4G World: A New Role for the Cellular Carriers?

No one wants to be the big dumb pipe, but somebody has to do it. And that dirty job puts the carriers in what could be the premier spot for the next evolution of IT itself.

I ran a short (three-session) track at 4G World in Chicago this week, continuing the theme of the Mobile Connect event we did in Boston in June. The concept behind Mobile Connect is how wireless and mobile benefit the enterprise, moving, if you will, up the protocol stack. If Interop is at its core all about Layers 1-3, then Mobile Connect is all about Layer-7. I'm not sure there will be another Mobile Connect in the coming year, but I will regardless be moving the Interop Wireless and Mobility program a bit up the stack as well. As I wrote earlier, we are reaching a degree of sufficiency (no, not abundance; we're a ways out from that, but there's progress nonetheless) in the availability of the technologies, products, and services of wireless and mobile that enables enterprises and other organizations to proceed ahead with large-scale mobile deployments, reaping the benefits without fear of unmanageable uncertainty and early obsolescence.

So, then, even given the geopolitical and economic uncertainties and challenges that now seem to be structural in nature, I see a boom ahead in enterprises taking advantage of wireless and mobile. And, as I've also written earlier, I think the cloud is essential to the future success of mobility, as it's simply infeasible to carry one's entire IT arsenal everywhere - this attempt being characteristic of the PC/applications-centric era of IT that mobility is rapidly bring to a close. It begins with cloud-based storage and information-sharing, proceeds with cloud-based apps, and eventually I see all but the largest organizations and governments moving essentially all of their IT capabilities into the cloud.

And who will the leading cloud services providers be? IMHO, I think the wireless carriers are best positioned to grab market share here. They are essential players in mobility today. They already sell to the enterprise. They have the operational support systems in place to enable a move into the IT services market. Sure, they are hardly experts here today - but consider that IBM completely transformed itself, over many years, granted, from a mainframe computer company and the originator of the PC into today's leading IT services provider. Dell and HP added IT services via acquisitions - and are now in trouble thanks to their legacy hardware businesses, making them takeover/breakup candidates that might prove interesting to emeging players. IBM really knew what they were doing, didn't they, even though such a direction seemed strange and perhaps even ill-advised at the time.

Anyway, as we head into the next era of IT, dominated by information-centric strategies rather than cool new wireless technologies and/or hot new smartphones and tablets, services will be king. The benefits for organizations of all forms could be enormous. The ball got rolling when wireless and mobile enabled us to begin to realize the vision of anytime, anywhere - the last good differentiator no matter what business you're in - and that ball is accelerating. And I think the carriers, again, vital players in the food chain of mobility, have a real shot at reaping the rewards of this new era if they have the vision to capitalize on it. The question is, of course: do they?

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