Category Archives: Telecoms Future

Autonomous vehicles and their unexpected consequences: an accessibility Mexican stand-off

I recently joined an Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET) workshop looking into some of the unexpected consequences of autonomous vehicles. The IET will be producing a report shortly but I’m here to promote the accessibility design agenda.

The technical capabilities of the vehicle, the compute power on board for navigation, vehicle management and entertainment are mind-boggling. To be totally autonomous they need to be independent from any external inputs but they will also benefit from the explosion of external data sources. The impact on city planning, traffic, parking and overall public services will be life-changing for everyone.

Doubtless the vehicles themselves, becoming more sentient, will be very grateful for the increased levels of communications, new information sources and peer-to-peer information flowing between fellow road users as well as input from the streets and other city constituents. Making sure these information flows are bi-directional, linking the on-board vehicle systems to city information sources such as traffic and buildings information is also essential to bring the passengers to the right door for a wheelchair user, to have the robot or drone deliver the package or to find the right assistance for a vision-impaired person trying to find their way into the mall.

However, what really needs careful consideration is the user interface for these vehicles and their associated services. The most important issue is to get the wide variety of different users with different levels of IT skills and accessibility to initiate the autonomous vehicle and assisted travel through their preferred means. And, of course, if someone else orders or initiates the service, for the person to be communicated with in their preferred manner.

Designing the interface from scratch with inclusivity in mind will save the painful and often fated fall-back position of add-on development needed for different disabilities.

The good news is that the work being done around omni-channel customer experience with its multiple options for communicating with people and machines, addresses many of the issues. Add to this upfront design that embraces the accessibility features of smart phones, tablets, personal assistants and home automation systems and we have the beginnings of an inclusive design.

The justification for this is not necessarily just around including all disabled people in the digital economy. No, inclusive design actually makes it easy for everyone to use a service. Some people like talking to their app, some like interacting via a touch screen, some might even prefer the old QWERTY keyboard approach.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will also contribute to the smooth incorporation of all users into the emerging scenarios. For example, once an individual with particular needs is identified as having ordered an autonomous vehicle service, the system can route a specific vehicle, possibly specially adapted, to the desired location.

Autonomous vehicles can then contribute further in terms of local authorities streamlining their service to people requiring home visits, social care and, of course, linking them into the healthcare systems. Ambulances will be redefined with autonomous driving and the paramedics able to concentrate on looking after the patient.

So, we should also be excited about the impact of autonomous cars on groups previously precluded from driving. New ways of spending time while transferring from one place to another, entertainment, work, rest, will appeal to all customers but we must allow for the human machine interface and offer that interface in a variety of ways that suit all users under all circumstances.

One final thought: what happens when the autonomous vehicle senses a person with a guide dog and the guide dog senses an approaching vehicle? A Mexican stand-off – go find the algorithm for that one!

Keep an eye out for the full IET report coming soon.

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From Pipes to a Digital Platform Economy – TM Forum Live Nice 2017

The telecoms industry and its entourage descended on Nice for its annual brushing shoulders with the Cannes film festival in May. Apart from meeting with many senior telecoms and supplier contacts, it is a good barometer for what is happening in the industry. I chaired the Digital Platform Economy & API track on the opening day. Here are my reflections:

  • Platform is used almost as often as the word digital these days. Everyone claims to have a platform and to be building new business on top of one
  • Is the telecoms infrastructure a platform or, just what it says on the tin, infrastructure?
  • The extended telecoms and IT industries talk about their chips, set top boxes, mobile devices, networks and clouds being platforms – so is it a question of the platform of platforms similar to the cloud of clouds?
  • The virtualisation of network, storage and compute mean that the building blocks for these platforms are interchangeable from different players whatever their background as long as the appropriate north and south-bound APIs are available. And, as Microsoft and Ericsson pointed out, the TM Forum is working on building on this and the edge compute services under MEC to adapt the infrastructure to the digital platforms.
  • Given the lack of innovation coming out of the telcos in business terms, does Opensource and the API angle open the industry to the oft-mentioned 80% of innovation coming from outside the telecoms sector? Smart Pipe Solutions and Rocketspace certainly seemed to think so.
  • Industry-side presentations from GE Digital, American Express, Qualcomm, Accenture, FINTECH Circle and IBM all suggest that telecoms is more of a horizontal platform enabler and should make itself available on the terms of the different industries rather than vice versa as has been the case in the past. Furthermore, linking all of the business and financial transaction pieces needs to be seamless, if not invisible to the customer.

Nik Willetts was right in his keynote as the new CEO of the TM Forum when he said we are at a point of inflection. The digitally ambitious telco players need to radically adjust their offerings, culture and attitude to other industries to underpin the broader move to a digital platform economy. Other industries ‘assume’ that the connectivity will be there and there’s no guarantee of additional revenue for the telecoms sector. The somewhat curmudgeonly nature of telcos might just play into the future role of being a trusted, secure provider of additional services built around the Artificial Intelligence, analytics and machine learning that this brings to the digital table. Learning to partner at a range of levels and leveraging open APIs and all available tools to make the whole ecosystem work will be vital. 5G should not divert the telecoms industry from the need to continue to build out connectivity to extend people, homes, buildings and ‘Things’ as they all contribute to the network effect. The most important thing is to expose the connectivity and compute power at the right place, hence adapting the platform around the business as it follows its digital path. As Rocketspace said, a platform is where two variables come together, it is a meeting place where business is done. Facilitating, monitoring and helping this meeting in every way possible is a vital support role for the telecoms industry to undertake.

One final thought: Is the platform defined by the vendor and its technology or by the business or consumer using it? We must not fall into the traditional trap of defining things by technology. It is time to turn the technology into business.

Platforms will doubtless have their debut on November 30th at the Great Telco Debate 2017 in London. Watch this space for the agenda as debates and expert witnesses emerge. We will work with Nik and the Forum’s Digital Maturity Model to help calibrate the industry against these lofty goals.

You can also see the Tweets I posted whilst chairing the session @chr1slew1s #TMFlive.

What did the Great Telco Debate learn from MWC?

The Great Telco Debate may not be on the scale of MWC, but it is a year long process of analysing the telecoms industry from every possible angle to shape the programme for the event. MWC was a great opportunity to reconsider the topics from 2016 and draw from market developments. Using last year’s debate titles, here are my take-aways from the Barcelona jamboree.

  • Telco’s role in the digital economy: The jury is still out on the extent to which telcos can exploit digital. There are plenty of autonomous car examples but little new revenue upside for telcos – emphasising the need for ‘ruthless’ simplification of the business (Cisco)
  • Customer experience: Telefonica’s 4th platform does look like a refreshingly new approach to acknowledging peoples’ data and giving something back to the customers as well as improving overall service levels
  • Softwarisation of the telco: This is probably the most important aspect of this wave of industry transformation and there was plenty of evidence from open source virtualisation and edge computingto cloud the picture (Amdocs, HPE, Huawei)
  • IOT: The industry is finally realising that massive connectivity revenues are not likely from IOT, but the real demand will come from supporting different industry ecosystems via platforms and overall integration (Ericsson, Cisco)
  • 5G: It was fascinating that most 5G initiated discussions dropped back to a more robust 4G delivery to support video as well as overall data needs (Ericsson, T-Mobile US ,Telstra)

There is no doubt that telcos are acknowledging the reality of innovation coming from ‘Interpreneurs’ and suppliers, as well as from apps developers driving the telco to be more open and accepting of ideas ‘not made here’ (Orange).

Ironically, given the endless pursuit of innovation, the re-launch of the classic Nokia 3310 drew a lot of attention. Harking back to simplicity, fewer messaging options (no apps) and longer battery life, certainly grabbed peoples’ attention. However, I wonder if those writing about the old classic were more represented by the older generation rather than the younger, smart-phone raised app enthusiasts!

In terms of discussion topics for the Great Telco Debate 2017, doubtless other themes will rise to the surface. Security is one obvious elephant in the room, as is the role of telco in industries such as automotive and healthcare. Also, Artificial Intelligence will worm its way into every aspect of the market and promises many changes in performance, behaviour and outcomes.

Whether you are from the telco, supplier or analyst side or indeed any other interested party, please get in touch if you have ideas you think should be incorporated into the Great Telco Debate on 30th November 2017. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Is real world economics finally kicking in for the telecoms market?

As you’ll be aware, the third Great Telco Debate 2016 took place in November in London. Once again we gathered an enthusiastic group of industry stakeholders to debate the hot issues facing telecoms today and in the future.

The philosophy of GTD is to frame the debates with expert witnesses, introduce the motion and then debate with the floor. This year we started with Mark Gregory, Chief Economist at EY who made everyone think about value creation and value destruction in the digital economy. Throughout the rest of the day, whether it was telco CXOs from Gigaclear, Orange, Softbank, Telefonica or Vodafone or the suppliers willing to expose themselves to the 3-minute challenge, everyone contributed to the debate. All, of course complemented by analysts and their independent input into the mix.

The conclusion from the analyst panel is that the industry is making progress. Demand has never been so great for connectivity but blending fixed and mobile for future 5G services, along with an emphasis on customer experience from the customer perspective and a willingness for the telcos to work more closely with the supply ecosystem is needed to bridge the gap from today’s unpopular telcos to the connected society of the future.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to be with us please do take the time to look at TelecomTV’s excellent coverage of the event and do give us feedback. And, of course, if you were there, use the video to remind you of what a great event it was and send us any comments, suggestions as to what we should cover in 2017 and help shape the debate.

In the meantime, please save 30th November 2017 for the Great Telco Debate 2017.

We know you will never feel the same about telecoms again!

 

Technology bridging the gap between consumer electronics, healthcare and the disabled

I had the pleasure to present to the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) at their annual healthcare lecture in November. It represented a coming together of many strands of my work over the last decades along with my vision impairment and some potential solutions to some of the key challenges facing society and the economy across the world today. The final happenstance was that it was in the Turing room at the recently refurbished IET venue in central London. Turing was a key part of my original degree in Computational Linguistics and much of his work now forms the core of the Artificial Intelligence resurgence.

When I was asked to do a ‘lecture’ I pointed out that the origin of the word is to read. And, given my being blind, I can’t read, so I started by showing how assistive technology now gives me access to digital content via my iPhone, laptop and TV. Dedicated apps for disabled people as well as access to mainstream apps make my digital life almost as easy as everyone else’s!

Having started looking at disability in previous work with Telefonica, I am now able to draw many of the same conclusions to wrap the disability question up in the broader healthcare debate. The fact that we are increasingly connected as individuals through endless wearables, our smart phones and broadband from home, means that every part of our bodies can be monitored, fed back to us and to all interested parties. On the other hand, the healthcare system, with its ‘medical grade’ devices is increasingly looking to technology to solve the resourcing and financing problems that aging populations and limited budgets present. Bringing consumer and medical grade devices into the mix, leveraging the increasing availability of broadband in society and mixing Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and those vital human resources together, will bring the step change needed. It does require new thinking from Governments, healthcare officials, practitioners as well as ourselves as patients and carers, but the pieces are all there. We all need to accept cultural as well as technology changes to make this happen.

Take a look at the lecture, kindly filmed by the IET and let me have your thoughts. I will be looking at healthcare and how the telecoms industry is shaping up to the challenge during my visit to MWC in Barcelona at the end of February.

https://tv.theiet.org/?eventvideoid=9600

 

5G Questions for Telcos – 7 weeks until the answer

Recent headlines are clear. The EU has pledged to implement 5G in less than ten years. Users believe that the promised land of faster, better quality services is just around the corner. So, kudos for governments and great news for consumers but immense challenges for suppliers and telcos, especially when so many issues and unknowns may not be clarified until standards are ratified post 2020. No pressure, then.

5G is arguably a metaphor for the future of the entire telecoms industry. From licensed and unlicensed radio spectrum usage to fixed and mobile convergence (at last!), as well as Gigabit speeds and low power for IoT – these subjects and more will inform the future business model for the industry.

We don’t doubt that 5G will crop up in all of the five discussions we hold at the
Great Telco Debate. How could it not with such a pivotal role in our future? With so much to discuss, we will finish the day with a dedicated 5G debate to gain invaluable perspectives from academia, chipset, network providers and, of course, the telcos.

If you’re serious about understanding the future of telecoms join the Great Telco Debate on 15th November.

Find out more, see the videos, and register at www.greattelcodebate.co.uk

Disability and technology: an upside for everyone!


At the Digital Enterprise Show (DES) in Madrid on May 26 we assembled a group of presenters to look into the issue of technology and disability. I have been looking at the subject for the last 3 years through reports working with Telefonica. In the reports I sized the disability market and began the process of mapping the technology space to this hitherto hidden market. The reason it had been hidden is that technology was very specific to each disability and was very expensive. The main change that has propelled the topic into mainstream discussion is the smartphone. It acts as a commoditised hub for bringing accessibility to many disabled people. Add to this the emergence of wearables, sensors and the Internet of Things (IOT) and we have the beginnings of a mainstream approach to making accessibility for many disabled categories an issue for all industry players and indeed for everyone in business and society. The fact that such a session appeared at a major enterprise-focused event such as DES is a good indication of the topic going mainstream.

The numbers are compelling: there are roughly a billion people in the world with different sorts of disabilities. Analysis in the initial report shows the largest category being hearing impaired, followed by those impaired visually, cognitively and physically in that order. The absolute numbers are not the issue; we now have a possibility of helping a large proportion of these people. And, don’t forget, the able-bodied also have a need on a temporary or situational basis to use some of this highly accessible services – for example when driving or recovering from a temporary injury.

During the panel I outlined some of these key themes from my previous research and then asked Vodafone, Atos and Telefonica to present their high-level thoughts.

The Vodafone Foundation from Spain showed how they are using mobile technology and cloud platforms to deliver services to the elderly and disabled to get people better connected. Enhanced interfaces are being developed to allow even those with just head movement to interact with the digital world.

Atos gave examples of how they have been working since 1998 to build accessibility and inclusivity into programme frameworks. Their experience shows how difficult this has been in areas like education but how it is gradually emerging from under the Corporate Social Responsibility shadow to be considered in a more mainstream light. More recent examples in areas like e-health show how combining applications development with wearables and the technology surrounding people with disabilities can help educate individuals as well as improve services surrounding them.

Telefonica, the sponsor of my two initial reports, presented how the accessibility issue is coming out of the shadows of Corporate Social Responsibility and is entering the activities of the main Lines of Business (LOBs) of the telecoms service provider. E-health also figured in Telefonica’s initiatives both in Europe as well as in Latin America. The company is using its geographic reach and overall scale to help promote accessibility and inclusion. Telefonica also showed an app which it has developed in conjunction with the university of Madrid, to present an accessible television experience to the two million Spaniards who require some form of audio description, subtitling or sign language to enjoy television and cinema programmes.

The message is clear: place accessibility in the early components of applications and services design and build it into the development programme and it will contribute to a cleaner, simpler design with a simpler interface which everyone will find easier to use. If the needs of the different disabled groups are taken into account, then the mass market’s experience will also be better.

The need to raise awareness of the issue at every company, public sector organisation and even household is what we need to make a success of this and bring all disabled into the digital era from a personal and work perspective. Accessibility is not an issue to be isolated in the CSR parts of a business, but should be brought out into the LOBs and considered as part of every market offering. In addition, all of this technology is opening up employment opportunities for people who would have previously been excluded from the workforce.

Accessible technology will help everyone, so let’s encourage inclusive design and a more open attitude to let the world’s disabled billion benefit from the technology, employment and the benefits of the Digital environment in which we all live.

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