Convergence across verticals means new revenue opportunities for the wireless industry

This piece originally appeared on RCR Wireless as part of the publication’s “Analyst Angle” section. You can view the piece here.

Simon Fletcher chairing the 8th Future of Wireless International Conference
Simon Fletcher chairing the 8th Future of Wireless International Conference

Last month’s Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless International Conference (FWIC) provided a great opportunity to bring together representatives from many vertical industries with wireless technology providers. As ever the attendees were highly engaged, with plenty of challenging questions and thought provoking panel and open forum discussions.

Perhaps the most interesting insight from the conference was the way in which it was clear that there is a convergence of challenges across multiple vertical sectors. A lot of speakers were articulating similar challenges — in areas as diverse as healthcare and automotive — and this is vital for the future of wireless. Convergence opens up opportunities for greater standardisation and the creation of platforms that have applications in multiple sectors, increasing efficiencies and revenue opportunities for vendors and service providers.

For example, the continuing need to improve remote and in-building coverage was mentioned by several speakers — particularly those from the automotive industry. The poor coverage on the UK road network was highlighted as a significant barrier to future innovation and revenues. The relatively poor coverage of the UK is a well-known issue for the wireless industry. But now transport industry players are highlighting the issue as a significant deficiency that needs to be addressed, and government departments that take an interest in transport systems are also applying pressure to improve coverage.

The topic of regulation remained ever-present in a number of the industry sector sessions. Several speakers noted that regulatory frameworks could put up significant resistance to wireless enabled change, which will create opportunities for disruptive start-ups in a number of sectors.

A final major point of convergence was also the impact that “OTT” players are having in the vast majority of vertical sectors, often already being an ‘incumbent’ themselves. The OTT has driven the data demand on networks and, whilst financial results indicate that the mobile operators have struggled to keep up with this demand, the OTT is now part and parcel of the wireless industry package. Having seen how the presence of the OTT, with their global reach over the mobile internet, challenges existing business models, some vertical players may be looking to defensive approaches that can resist change. To take a defensive stance is unlikely to keep the competition at bay and will certainly not create a competitive advantage. A number of panels observed that their challenges are more cultural or regulatory — rather than technological. However such a perspective overlooks significant opportunities for vertical markets to partition technologies into manageable platforms, where the pace of change in each area can be better understood.

Aside from these challenges, there were also encouraging signs of progress within a number of the vertical sectors themselves.

In the health sector, after many years of failed large IT projects implemented from the top down, there is a growing trend of putting wireless devices in the hands of frontline doctors and nurses. This is having a transformational effect on technology in healthcare from the bottom up.

Smart city technology trials have been ongoing for a number of years. The smart city panel explored the tipping points at which scale up to common platforms may occur. The recently started Innovate-UK funded work in Manchester and the news that Singapore is establishing collaborations with countries like the UK, start to show promising signs of the possibility of common platforms emerging.

The fintech session also served as a good illustration of how the large incumbent banks are establishing incubators to increase awareness of innovation and determine how these developments could be adopted in their mainstream business.

Overall it was interesting to see that there seems to be broad recognition — both within the wireless industry and the verticals themselves — that new business models are required in a number of vertical sectors if significant new revenue growth is to be realised. What will be interesting is to see how that plays out, whether it will be directed by ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ approaches, or if large incumbents and smaller disruptors will ‘join forces’ in certain sectors to nurture these new approaches.