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mobile panelESADE MBA’s hold expert panel on the future of mobile technology

The increasingly complex world of mobile technology has been steadily moving away from a way to simply make a phone call when you’re way from home towards a web 2.0 platform with an infinite number of applications and functions. This convergence has lead business of many different types becoming key players in the sector, making it one of the most difficult to get to grips with. ESADE MBA students keen to take advantage of telecoms experts visiting Barcelona for the Mobile World conference took the initiative to organize a panel on the future of mobile technology with four experts in different fields of mobile technology. Gordon Rawling, Senior Director Regional Marketing at Oracle, an infrastructure provider to the mobile industry; Branden Claisse, Director of Business Development and Media Sales at Mojiva, Inc. a mobile media network for advertisers and publishers; Hassan Kabbani, CEO at Mobinil, an Egyptian

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mobile operator; and Hamilton Sekino, Partner at Nauta Capital, an investor in wireless space entrepreneurs, made up the panel. With each of the guests representing a different area of mobile technology and a different country, it made for an interesting overview of the sector. Moderated by ESADE professor Jonathan Wareham, the informal panel got straight on to grappling with the somewhat illusive future of mobile technology. Each of the panelists agreed that there is a great need to develop new business models, particularly so that as Rawling put it “money goes to actual service providers, not over-the-top providers.” Kabbani further developed this advocating a need to “protect the ecosystem and get money to all those contributing to the value chain, making investment in infrastructure worthwhile for the operators, thus ensuring the service is available for all.” This is particularly important when it comes to the issue of guaranteeing that there is sufficient bandwidth to support the increase in users and usage. As Rawling asked, “Why would an operator invest money into infrastructure which other companies will get revenue from?”

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Nevertheless while the sector mulls over a solution for this, as Sekino noted there are a number of cost-efficient ways operators can make their services more agile: 1) Operators can work to have handsets to automatically offload to Wifi networks where available, 2) they can create a system of prioritization based a) on user value or b) the type of application used. Where these are dynamic and able to adapt to changes in use, they may help operators meet users’ needs for the time being however, investment in infrastructure and innovation will still be needed. In any event, he panelists highlighted that innovation is essential to move forward in many ways, such as driving down cost, making the most of revenue models and well as developing new uses. Kabbani noted we can no longer talk about a geographical concentration of innovation since interesting technology and ideas are being developed in emerging markets where people are less hindered by expectations and face different realities. As an example of this, Sekino cited M-PESA a mobile payment system launched by Vodafone and Safaricom in Kenya, which changed the lives of many Kenyans who could not afford bank accounts, and has since been rolled out in a number of other countries. Kabbani highlighted that a similar thing has happened in Egypt where despite only 10% of the population holding a bank account, there are already around 60 million credit and credit transfer operations via mobile per month. The panelists agreed that future volume will come from emerging markets but that for this to work local approaches are required. Clays highlighted that advertising systems like his with global reach but a hyper-local approach will be able to harness the potential of the different markets. While Rawling called for companies to look at what they are trying to sell and where they are trying to sell it, “use the world as a laboratory to find out what people want” he suggested. Services too, need to adapt to the realities of different markets, as Kabbani pointed out, Egyptian customers do not take kindly to discovering their new phone is fully equipped with maps of Europe but offers none of their home country. In terms of applications and devices, the panel underscored that the proliferation of the I-Phone and Android make it easier for developers to work on aps to meet the many different needs of consumers around the world. As an example of a new use for mobile technology, Sekino discussed the sales force automation technology used by Avon in Brazil to enable their sales girls to place orders, check inventory, etc. via simple mobile devices that each rep can easily afford and in most cases already has. “Mobile technology is really changing people’s lives for the better” he stated.

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Another example of this is its potential application in healthcare, where technology is being developed enable a Smartphone to read a user’s pulse and blood pressure and send the results straight through to their doctor. Along these lines, Kabbani underscored the need to keep developing services on a local level to keep creating value and make it available to all. As far as devices themselves are concerned, perhaps unsurprisingly, no-one on the panel wished to speculate on what they might look like in five years time. Rawling noted that we are likely to see a change in the way we interact with devices, they will soon know where we are and be able to offer us value-added services based on this information, he suggested. While Kabbani noted that we are likely to see a proliferation in the different types of devices which connected to mobile networks. He cited the example of a 3G enabled picture frame to which a loving son, for example, could send a picture taken on his phone directly to his mother’s mantle piece. Organized by ESADE MBA students through the Technology, Entrepreneurship, Media and Marketing clubs, the event is an example of excellent participant initiative to attempt to better understand a sector so changeable that it is hard to get a grasp on from the classroom. “What could be called a ‘semi formal jam session on mobile computing’ was a great success” said Professor Wareham, “We look forward to supporting similar events on campus in the future.”

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