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No End to Mobile Mania

TORONTO -- The surge in mobile video, commerce and other mobile apps will continue over the next few years, paralleling continued growth in smart TVs, tablets, smartphones and other IP-enabled devices, industry executives said at the Canadian Telecom Summit here this week. Experts on a panel covering devices, screens and apps talked about how mobile devices will keep soaring in popularity as consumer demand for such devices keeps climbing, the devices get ever more sophisticated and the Internet of Things turns refrigerators, thermostats and washing machines into wirelessly linked, Web-connected machines. Bell Canada's mobile TV offering is luring more customers to mobile video and driving mobile video consumption among existing users, according to Nauby Jacob, vice president of products, services and content for Bell Mobility Inc. Bell's mobile TV subscribers now watch an average of more than one hour of video content on their wireless devices each day, up from 25 minutes a day four years ago, he said. He noted that during the Toronto Maple Leafs' climactic seventh game against the Boston Bruins in the NHL playoffs last month, "a lot of our cell sites had trouble keeping up with the demand" from subscribers. BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) sees much promise in mobile commerce apps, according to Alec Saunders, the company's vice president of developer relations and ecosystem development. Although many consumers are now worried about making credit card information available over their mobile phones, he thinks that mobile wallet technologies and Near Field Communications (NFC) will help users get more comfortable with the idea. James Maynard, president and CEO of Wavefront, said machine-to-machine (M2M) communications holds great potential. "The real disruption will come with connected devices and wearable devices," which have the potential to change the way we drive, produce electricity and deliver healthcare, he said. What's holding it back is a lack of viable business models, but he expects that obstacle to be overcome. Speakers did acknowledge the downside to all this mobile communicating, such as the toll on attention spans due to the constant beeping, buzzing and ringing of mobile devices. "It's certainly made my kids a lot less patient than I would like them to be," cracked Ken Price, DM of mobile communications for Samsung Corp. Did that thing in your pocket used to be on your desktop?
Peggy Johnson, executive vice president and president of global market development for Qualcomm Inc., spouted facts, figures and forecasts to support the gut-feel predictions of mobile growth. Mobile users have now downloaded more than 30 billion data apps onto their handheld devices across the planet, and the 60 billion mark may not be too far off, Johnson said. She also noted that the wireless business now produces about $1.5 trillion in revenues, enough to account for about 2 percent of GDP. Like many, Johnson sees tablets and smartphones turning PCs and laptops into all but obsolete devices. "We're redefining computing by leaving laptops behind" and using tablets and smartphones, she said. "The world of computing has gone mobile … We're starting to demand things in our pockets that used to be on our desktops." Johnson cited research forecasts that 7.5 billion smartphones will ship worldwide over the next five years, joining the 1.5 billion smartphones already in the market. She noted that 1 million new smartphones now join the network every day, about three times the number of babies that are born throughout the world each day. Noting that mobile data consumption has already been at least doubling every year, she predicted that usage will grow by an astounding 1000 percent over the next 10 years. "Everything wants to get connected in our environment today, everything wants to talk," she said, citing other predictions that there will be 25 billion connected devices globally by 2020. "It's just an onslaught." Lastly, Johnson foresees the development of a "digital sixth sense," or "a merging of the physical and digital worlds," in the near future. As consumer electronics makers start to put sensing monitors into their mobile handsets, she believes that wireless devices will increasingly enable users to "augment" their reality with "overlapping metadata." For example, Johnson envisions people in remote locations using mobile devices and medical sensors on their bodies to collect and send vital health information to doctors hundreds or thousands of miles away. She noted the current push to develop a Star Trek-like medical tricorder that could scan the body for a variety of health problems and conditions without touching the skin. And despite the resistance of many educators, she's promoting the use of mobile phones in classrooms to foster a more active and collaborative learning environment. — Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading
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