A few years back, one of my wife's college friends committed suicide. At the wake, we learned that her final "notes" to friends and family were text messages. These followed a string of emails that (in retrospect) stood out as cries for help. I remember thinking back then how this seemed like an incredibly sad study on the impact of technology on personal interaction and isolation.
Last week, my mother-in-law passed away after battling cancer for almost two years. As I sat in the hospital room on Friday with my wife (Amy) and her family, I looked around to see the youngest members deeply engaged with their cell phones--first updating Facebook and Twitter to tell people where they were, then following up to note that their grandmother had died. I followed suit, going to Facebook to send messages to Amy's closest friends, logging into my company's HR system to set aside Monday as a personal day, then getting some files out to colleagues who would need them in my absence. In need of some cheer later in the day, I pulled up a quick YouTube video I knew would make Amy smile (corgi puppies, incidentally).
In just a few years, the way we interact with our mobile devices has fundamentally changed. This may seem trite or cliché, but the transition from cellphones as voice and text tools to broadband data devices is still a rather new phenomenon. This transition (and its extrapolation), in turn, is what's led to the mobile data explosion that gets referenced so often at trade shows and media reports.
I've heard it argued that the growth in mobile data usage we've seen to date isn't sustainable. Operators and networks, the story goes, aren't likely to be too capacity constrained in the near-term because new, mainstream users won't be as aggressive (abusive?) in their data consumption as "enthusiastic" early adopters. I'm not sure I buy the argument; the way in which mobile devices and mobile broadband have become an increasingly intimate part of our lives isn't going to be changing. Sure, I am still suspicious when I hear people (vendors, analysts or anyone else) predict mobile video as the primary driver of mobile data traffic going forward--I've heard these claims again and again for the past five years with little progress to date. What I can't deny, however, is that mobile data is no longer a luxury or niche thing--it is increasingly an inextricable part of our connected lives. While claims of skyrocketing mobile data traffic may seem self-serving--even overblown in some instances--the assumptions they are based on are borne out in the real world.
Oh, one last thought.
Those of us focused on the non-sexy part of the mobile broadband industry (you know, anything beyond the device or 3G/4G services) might have a hard time explaining what we do or feeling "connected" to the excitement of mobile broadband; we're somewhat removed from the things end-users--including our friends and families--can put their hands on. Yet, as you're working on new standards, the latest data gateways or even base station components, do not lose sight of the bigger picture. You are working on technologies and support services that, ultimately, connect people--often when they need those connections most. For that, I thank you.
Peter Jarich is an analyst with Current Analysis.