IBM 5 in 5: Mobile is closing the Digital Divide

Editor's note: This post about IBM's Next 5 in 5 prediction about the future of mobile computing is by Paul Bloom, IBM's Chief Technology Officer for Telco Research.

Think about what you can already do with your mobile smartphone – check your bank account, tweet, watch television, and oh yeah, make a call. But all of this access still depends on where you are, and you have to initiate the communication.
Over the next five years, mobile devices will assist you in your daily life by initiating the communication with you and providing helpful information based on your context. For example, when you order your lunch from your cell phone, you might get a message recommending a healthier selection, based on the restaurant and your personal profile. 

Since your phone will also be your wallet, bank and record keeper, your cell phone will let you know what the impact of this lunch will be on your budget and may modify the recommendation based on predicted cash flow. This is only one example of how your mobile device will have access to the results of predictive analytics based on your location, context and personal information, aiding you in every facet of your life.

Freeing up today’s networks

As more people use mobile phones, the network will take on more workload. Today, wireless data networks are already overloaded because of what we’re sending over them – high definition videos, for example. To meet the demand of all these mobile centric services, we have to optimize and extend the network.

For example, when you download a video, the request goes to a server and all that data gets shipped from the server, down to your device.

How it could change: if the network knows that you, and your neighbors, are watching that HD video, it could be stored in another location (off the server), so that it’s closer to where the videos are being watched.

Or, peer-to-peer access – which harkens back to the early days of computing when companies and universities shared unused compute capability for a task – could turn our mobile devices into a point in the network. If you have bandwidth that you’re not using, someone else who needs additional bandwidth communicates with you to get that additional access.

Communicating at any time from any where


In five years we will see the massive introduction of machine-to-machine based services. So people won’t initiate communication for information; rather, systems will initiate communication and data to the mobile users. For example, your mobile will have access to your electronic healthcare records while also monitoring your vitals, such as blood pressure, in real time. Now, a system could notify and connect you to a doctor if your blood pressure is out of a normal range.

And paper currency will also become obsolete as transactions will go from mobile to mobile. As security issues and banks’ roles are worked out, we will be able to buy and sell goods, lend money to a friend, and more. Countries that don’t have to battle legacy telco infrastructure are leading the way. Kenya, for example, does not have a traditional banking infrastructure. So, you’re seeing telcos offering mobile banking to provide micro-transactions.

Industry regulations, security controls, and improved bandwidth and speed (in the case of countries with legacy infrastructure) will determine how quickly these capabilities and services become available.

Think about this: your mobile device knows where you’re going, where you’ve gone, what you’ve bought, where other people have gone and bought, and other data that could change the way people start thinking about their daily routines (commuting, shopping, investing, etc.). With this whole new set of data that we can apply predictive analytics to, I could predict how a behavior – say, eating fast food – would affect my current health.

Some industrial nations such as South Korea are fast approaching these capabilities. Others you may not suspect, such as Africa are poised to become a “have” in the mobile industry, too. Countries not keeping up (including a “have” like the U.S.) could mean not just weak signal strength in a rural area, or a slowly downloading video – it could prevent the penetration of entire services.

Think this topic is the most-likely prediction, or maybe just the most innovative, among the Next 5 in 5? Vote for it by clicking "like" on IBM's smarter planet.


  1. I agree that mobile payments systems will be a major change in the way we all do business. And when change happens, opportunity frequently also happens. Do we (IBM) have a role in this new opportunity? Are we participating in the mobile payment systems? Are we at least analyzing the huge amounts of data this will generate? Can we help develop the infrastructure? Help define the business rules? I hope we’re doing something! What a cool opportunity!

  2. We are very involved in the Mobile revolution . From working with Clients on mobilizing their business processes to developing chips that are in smartphones and tablets. We are also developing mobile management platforms as well as infrastructure that will enable mobile commerce. Of course we are analyzing all the data that mobile is exposing. Mobile data changing how enterprise interact with their customers. Mobility is also becoming the channel to allow the 2 billion illiterate and semi-literate people have access to information.

  3. Last year I attended a seminar at Stanford University and was surprised to learn that there were 5 billion cell phones in the world. This when the population of earth was just under 7 billion. It was hard to believe given that half the world is poor and the other half is children. But apparently it is true as I confirmed from various sources.
    When I was consulting at Ericsson Networks last year, I came to know that their goal is to connect 50 billion devices by 2020. 50 billion!! That is a lot. I did some back of the napkin calculations and my prediction is if everything from toasters to washing machines start communicating with each other there will easily be well over a trillion devices communicating wirelessly and smartly by the end of the century (2099). Easily.
    But mobile alone cannot sustain this. The clould alone cannot. I created the formula F=m^c (very similar to E=mc squared ... see here==> http://www.johnvarghese.com/the-future-is-mobile-powered-by-the-cloud/ )It is the convergence of these technologies that is inevitable and will absolutely shape the smarter planet: standarization in everything, wireless communication, distributed computing and storage in the cloud, entrepreneurship spurred by social media

  4. Lets see if I can make that link work better. The future.

  5. Great blog, another thing to consider is the push vs pull concept. Most apps on the phone today are polling servers for updates. Updates can get pushed more easily that reduces some of the network traffic.

  6. You are correct. But what that would require is a scalable, robust device management system. This could be an extension of Tivoli End Point Manager.

  7. IBM is doing something in mobile, but is nowhere near enough. Even if IBM boost the investment on mobile for 10 times, I won't think they are over-investing. IBM is far behind the industry leader in almost every aspect of mobile market, and should invest as much as we can to catch up quickly.

  8. Mobile computing is ushering in a new class of killer app -- the context-sensitive app. What makes mobile apps so different are two things -- the dimension of location and the ability to track all the varied things you do in your life. Combine this data with other systems (i.e., what is everyone else doing) and the potential for a massive change in our lives is upon us.

  9. This article does not provide any new insights. It looks like a rip off from several online resources. Ask a Ph.D student or a professor to write an article instead.

    What a boring waste of time.

  10. Now a days technology growing day by day in all over the world and there are many different companies are manufacturing the smartphones. I think IBM is too far from all these companies but IBM still researching for better result.

  11. I’ve been hearing about how the next new thing from Silicon Valley will end the digital divide for more than a decade, but am skeptical about this prediction.

    The basic technology to put a cheap device with cheap connectivity into the hands of everyone on the planet has existed for years. But the whole tech sector – from manufacturers to developers to carriers isn’t interested in connecting everyone on the planet. They are interested in making a profit, which means their target market isn’t everyone: It’s middle-income consumers & businesses in the developed world. That means that people at the bottom will be left behind as the sector manufactures cooler devices running sexier apps over fatter pipes.

    It also completely ignores the other economic, cultural, political and social barriers (particularly in the U.S.) that keep people digitally disenfranchised.

  12. The truth in this article is that Africa indeed is making huge progress when it comes to embracing mobile and new applications like micropayment, that come along with it. The major growth however still is in the low-end segment, where the numbers are. Service is one of the main blocking issues on corporate levels, until that is fixed, the real divide will exist.

  13. Today real-time mobile money transfer between individuals anytime is a reality in Kenya. For example, I did a mobile money transfer today from the UK to a needing family in rural Northern Kenya. The funds were received immediately and I received a text confirmation in less than 2 minutes. In country, that person is now able to make fast text- based payments 24x7 to anyone who owns a basic mobile phone, and who has registered for mobile money account. They can also make payments to shops, schools, utility companies etc. These mobile accounts are owned by Mobile Phone Network Operators. These operators will in future be integrated into banks as infrastructure service units. ... my prediction.

  14. Healthy behavior is in the hands of the individual, through better information, and opportunities for learning about conditions, and treatments. Multilingual mobile video is the most powerful medium for spreading this information, and that is why dotSUB and Publicis Healthware partnered to create Videum, to aggregate, curate, and distribute health videos globally. We will be in Mumbai in January to present it at Health2.0.

  15. Mobile Health will be one of the early applications that will have major impact on the healthcare system and the quality of life of Africans as well as other global citizens. Many Communication Service Providers are looking at this space to determine what type of services can be offered. As sensors and machine to machine technology become more cost effective and ubiquitous , this will have the potential of transforming Healthcare.