Walking the halls of the Mobile World Congress this week in Barcelona and listening to an assortment of people chattering with each other and on stage in the limelight, I'm struck by how quickly the industry has grown up and the magnitude of the impact it has had on the global economy.
First, just the numbers themselves are staggering. Global mobile industry revenues are expected to jump to $1.9 trillion in 2015 from $1.5 trillion in 2011, according to a report this week from the GSMA, the telecom operators' association and MWC sponsor. That's larger than the GDP of many countries. And, there are a lot of people working in this space -- more than 8 million people today are employed by companies in the mobile ecosystem. GSMA's data suggests that by the end of 2015, mobile industry jobs will grow to about 10 million.
As the industry moves towards connecting, inter-connecting, and cross-connecting people, devices, appliances, urban infrastructure, and everything else on the planet to create what's been dubbed the "Connected Life," the total global business impact by 2020 could reach $4.5 trillion, according to another GSMA report. By then, the number of devices connected could reach 24 billion worldwide.
A few other numbers got my head spinning: Foursquare, the app that lets you check-in everywhere, reports more than 15 million people have checked-in more than 1.5 billion times. Other keynote speakers at the MWC threw around traffic figures, with some expecting to see a 10- to 15-times increase in the amount of data moving through mobile devices and networks in the next few years as more handsets and tablets find their way into people's hands.
Of course, this rapid, global explosion has brought the industry many challenges, and some of them are likely to get more complex before they get easier to manage. Many, undoubtedly, will simultaneously put more stress on the supply chain while sparking innovation all the way from the microprocessor design up to the end-consumer's app download.
Security is one theme that came up often this week, both in sort of joking comments and in much more serious contexts. While off-the-cuff comments were made about Google's revised privacy policies, which some have warned may be in breach of European law, and Foursquare's CEO Dennis Crowley said users can opt-in to have there whereabouts made public, the issue goes much deeper than user control.
Security has to be embedded within open, programmable devices and networks, according to industry executives, including Kevin Johnson, chief executive at Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR). On the surface, the amount of personal and corporate information that will be accessed, managed, distributed, and protected is a significant issue for IT departments, especially now that individuals bring their own devices to the office and want to integrate their work-life activities on one mobile device, Johnson said.
Then there's the bandwidth issue for mobile Internet, which is posing another set of headaches for many businesses. Nokia earlier this week announced a new 41-megapixel camera phone. Where are people going to store those kinds of files? How can the network handle the increasing amount of video, music, photos, text, apps, and data we're sharing across multiple platforms via multiple service providers? Yes, the cloud is becoming the obvious solution, but work stills needs to be done on that front. ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) president Shi Lirong pointed out in his presentation that mobile infrastructure providers also should move to models that better handle multi-network convergence among 2G, 3G, WiFi, and 4G.
I remember these issues came up back in 2007, when I attended my first MWC. Five years later, while the industry has leapfrogged itself in all ways, responses to some of these recurring challenges still seem vague.