|Issue:||Latin America II 2003|
|Topic:||Pervasive Communications: Changing How We Live And Work|
|Organisation:||Ericsson do Brasil|
The wireline, wireless, data, Internet and media segments are converging. Voice still dominates wireline communications, which have yet to fully reach the low-end market, but Internet – broadband – is increasingly available. Potential mobile users, many uneducated, find the phones costly and complex. New phones are needed that combine functionality, low cost – perhaps through government subsidies, multimedia capabilities and voice-activation to facilitate use. These devices should access the Internet, where all services converge, to help reduce the digital divide.
A big change in the global economy The strong slowdown of the global economy during the last few years have had a great impact on almost all segments of the economy. The slowdown came after a long period of extraordinary growth fuelled by globalization and the expansion of Internet. The abundance of capital and the “irrationality” of stock markets stimulated the proliferation of business initiatives, many not quite rational, until the “bubble” blew. The telecom industry lived in a “golden age” for many years. Capital was cheap and abundant and the industry expanded enormously riding the waves of deregulation and privatization that many governments implemented to increase the penetration of telecom services and promote competition to benefit the end user. The promises of third generation (3G) mobile systems enticed operators, particularly in Europe and the Far East, to spend enormous amounts of money purchasing 3G licenses financed by cheap capital. When the “bubble” burst, there was a sudden shortage of capital, this left telecom operators with very limited investment capability. The market has changed dramatically as a result. Telecom operators are much more focused on their core businesses than before and are looking at specific market segments that were neglected in the past. People, users and providers each have their own necessities: · PROVIDERS: Telecom operators, service providers, and all the related business segments involved in providing infrastructure, accessibility, services and content. · USERS: Those who use telecommunications to improve their business and the way they work, and to improve their style of living and quality of life. · PEOPLE: Most of the world’s population still does not have access to basic telecommunications. The goal is to develop new services and increase service penetration to reduce the “Digital Divide”. Provides:The integration shift An important aspect of today’s economic rationality is that investments are made considering the integration between technologies and services, reducing the total business volume, but broadening the offer of integrated services and the interoperability, the crossover, of technologies. Solutions are crossing the barriers between traditional wireline-wireless-data-internet-media segments, and, consequently, can be accessed whichever way the end user chooses, at any given time. This so-called “always best connected” approach permits access to any type of content – voice, data, multimedia, e-mail and text – regardless of where we are or what type of technology or device we use. This will have a pervasive impact on the way we work and live. The wireless approach Wireless access technology is evolving rapidly and facilitating the transition from the traditional voice-centric environment to a data based one. New standards are improving existing technologies and providing faster ways to access the Internet and data services. New type of phones and devices are being released every day, which provide not just voice capability, but also a full scope of multimedia functionality and access to new kinds of services. Still, all these development, per se, are not enough. Considering that only 20% of the world population has access to any kind of phone, it will still be a challenge to achieve large scale penetration of wireless technology. The deployment costs of wireless infrastructure are still high, when coverage and traffic capacity are needed in wide and highly populated urban areas. These costs can be even higher if additional data and multimedia capabilities are included. One thing is a fact though: this infrastructure is still growing, and wireless services areas in the world are still increasing. Wireless, with its current 2.5G/3G deployments using CDMA, GSM and WCDMA is also moving towards integration with other access technologies such as Wi-Fi (W-LAN), PABX, VPN and office environments, allowing a seamless offer of services. There is another part of the problem; due to high development costs for different standards and technologies, excess functionality, and lack of user-friendly interfaces, end users still feel mobile phones are costly and complex. This leads to unproductive investment in service coverage in regions where most end users are not comfortable using a cellular phone – in other words, the phone hinders the service it was designed to provide. This, and a broad range of other factors, must be considered when using wireless technology to reduce the digital divide. The wireline approach The wireline model has also changed fundamentally in recent years, shifting its traditional voice-centric perspective to an Internet-data-broadband one, although voice still accounts for most of the business. A range of new services was developed: some increased lower economic class penetration; some were based on voice; and some were based on data – including corporate data, VPN (virtual private networks), Internet and broadband access. Competition in the wireline segment, today, is not as fierce as in wireless. New efforts are needed to provide services for the low-end segments of the market and to increase wireline’s integration with wireless solutions. The Internet approach The Internet is the main convergence point for services today. Almost all communications services, regardless of the technology, now provide some sort of Internet access. This is true for wireless or wireline, cable & satellite TV, radio communications, radio broadcasting and even power lines. With the Internet, services can be deployed in an integrated way, no matter what type of access is used, providing access anywhere at anytime. The Internet’s virtual environment shrinks distances and makes geography irrelevant to the experience. Users: New ways of working and living End users’ pay less attention these days to the high technology associated with telecommunications and more to the benefits. Users are more interested in how these services can contribute to their work, their day-to-day tasks, and their quality of life. Business as usual will change. Companies will have fewer geographical constraints, accessibility- not – location – will be their concern. Offices at expensive locations will no longer be needed everywhere they do business. Given adequate accessibility, a reduced number of highly integrated offices can be maintained wherever convenient, reducing real estate costs and improving communications. Full integration and accessibility will improve the internal efficiency of businesses, increase productivity, provide flexibility and boost employees’ motivation and performance. New “seamless integrated” services, using a range of technologies, will reduce total infrastructure investment and service provider costs, increase telecommunications penetration, help end users and reduce the digital divide. People: The Services approach In order to be effective, fundamental changes are needed for phone and service designs to cope with the basic problems many potential users have: inability to read and write, and generally poor communication skills; difficulties in understanding the phone, the services provided, and inability to interact with the system when required; and inability to buy phones or pay for the services. New kinds of phones could also be developed for this segment that combine basic functionality, low cost or even disposable devices; minimum color image and sound multimedia capabilities to cope with the new interactive services; and voice-activation to facilitate interaction with the new services. Some standardization of this type of phone throughout the industry could lead to higher volumes and lower prices, increasing the feasibility of this solution. Current services could be redesigned, combined with new ones, to extend their scope to this new segment. Bearing in mind the end-user’s problems, these new services should provide an easier way to interact and communicate. This would call for specially conceived services and features such as easy to use voice recognition interfaces that work with different languages and accents; sound for voice, music, tones, beeps among others; advanced imaging that can display easy-to-use menus and interfaces on the phone, as well as any other image to provide information or to signal the user. The prices for equipment aimed at lower socio-economic level citizens might require government subsidies or incentives to fulfill their social purpose and stimulate digital inclusion. Summary All in all, these initiatives to provide integrated services and better accessibility are just a small part of the many initiative needed to reduce the digital divide. New ideas to provide broader, seamless, service availability and connectivity using satellite, data communications, television, radio and other services will be needed as well. The general population should have basic rights to food, health, education and communications. This is true throughout the world, but especially true, and critical, in the “Third World” countries. Global efforts to improve economic and social conditions in these countries would, in turn, drive new business, extend service access, and reduce the digital divide.