Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"The New World of Wireless": Mobile Communication Everywhere, All the Time

What will the world be like when almost everyone -- and everything -- can interact over a wireless web? The New World of Wireless: How to Compete in the 4G Revolution by Scott Snyder helps business planners ask the right questions and choose the right answers. Snyder portrays a world in which all of us and many of our possessions join a "Digital Swarm" of people and devices that interact continuously and richly.

For example (mine, not from the book), a manufacturing equipment sales director, might, through her wireless device, learn of a new opportunity to call on a major prospect, and choose her most conveniently located account executive for this purpose. The account executive, while sitting on a park bench between scheduled customer visits, could use his location- and context-aware device to quickly arrange transportation, lodging, and sales engineering support, as well as a venue for product demonstration. At the same time, the sales director could quickly gather all available experts for an preparatory video conference with the account executive.   After the video conference, the account executive could not only communicate with his wife and children to inform them of his change in plans, but could also make sure the equipment at the demonstration venue was in good working order, ask his rental car back at his hotel to map out a drive to the prospect's office in a nearby city, and make sure that there is enough fuel for the trip.

It's certainly easy to imagine the possibilities of ubiquitous 4G wireless.  But it's much harder to figure out which ones to bet your business on.   Snyder, a systems engineering Ph.D. who heads a management consultancy focused on scenario planning, uses this technique and others.  Snyder also uses environmental scanning  and trend scouting; formal innovation methods such as disruptive innovation and innovation networks; as well as strategic options generation.  The book helps readers understand the Digital Swarm and its potential  business impacts, innovate based on its opportunities and evolve their organizations to compete within a new social and technological reality.

The book begins by tracing the history of the first three generations of wireless technology and the emerging fourth, which Snyder predicts will transform communications as a whole by shifting control control from service providers to users.  For example, "Smart Mobs" will share information about each other--such as where they are driving and the traffic conditions they are experiencing--for mutual benefit.   One key to this shift will be cognitive radios, which will take into account the user's location, preferences and current activity to choose among available wireless networks.  An early example of this trend (again, mine) is T-Mobile's HotSpot @Home offering, which switches between GSM wireless networks and pre-configured WiFi  networks, such as those common in homes and public areas.

Snyder explores two broad scenarios.  In "Nature Aligns", widely adopted standards and trust create an ecosystem of interconnected, accessible and affordable networks and services.  In "Killer Bees", a dearth of shared standards and trust create a fragmented, slower-growing marketplace that constrains consumer choice, convenience and protection.   Each scenario has different implications for technology development, market growth, market-altering "killer" applications, and even the world economy, which prospers under Nature Aligns and falters under Killer Bees.

Each scenario affects differently the relative market power of various wireless industry sectors, and has different implications for various geographical regions and industries.   Snyder guides the reader through the creation of core strategies that will work under either scenario, and contingent strategies that will succeed only under one or the other.  He also presents a "WiQ" survey that assesses organizational need to adapt to the future of wireless versus readiness for that future.  WiQ measures need by potential wireless disruption to markets and business operations, the extent of wireless business opportunities, and employee demand for doing business wirelessly.  WiQ measures readiness, however, by current personal and business use of wireless technology, as well as the extent to which decisionmaking authority is decentralized.     Participants cannot fully realize the value of spontaneous, rich peer-to-peer deliberations if they are inhibited from quickly acting on them.

Snyder explains how to monitor and adapt to early signals that could illuminate the future of wireless.  For each of fourteen variables, such as network trust, technology breakthroughs, wireless social networks, cognitive devices, and health/environmental concerns, he identifies both signals and their sources among experts, organizations and media.

Snyder identifies several "Killer Swarm Apps" as examples of potential wireless applications.  One is "Context-Aware Retailing", which intelligently merges online information such as pricing and reviews with location-based information on nearby retail bricks-and-mortar stores.  Such applications could even react to a  customer's location within one of those stores by displaying product details or promotions.

The future of wireless will also change how organizations operate. Collaboration and decisionmaking will become more decentralized and peer-to-peer due to the nature of wireless communications.  However, organizations will also able to analyze and correlate both physical locations and wireless interactions of individuals.    Snyder contends that members of Generation Z (people born since the mid-1990's) are willing to share information about themselves if they are convinced that there is an overall benefit, so this type of mining will be acceptable if done in a way that respects privacy.

While "The New World of Wireless" aims to assist business leaders and planners in preparing for the future of wireless technology, it also exemplifies strategic thinking about technology in general.   The book is therefore of potential value to anyone in strategic planning, information technology or technical product research and development.

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