Smart cities offer brightest hope for carriers, says former AT&T chief
Glenn Lurie, the former president of AT&T Mobility, reckons smart cities are the single most promising new market for network operators.
Lurie, now chief executive at US-based software provider Synchronoss Technologies, told Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona that network operators should reverse the decline in traditional telecoms by serving enterprise and consumer customers with new city-related services applications.
“The next big next thing [for carriers] is the smart city. It is our opportunity to bring it all together. The connected car is the blood in the veins of the smart city. The carriers will play a big role, as will many outside – their ARPUs are going down, and their costs are going up, and this is the opportunity for expansion for this industry,” he said in a keynote address at MWC.
Lower latencies, higher bandwidth and improved spectral efficiencies make incoming LTE-based technologies, including 5G, ideal for an expanding variety of smart city services, for which use cases are still emerging, he observed.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen a network change that’s been about use cases – it has always been about more speed and more bandwidth. This is about specific use cases. It is about making smart cities into something real. But carriers have to deliver this ecosystem.”
Lurie, credited with bringing the iPhone to AT&T in 2007, suggested the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, the hyped new era in digital communications, has in fact already arrived, ushered in by the likes of Amazon, Facebook, and Google. “I would argue we are already there. In fact, I would say we have been here [for some time]. Every aspect of our lives has been impacted.”
Among a number of examples, he cited the influence of the Chinese social media platform WeChat in Asia Pacific, where it commands 902 million monthly users. “If you are a carrier, it is kind of frightening – because it has been able to get almost 70 percent of China using its OTT application every day, all day, more like an OS. The operator has been disintermediated,” he said,
Increasingly, network operators must work together to make a better fist of the battle being waged on their home turf. “Think about advanced messaging: many carriers have put RCS backbones into their networks and done almost nothing with it. This whole idea of Whatsapp disintermediating – this is one of those opportunities for carriers to step back and figure out how to deal with that. Will they fight back on messaging? I believe they can and they will.”
Indeed, Lurie struck an optimistic note for the carrier community at MWC, pointing to its capital investment in infrastructure – $1.2 trillion since 2010, he said, and $275 billion earmarked for 5G alone.
The challenge for them, ultimately, is to triumph against the web giants as the primary conduit for digital communications.
“The connected life is about a single experience – that your smartphone knows you have woken up, your car knows you’ve woken up, your city knows you’ve woken up, and your car is already talking to your city about the best route to work. It’s about all of that coming together to deliver a truly connected life,” he said.
“Who’s going to deliver that? I believe the carrier has the best opportunity, even if others participate too. BIt has to be about making lives better. If operators can do that, then they will make more money. That has to be the thought process, especially with the investment in 5G.”