Editor's note: Operators that limit the marriage of mobility and cloud computing to Software as a Service (SaaS) apps for the iPhone miss the larger opportunity. Instead of selling cloud as the service, wireless carriers should themselves use cloud computing as the processing engine for highly personalized, dynamic applications based on mobile behavior. In the first part of this two-part tip series, networking and services expert Tom Nolle explores the broader opportunity and several use cases for cloud-powered, mobile behavior-based services.
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As a revenue source, standard connectivity services have been commoditized to the point that network operators say they lose 50% of their revenue per bit per year. Cloud computing has seen price cut after price cut as well, and some carriers are already concerned that the margins are becoming too slim to be relied on in the long term.
Everyone would like to see a profit/revenue light at the end of the tunnel. The good news is there may be one (and a big one at that): cloud-powered applications for mobile behavior-based services.
Mobile services, smartphones and tablets have been responsible for tremendous changes. Almost anywhere in the world, people are sitting and playing with tablets or walking and texting. The ability of mobile broadband services to touch every consumer and every worker at every moment in any location makes "the network" more than a connection -- it makes it a partner. As the partnership grows, we become more dependent on network input for everyday decisions and network support for routine tasks. With that growth in dependency, there's also a growth in opportunity for the network operator to tap its wealth of data on mobile behavior and develop services around it.
The process of dynamic coordination of data from individual subscribers and mass populations of mobile users is clearly not a process for a dedicated server to run. Even the software structure of the application will have to be dynamically composed to match users' fluctuating needs -- and then accommodate for when users change their minds. It's the perfect cloud application.
With the right cloud architecture, platform and tools, it may be the biggest new revenue source in mobile broadband -- and it's there to be exploited today.
How much do operators know about mobile behavior?
Network operators already know a lot about consumers and workers as individuals, including their locations and current communications statuses (also known as presence). If the user elects to opt into a service that shares even more data about mobile behavior, the network can also tell where the user has gone, tap into navigation to determine where the user wants to go and map the community of friends or coworkers the user is currently involved with. It can compare all of this data to the patterns of the past.
With customers that purchase bundled services, the network operator may also know which television channels the phone or tablet user subscribes to, what content the user is authorized to stream and which programs the user watches regularly. Some carriers also sell home-monitoring services, which provide the operator with information about the status of the home, including perhaps whether anyone is home at the time. If personalization is critical to optimize information about and the support of activities, then the network operator is in the right position.
Check out the second part of this tip series
The operator also knows a lot about users collectively. Cell-registration patterns offer insight into population movement, and high densities of devices are an indicator of a crowded area. The current data and historical data can be correlated into "condition scenarios" that could then be employed to help users make decisions on where to go, how to get there and when to be expected. If a group of users subscribe to a "community" service, the operator can correlate the personal and collective information about everyone in the community and create the first true "social map" to replace the limited notion of a street map or location-based service.
Turning mobile behavior into cloud-powered services
A high level of personalization always creates trust and privacy concerns, but even here the network operator has an advantage. Several studies have shown that people trust their network operators more than virtually any other type of business. These companies are, after all, the ones that connect them to 911 services and potentially monitor their homes or businesses for problems. Even without collecting any information about purchasing activity or demographics, a network operator has an unparalleled information framework on which to build services. Add that mobile behavior and commercial information -- with specific user opt-in protection as required under local laws -- and you have a framework for a new service set.
What services could this wealth of information about mobile behavior spawn? Basic maps services like driving directions could be turned into something to reflect traffic along a certain route, based on a prediction of congestion derived from the analysis of current cell-usage patterns versus historical ones. The same capability could be extended to create a group-meet service, the kind friends might use to pick a convenient place to meet for a meal. The ability to remotely record a television show could be enhanced into a reminder that the show is coming on and that the user is currently too far away to make it home in time. If the user wanted to organize a meet-up at a sports bar with friends to eat dinner and watch the World Cup, the network service could broker the agreement among them in "vote" form.
All of these could be valid examples of consumer or business services based on mobile behavior, but there are also services that could be tailored more specifically to business customers. Outside sales and service personnel often have to juggle hop-by-hop schedules that are changed dynamically as clients are added or rescheduled. Account for traffic on the roads, and things can get really complicated. But a network service could broker meetings and create optimum routes as new people are added or others are deleted or moved around. All of this can be done with input from mass-population movement data that is already available to a mobile operator or easily obtained by a cloud provider using collective GPS information (with consent).
The overriding long-term driver for mobile behavior-based services is the combination of hyperconnectivity and social networking. A 2012 Pew Internet Research study, "Millennials Will Benefit and Suffer due to Their Hyperconnected Lives," suggests that the behavior of young people is being rewired to be more event- and communications-driven. Thus, the social aspects of these mobile behavior-driven services are what make them not just exciting and valuable, but also prime candidates for development as cloud applications.
Continue to part two: A provider's guide to building behavior-based mobile cloud services
About the author
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his blog for the latest in communications business and technology development.