|A new world
|Radio Frequency Systems (RFS)
Stéphane Klajzyngier is the President of Radio Frequency Systems, RFS. Prior to joining RFS, he served as the President of Alcatel’s Chinese Mobile Phones Division, MPD. Earlier, he had played a part in the founding of its subsidiary Alcatel Suzhou Telecom Corporation, ASTEC, and served as its General Manager. Mr Klajzyngier also managed a joint venture between TCL and Alcatel Mobile Phones. Mr Klajzyngier joined Alcatel SAFT (Alcatel’s specialist battery division) in as a management auditor. He then took charge of the SAFT Japan subsidiary’s International Department and, ultimately, was appointed head of the company’s France Sales Department and Telecom Business Unit. Mr Klajzyngier holds an MBA in Corporate Finance.
A new world, a virtual world, is enveloping us slowly. The child of technology, science, engineering, electrons and imagination turned software, the virtual world, has a market reality, and an important factor shaping and transforming our society. We are sailing uncharted waters. This is an information and communications-driven revolution, and the entire world is slowly coming under its influence. For the ICT technology sector a market driven by virtual products, by software, rather than hardware has many unsettling consequences.
“A good beginning is more than half of the whole” – Aristotle, 384-322 BC Aristotle’s comment – made over 2,000 years ago – still holds true. What is happening today will determine our future. The ‘digital world’ is increasingly ‘our world’, a world where satellites, mobile phones, broadband connections, blogs and other tools eliminate – for good and bad – the distances and frontiers that have since the beginning separated mankind. In the future, as technological growth continues, every area of the world will be connected, and the digital world’s inhabitants will be able to travel digitally around it. With smart, communicating chips that can be embedded anywhere, the possibility of associating an IP address with any object, and an environment where every enabled component will be ‘clickable’, the real world will increasingly seem to some just a pale reflection of a new, digital, virtual world. Connectivity – the connection of everything with increased coverage, speed and services – will be the force driving this world. Nonetheless, the ‘all digital world’ raises some important questions regarding security, content, economic consumption models and respect for privacy. These questions – already the focus of discussions within the sector – invoke mixed feelings of stimulation, revolt and fear, but never apathy or complacence. While it is important to question data ownership and security, the right to information and such, these questions should not overshadow the fundamental questions about virtuality itself – the basis, the intrinsic characteristic, of a new, emerging world. How will we deal with our world, based until now upon physical structures, adapt to its seemingly fading importance? What does an address represent in the virtual world? What significance can we link to identity? Can nationality still have meaning? What is an official document? What form will competition take? … Our social and economic mechanisms and the very manner of our thinking have, for centuries, been based upon our perception of the material world and the use of science to explain everything based upon the observation and measurement of the ‘real’ world. Most of our knowledge, our information, indeed our technology-based civilisation depends upon this materialistic world-view. This eminently successful world-view is called into question by new virtual worlds where, for the very first time, we are creating mental landscapes without frontiers or inhabitants, without governments, rules, policies or even material structures open to all comers, and where anyone can make a life – even if it is a fantasy. Virtual worlds can be powerfully seductive and even subversive. Obviously, such virtual worlds will encounter opposition. There are already pressure groups – the music industry, the cinema, NGOs, governments, etc – supporting legislation with greater constraints and restrictions. Nevertheless, new ideas are historically, at times dangerously, hard to control. Like any powerful idea, especially one such as virtual worlds that captures the imagination of untold numbers of people, this too will escape efficient and extensive control for quite a while – decades perhaps – until effectively and usefully absorbed into the fabric of our society. Virtuality is a fundamental issue with vast implications that demand consideration. Three issues are at the core of the concerns of economic players in the virtual world: prices, competition and R&D. As to price, what has happened in the world of music or, even, telephony? With the dematerialisation of the medium – the iPod for music and IP for telephony – the pricing of these goods and services has undergone a revolution. For telephony, a relatively peaceful one since the revolution brought a brand new business model extolled – if, at times, feared – by new and old telecoms players alike. The music industry, however, is still in the throes of a violent revolution, battling fiercely to survive the plague of illegal downloads. Both examples are interesting. They give us a glimpse of the challenges of setting prices in a virtualised environment. How can the prices of an intangible product, a product not embodied in a physical artefact, be set and controlled? How can the sale and transfer of the intellectual property be meaningfully controlled, since – culturally, almost instinctively – people feel that objects and services have a cost, but virtual items, ideas, are free of charge? How can we maintain prices in all the world’s markets and currencies given the way so many people perceive virtual products – if there is no physical product, there can be no real price. This leads to the second question, that of competition. In this digital world without frontiers, competition will be fiercer than ever. Vendors can not take the same advantage of the customer’s lack of knowledge, misinformation or the distant locations of rival companies. In the virtual marketplace, every competitor can plead publicly and defend its cause, so direct comparison between competitors is widespread and systematic. Accordingly, purchases are becoming more rational – based primarily upon the price and quality of the products and services. This brings up the issue of research and development, R&D, where the battle for the market will be waged based upon the ability to deliver reliable products and services that users really want. If we knew what the users wanted, the challenge would be simple. However, like anything new, the virtual world holds surprises, both good and bad, in store that not even the best analysts can imagine. What telecoms engineer could have imagined that surfing spots would head the list of Japan’s most visited 3G sites? We simply cannot expect many valid predictions on the future technology of the digital world or about what will open up possibilities for players big and small to contribute to creating the new future. Price, competition and R&D, the same trio that controlled the real-world markets will continue to control the digital markets – a virtual world where prices are not related to a physical product, markets and competition are worldwide, and R&D looks for answers to questions not yet put! All this will entail radical transformations of working processes. New forms of remote work, of remote workplaces will emerge, as will increasingly powerful simulations of physical processes and virtual scenarios. The involvement of customers and users in development processes will grow, extending the collaborative model already seen with certain types of freeware, the automated management of stock, and the like. This will generate a profound change in the way we act, the way we relate to work, even the way we are. Infrastructure and network equipment suppliers will play a crucial role making truly reliable access to the virtual world constantly available. The virtual world – like the real world with electricity, water and fixed telephone service – will not tolerate faulty distribution or service cut-offs. No matter the technology employed or its complexity, to succeed, services must embody simplicity and facility. The mission – to satisfy the growing demands of our society for new and better services, that are energy saving and environmentally sound – is complex. Paradoxically, to assure the existence of a smooth running virtual world, we need to invent, build and maintain ever better real world technology and equipment. The term ‘foundation’ best typifies the mission of guaranteeing the viability and security of the virtual world’s infrastructure. Still, as in a Chinese shadow show, the foundation needs to be as unobtrusive as possible to avoid spoiling the aesthetics and harmony of the virtual world.