Archive for September, 2014

CTIA 2014: Connected Intelligence

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Last week, I was in Las Vegas for “Super Mobility Week.” I spoke at CCA and received an award on behalf of Sprint at CTIA, but one of the highlights for me was actually sharing a cab to the airport with Chetan Sharma. Chetan is one of the smartest and one of the nicest guys in the industry. I met him several years ago when he moderated a couple of panels that I was on at GigaOm’s first Mobilize event and it’s been a pleasure to catch up with him whenever our paths cross.

With my own career at an inflection point, I am especially impressed by how Chetan has been able to manage his consulting business. He has kept it very small so that he can focus attention on his family, and yet he has a huge impact on the industry. The work that he takes on leverages his knowledge, experience, and insights to their fullest. That is what I aspire to as well, so it was great to have the chance to reconnect again last week.

But you, my dear readers, probably could care less about that. What I think would be interesting to you is what we talked about in that short cab ride. The most meaningful discussion was about Chetan’s most recent paper “Connected Intelligence Era: The Golden Age of Mobile,” which I had just read on the flight out to Vegas. (You should read it too.) Chetan’s question for me was “what do you think, is this a new cycle, or the old cycle?” I have to admit that my mind probably hadn’t thought about it enough to be prepared for the discussion, so I had to mentally work through a few concepts first…

In the paper, Chetan references theories on economic cycles put forth by Nikolai Kondratiev, Joseph Schumpeter, and Carlota Perez. It is Carlota’s writings on “Technology Revolutions” that I’ve paid the most attention to since they are both more recent (and therefore informed by the Digital, Internet, and Mobility revolutions) and more specific to technology. The first mental hurdle I had to get past, in my mind, was that Carlota looks at long cycles (PC/Digital, Internet, and Mobility are all in the same “Age of Information and Telecommunications”, which followed the similarly long “Age of Oil, the Automobile, and Mass Production”, “Age of Steel, Electricity, and Heavy Engineering”, and the “Age of Steam and Railways”), while I tend to think in short cycles, the Digital Revolution, followed by the next cycle of the Internet Revolution, followed by the next cycle of the Mobility Revolution, etc. So, when Chetan asked me his question, he effectively was restating what he had included very early in his paper “Where are we in the big economic cycles? Are we in the golden age of the last technology cycle of information and telecommunications that gave birth to the Internet and the modern wireless ecosystem as we know it or are we perhaps on the verge of a new age that will transform human history for the next 50 years?”

I think it’s clear that we are at the beginning of the next “short” cycle. Big data analytics, connected devices (Internet of Things), and cloud all point to this next revolution, which Chetan calls Connected Intelligence and that I’ve been calling the Intelligence Revolution. What’s harder to answer, as Chetan readily acknowledges, is whether this short cycle is part of the current long cycle (the Information Revolution) or part of the next one. As Chetan points out, we probably won’t know for sure for at least a decade, but in the cab, I started to formulate a test that might help us think about it.

During that short conversation what came to mind was “what do the products look like?” I can think of easy things like advertising as a means of creating economic value from “connected intelligence” but it’s harder for me to think of other “products” of this new capability with more direct economic benefits. In the steam era, the products were clear. In the steel era, the products were clear. In the oil era, the products were clear. In the information era, the products have been clear. If this is a new era, the products aren’t yet clear to me.

Another way to think about it is in terms of how the revolution increases productivity. It’s pretty easy to see how industry, steel, steam, oil, and information have increased productivity. I think we need to consider whether “connected intelligence” has the same “big bang” transformative impact.

To his credit, Chetan does a good job in his paper outlining potential products and potential productivity improvements for existing products and services. But it doesn’t really seem to me like a huge leap. So, my vote is that this “Intelligence Revolution” is really just the next step in the “Information Age” and not the beginning of a new age.

What do you think?

CCA 2014: Is Wireless a Commodity?

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

This week I participated in a panel at CCA on “The Evolving Operator: 2014 & Beyond” that was moderated by Sue Marek, Editor in Chief of Fierce Wireless. My co-panelists were Rob Riordan, EVP of Corporate Development for Cellcom, and Mauricio Sastre, Vice President of Product for FreedomPop.

For those that aren’t familiar, CCA is the Competitive Carriers Association and basically includes all of the wireless carriers smaller than Verizon and AT&T. Until Sprint and T-Mobile joined, it had been the Rural Carriers Association. So everyone at the show really cares about the success of small operators.

Early in the discussion, I answered a question by saying that I believed that we need to make three critical strategic shifts:

  1. We must recognize that we’re operating in a commodity market. Today, we don’t operate our businesses in a way that supports a commodity market.
  2. But, we can’t be satisfied with being a commodity, we need to find ways to differentiate.
  3. Finally, we need to act like an Internet company. (Move faster, focus on the customer experience, eliminate bureaucracy, do less and partner more, etc.)

That sparked a follow-on question from Sue for all three panelists. I was sitting in the middle at the table, and I’d say I was also sitting in the middle relative to this question. She asked “is wireless really a commodity?”

Rob is convinced it’s not. He passionately described how many competitors Cellcom faces in Wisconsin, and yet they take the largest share of subscribers. They do it by being part of the community and caring about the people they serve. They don’t operate an IVR – when you call them a live person answers. I don’t disagree with him. For operators like Cellcom, there is an opportunity to be seen as special by those in your community. You aren’t just another provider in a competitive matrix, you’re a neighbor who cares.

My position was that wireless is becoming a commodity. Especially if we look beyond the traditional mobile operators and recognize that we’re really competing against the Facebook and Google’s of the world, who provide over the top services using our own bandwidth against us, we have to realize that our traditional operating model must be challenged.

Mauricio kind of shrugged and said, yeah, of course it’s a commodity. FreedomPop wouldn’t be here and growing as fast as we are if it weren’t already a commodity.

What do you think?

New Book

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

I recently contributed a chapter to the book “Enterprise City: How Companies Are Changing the Global Urban Landscape)” which is available from Amazon for Kindle.

Not surprisingly, my chapter (chapter 5) is titled “Mobility is Revolutionizing Cities for the Better.” Other chapters include

  • “Cities Will Redefine the World’s Future as Much as They Influenced our History” (by Richard Kadzis),
  • “Smart Work Will Transform our Cities” (by Peter Miscovich),
  • “Big Business and Cities: Opportunities for Leadership” (by Todd Megrath of MGM Grand Resorts),
  • “Creating Sustainable Communities with our Next Natural Resource: Big Data” (by John Clark of IBM),
  • “The A-daptive City” (by Rives Taylor),
  • “Chicago New Heights – The Case for Integrated Sustainable Development” (by Paul McDermott),
  • “The Ubiquitous Web and the ‘All-ternet(tm)’ (by Lubna Dajani),
  • “The Forces Shaping the Future of Urban Economic Development” (by Bill Sproull of the International Economic Development Council),
  • “Using the Power of Collaboration to Invent our Future Cities” (by Carol Warkoczewski of the City of San Antonio),
  • “Can Public Policy Be Nimble Enough to Affect the Competitiveness of a Fast Growing City-Region?” (by Glenn Miller of the Canadian Urban Institute and Iain Dobson of Real Estate Search Corporation),
  • “Form, Function and the Shape of Things to Come” (by Brock Dickinson),
  • “Conscious Collective Evolution as the Primary Focus for Developing our Communities” (by Stijn De Winter), and
  • “Finnish Cities as Forerunners of Sustainable Lifecycles and Smart Technology” (by Galina Kaariainen of PWC Cyprus and the World Futures Studies Federation).

If you’re interested in the urban future, it’s worth checking out!

Sprinting to the Finish Line

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

A month from today will be my last day at Sprint. I’m looking forward to my “retirement” from corporate life and the opportunity to pursue some things I’ve been passionate about, but had lacked the time to pursue. I’m excited to see where God will take me next. I’m also looking forward to having more freedom to write for this blog, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I wanted to let y’all know that my departure from Sprint will mean two changes that you might want to pay attention to. Through this blog (and through e-mails to my Sprint address shared here – russ.s.mcguire@sprint.com), I’ve been able to get many people the help they need to resolve issues with their Sprint service. Unfortunately, that will come to an end when I’m no longer an “insider.” Also, through this blog, literally thousands of people (probably tens of thousands) have been able to take advantage of the Everything Plus (and before that SERO) discounts. I’ve literally had people stop me at conferences to thank me for making their service affordable. These days, with Sprint’s aggressive retail offers, the Everything Plus discount is much less compelling than it has been, but if you’re still interested, don’t wait too long to use my credentials at http://sprint.com/everythingplus (russ.s.mcguire@sprint.com 383).

Stay tuned. I’ll be back in October.