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.

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