint sized gadget in order to make ourselves ‘complete’ again! No other technology has, so quickly and pervasively, become an integral part of our ‘being’ in the last decade or the preceding years. Approximately 4 billion people today are touched by a cell signal, and cell phone penetration has exceeded 2 billion connections globally. It continues to grow at a mind-boggling speed. This revolution is very apparent in India itself as we add approximately 15 million new connections a month! Gone, thankfully, are the days where one would submit the application for a telephone and wait, wait, wait, and wait (you get the point) for over a year for the connection and the telephone department personnel to come and install the landline instrument at the carefully selected spot in your house! Prasad batoo – phone ka connection mil gayaa!!

An often-asked question is where is all this headed? Captured below are my thoughts on what direction the mobile movement might take in the years ahead. I am not by any means an expert, pundit, or guru, but instead I am simply an avid user of this technology medium as well as an avid developer of mobile-centric applets, which push the envelope further on what we can do with our pint sized gadgets.

For starters, we are about to witness the birth of our Global Mobile Identities (GMIs), as the paradigm of number portability will extend well beyond a given geography and telco combination. Our GMIs will be as ubiquitous as our email IDs are today, and the concept of ‘changing’ our mobile numbers based on what country or city we presently live in will (and needs to) become obsolete. Our GMIs, each of which is as unique as our phone numbers are today, will move with us as we shift from one town to another or from one country to another. Furthermore, our GMIs need not be numerically indexed and can be a combination of both alphanumeric characters – as is the case with our email IDs. Ultimately our email IDs and our GMIs can plausibly converge into one, and based on the medium by which a user is initiating a communication request – he or she can select whether it should be a voice call, an email, or simply an SMS. The telco provider with whom we provision our service in the new location will simply register our GMI in his service registry and we will never have to give out a new phone number to our friends again! Cellular networks will continue to be intelligent enough to ensure billing engines calculate call charges based on our GMI roaming patterns.

The next paradigm shift that will take place will be indexed to the widespread provisioning of high-speed over-the-air (OTA) networks – like WiMax, 3G, and 4G. Mobile phone usage will no longer be ‘bucketed’ into voice or data buckets with a host of confusing monthly plans or access costs. Instead, plans will converge into one single digital data bucket. Monthly service provisioning will be linked to plans sold around total data usage per month. We will buy 1GB or 10 GB or Unlimited plans per month from telcos and will consume this across voice, value added services, mp3 downloads, mobile TV, network games, and so on. As ultimately all provisioned services on mobile devices are nothing more than digital bits and bytes being moved to and from your device. The digital nature of mobile services will blur the divide between a simple voice call and a multi-player network game being played by five friends across five countries. The move to convergent billing on total data used per month will also provide significant revenue upside for the telcos, as they will see ARPU increase exponentially. Without such a catalyst telcos, understandably, might not want to move in the digital bucket direction.

The widespread integration of GPS chipsets along with significantly improved digital mapping information will vastly improve the usability and adoption of location based services. Imagine landing in Paris and using your mobile phone to locate directions to the Louvre and then to a fabulous Indian restaurant for dinner in the evening – all from wherever you happen to be in the city at that moment. Else, imagine visiting San Francisco for the first time and meeting your friend at a nice restaurant ‘somewhere’ in the vicinity of Pier 39 and receiving step-by-step directions to the location of your friend’s phone. This would of course be based on his or her accepting your mobile request to provide your phone with their location – somewhat akin to pairing two devices via Bluetooth but getting well beyond a 10 m radius. Paper maps, in which we have to first find a common point of reference to start charting directions, might be driven to obsolescence faster than we imagine.

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