How standardisation in the mobile industry will dictate future innovation and growth

February 28, 2023

Dario Betti, CEO Mobile Ecosystem Forum

Standardisation within the mobile industry plays a vital role in ensuring that mobile devices and networks work together seamlessly. Without these standards, consumers would have limited choice in devices and networks, creating a lot of friction within the market.

Fortunately, the mobile industry has learned that cooperation and collaboration help everyone. A rising tide lifts all boats. As such, the initial issues around compatibility, bands, roaming, and so on, have been mostly resolved. Customers can buy almost any device to run on any network anywhere in the world, with few exceptions.

Not only has standardisation helped the industry evolve but it has also changed the world, touching everything from commerce to healthcare. The impact is huge. In 2019, mobile technologies and services contributed $4.1 trillion of additional economic value (around 4.7% of global GDP), equating to around $490 billion in tax revenue.

These figures are only likely to grow as more people globally take up mobile services, especially in rapidly developing nations like China and India. Additionally, with the introduction of wireless 5G technology, more devices are able to connect to the internet, helping to expand the Internet of Things (IoT) market.

Why is standardisation so important?

Standardisation forms a set of blueprints for the mobile industry and connected technologies, such as IoT devices, encouraging competition by creating a level playing field as well as helping the market as a whole innovate to meet evolving consumer needs. It is also important to consider how wireless technology can be used as an attack vector for rival nations. As national infrastructure increasingly relies on mobile technology, security standards become a matter of national security. Even an IoT-connected washing machine could be used maliciously in an orchestrated attack to cripple the national power grid.

As such, mobile standardisation needs to achieve a balance between innovation and security: open enough to encourage the development of new technologies and services but not so open that they introduce unnecessary security concerns.

Another consideration is the environment. The mobile industry is also a major contributor to global carbon emissions, releasing more CO2 annually than the global aviation industry. Over the next year or two, mobile standards will need to focus on how to decarbonise the mobile industry.

These considerations will only become more important as technology becomes more interconnected. Mobile devices and services have the potential to continue to revolutionise our world, especially after the Covid lockdowns changed the way we work. But the increasing importance, interconnectivity and ubiquity of mobile use creates greater complexity and risk. Finding the right standards for mobile technology will, therefore, play a vital role in the coming years, directing not only the industry but society as a whole.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into the three major considerations for mobile standardisation over the next three to five years. They are: innovation, security and decarbonisation.

Standardisation can make or break innovation

One of the key benefits of standardisation within the mobile industry is that it allows for greater competition among manufacturers. When there are common standards in place, manufacturers don’t have to create proprietary technologies that might not be compatible with other devices. Instead, they can focus on differentiating their products through design, features and pricing.

Additionally, standardisation also allows developers to create new applications and services that can be used on multiple devices and networks. This leads to a more vibrant and diverse mobile ecosystem, with greater innovation, better products and more choices for consumers. What’s more, operators can more easily expand their networks and reach new customers, especially in developing countries, by using standardised equipment and technologies. This can help to bridge the digital divide and bring mobile services to people who might not have had access to them otherwise.

As mobile technology penetrates deeper into these developing regions, we will see a wave of innovation, particularly from India and Africa. Using the building blocks created by standardisation, new services will be exponentially developed to solve regional challenges. These innovations will have an impact on other areas of the world where, due to global standards, they can be implemented with minimal friction.

However, it’s important that standards are not so strict that they slow down the pace of innovation. When manufacturers are required to conform to common standards, they may be less willing to take risks and try new ideas, leading to a lack of choice for consumers. This tightening of global standards will likely be driven by an increased focus on security.

Security will become a priority focus for mobile standards

Over the next few years, standardisation in the mobile industry will be increasingly driven by security concerns. Mobile devices and networks are becoming increasingly interconnected and relied upon for sensitive personal and business information, making them a key component of national infrastructure.

Organizations like 3GPP and GSMA play a critical role in this process, working to establish common security standards for mobile devices and networks. They provide guidance on how to secure mobile devices and networks against attacks such as malware, hacking and data breaches. Additionally, the 3GPP’s security standards also provide guidance on how to protect users’ privacy, including how to manage personal information and how to control access to sensitive data.

One particular area of concern for mobile security is telehealth. The pandemic and resulting lockdown created an unprecedented healthcare crisis. The surge in patients needing medical assistance led to greater transmission of the virus in hospitals and GP surgeries. Telehealth was adopted en masse to provide a measure of healthcare without the need for physical contact. What resulted was a rapid development of a burgeoning telehealth market. Yet, confidentiality and security of patient information became limiting factors in the growth of telehealth services, incentivising new solutions and services that would meet demand.

By establishing standards for mobile device security, developers can more easily design and implement solutions that protect mobile devices against hacking and data breaches. This can include things like encryption, authentication, and access controls, which can help to protect devices from unauthorised access and secure new telehealth services.

The other key concern for mobile security is the Internet of Things (IoT) and the resulting threat to national security. You might wonder why any foreign government might want to gain access to your smart washing machine, for example. But imagine the impact of millions of smart washing machines turning on at the exact same time. It would likely overload the national grid and potentially lead to a water shortage. With common standards for mobile security, governments can manage national security by preventing the spread of malware across mobile devices through things like software updates, anti-virus software, and sandboxing.

However, it’s important to note that standardisation alone is not enough to ensure mobile device security. It needs to be combined with other efforts such as user education and regular security audits to ensure that mobile devices and networks are protected from threats. It’s also important that security standards are as accessible as possible to encourage rather than stifle innovation.

Standardisation will play an essential role in decarbonising the mobile industry

Unfortunately, the mobile industry currently contributes around 3.5% of total global CO2 emissions. That’s double the emissions resulting from the aviation industry. As the industry continues to grow, so too will carbon emissions, unless we make some major changes.

Standardisation in the mobile operator market can play a significant role in helping to decarbonise the telecoms industry. By establishing common technical standards for the deployment and operation of mobile networks, standardisation can enable the development and deployment of more energy-efficient technologies and practices. These can include energy-efficient base stations, energy-saving modes for devices, and efficient use of spectrum.

Standardisation can also enable the development of new technologies and services that can help to reduce carbon emissions. For example, 5G enables technologies such as IoT and machine-to-machine communications, which can help to optimise energy and use, and improve resource efficiency in various industries such as agriculture, transportation and healthcare.

Additionally, as standardisation enables the development of new services for telework and telehealth, there becomes less need for travel, helping lower carbon emissions in other areas of daily life. Over the next few years, we will see an increasing number of new standards within the mobile industry specifically targeting carbon reduction. From those directly designed to help mobile operators find more energy-efficient ways of operating, to those that impact other areas of society.

Mobile technology touches almost every area of modern life. As such, mobile manufacturers and operators can play a major role in reducing carbon and increasing security, as long as the right standards encourage, rather than restrict, innovation and cooperation.

Dario Betti is CEO of MEF (Mobile Ecosystem Forum) a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with members across the world. As the voice of the mobile ecosystem, it focuses on cross- industry best practices, anti-fraud and monetisation. The Forum provides its members with global and cross-sector platforms for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions.

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