Sitting listening to Coke at Mobile World Congress on Monday evening was a lesson in scale. MWC is a big swirl of noise and activity and in amongst it an avalanche of glitzy product launches and new initiatives. Coke’s vision is bigger: Probably the biggest brand and broadest reach of any company anywhere with 1.8 billion bottles sold every day, many in some of the most remote places in the world.
Collectively the GSMA is huge, representing almost 800 network operators in 220 countries, servicing some 5 billion connections used by around half the world’s population. However, the choice and competition much favoured by the regulator, means that the mobile industry is fragmented. Even global companies with services in in a number of countries have “only” 100s of millions of subscribers each.
This is a problem for Coke. How can they reach out to each of us as they want the “Instant before Desire” when they must first work with 800 different technology, sales and legal teams? Does this mean that the mobile networks we have considered so large and capable are actually too small to meet the challenge that is Digital Services in the era of the Internet of Things?
Mobile Network Operators are a competitive bunch and sharing does not sit easily: However this is beginning to change. The GSMA’s initiatives for oneAPI, Mobile Connect and Embedded SIM are all steps towards a single point of contact to deliver services that the mobile networks are so well placed to deliver; whether for brand based offerings or machine to machine data flows.
The optimist in me sees this a bit like waiting for the perennial bus, three initiatives all seem to be arriving at about the same time, coming together all of sudden to create the perfect wave of opportunity to reach out to anyone anywhere. And perhaps the next one is already visible on the horizon in Indonesia; interoperability for mobile payments.
But the pessimist in me reminds me that these are early days. The competitive nature of the MNOs will get in the way and slow it all down. Let’s just hope they remember what happened when first voice and then SMS interoperability delivered dramatic growth, proving Metcalfe’s law that unfettered connectivity delivers true scale.