On the Hot Seat with Mike Short

FierceWireless editor Brian Dolan recently spoke with Mike Short, vice president of research and development for O2 Groups about the upcoming GSMA Innovation Awards, trends in the European mobile industry and how the industry has changed over the past decade. Short is responsible for trials of new technology. In addition, he keeps an eye out for innovative products for O2's carriers in Western Europe. Short is also the creator of the GSM Awards, which he started 11 years ago when he was chairman of the GSMA.

FierceWireless: As a judge in the upcoming GSMA Innovation Awards, what trends do you think will dictate which nominees will take home the awards?

Short: I try to look at these awards from a global perspective. I've been in mobile for 20 years so I always look for something new that will have a global impact. In the devices category, I mainly look for things that are going to change the shape of the market. In the applications category, I look for examples that are really going to develop the mobile business, like mobile marketing, ticketing, and barcode solutions. The show itself in Barcelona always attracts a lot of innovative companies, but when new companies take the trouble to enter the awards, they are beginning to answer the question: "How do I make a difference?" The award scheme helps.

FierceWireless: What specific trends are you seeing for devices?

Short: I see two trends for devices. One is a trend towards wearable devices. The other trend has to do with connectivity. One example on the wearable category is eyewear that helps you to sort through emails through special glasses or helps you to play games when you are perhaps relaxing on the beach. You know, wear 3-D glasses and have a bit of fun.

The other area, though, is this connectivity to and from the cell phones where we see the power of Bluetooth really come through. I remember ten years ago when Bluetooth first came into the headsets. People would walk down the street and get stared at with the headsets, but people don't really stare at headset users anymore. What they are going to do now is take Bluetooth to another level-like health telematics. You'll be able to measure blood pressure and sync that up to your phone via Bluetooth and then send the information onto the hospital.

FierceWireless: Some of these solutions don't seem like they would see market uptake any time soon. What timeframe do you have in mind when judging these awards?

Short: I tend to look at products and services up for these awards as having a timeframe of 18 months to two years before launching in the market, but I would expect them to have prototypes or trial services in the market this year in order to be eligible.

FierceWireless: Any other trends worth mentioning?

Short: Well, reducing the cost of transmission is certainly an important, if not exciting trend. The cost of all these base stations sending information back to switches is getting higher. We have a lot of data transmissions and that's a huge cost for backhaul. So there are a lot of innovative solutions in the transmission backhaul area which helps operators save money and in return reduce prices for end users. [Backhaul is] less exciting, perhaps, than applications, but a genuine infrastructure need.

FierceWireless: How have the awards changed over the years?

Short: Over the years the awards have really changed. In the past there was less emphasis on innovation and more emphasis on growth. We used to give awards for the fastest growing operator, for example, or the one with the highest penetration and things like that. In recent years the awards have widened to include things like best marketing campaign, best innovation in the base station category, best innovation in the IT and OSS categories.

In recent years we have discovered that innovation is coming from so many players-no long just the top six handset vendors or top six infrastructure vendors. In the last three or four years, we have had innovation categories that have helped to open up ideas in the content arena, the enterprise market arena or government or public sector area. So the innovation is often closer to the customer but can fly from many more companies. There are also close to 1,300 exhibitors at this year's Mobile World Congress and that just shows the global reach of the mobile industry.

FierceWireless: Do you see femtocells being a big trend?

Short: In the U.K., we have had competition for voice coverage for 23 years, so we have gotten pretty good at voice coverage. But 3G, being a relatively new network and intensive network, does have some difficulty when indoors. So the femtocells do have some use in that area, but they also play well into the combination of ADSL and the femtocell. So that's where the experimentation really is-with backhaul and indoor coverage. O2 has done some trials already and will do more in 2008. We see a real need for that.

Some enterprise customers will say "Alright, we'll buy a thousand cell phones from you, if you improve the coverage in our building." So along with selling the handsets and providing the connectivity, you have to improve the coverage as part of that.

FierceWireless: What else is in the innovation pipeline at O2?

Short: We have a major trial around near field communications (NFC) around the city of London. If you have been through London recently, you would have noticed we have something called the Oyster Card, which is a pay-as-you-go card for underground subway cars and buses. What we have done is put that Oyster Card inside a cell phone and said you have three wallets inside this cell phone: Cell phone account, Oyster Card travel account and your Visa or MasterCard account.

That trial is running through May. We will get the results for the trials from those customers after that timeframe. We want to understand the balance between simplicity or ease-of-use and security. As soon as you put more monetary value-more wallets-inside a phone, there are some security questions that need to be faced, including the balance of security and ease-of-use.

FierceWireless: What other m-commerce solutions does O2 offer?

Short: We are one of five major operators who support a $1 billion mobile content business in the U.K. If you look at mobile content paid for at a premium, it's about $1 billion a year market for transactional mobile content payments. We've certainly had banking alerts for mobiles for a number of year and expect that to grow. We have also run trials with bar codes that users download to phones and then use them in real life. We have had some interesting mobile advertising trials already, but the key barriers to mobile advertising have less to do with technology and more to do with process and metrics.

FierceWireless: Finally, how are enterprise applications changing?

Short: We see more interest in the enterprise space as that market gets mobilized more fully. Traditionally mobile enterprise has focused on fleet management and mobile email, but it's moving more toward business process re-engineering and more into accessing workflow, work records and information sources. We see that also extending into the public sector with healthcare and health telematics and transport telematics as well.

To sum up, there is a lot of innovation already going on, but it's good to see when new companies enter these awards so we can see what's coming out next.