Killers Amongst Us

At the time of the advent of a new technology, the question invariably asked is whether we are putting the cart before the horse. Is there an application which will unravel the benefits of new technology? Sometimes technology drives applications and in some cases “killer applications” drive the technology. So, there is always a conundrum – whether we need the technology first or the killer application first.

However, one of the least discussed aspects of technology advent and adoption is “killer user experience” which drives the desire in users to adopt a technology. For example, the iPod combined various mundane technologies into a nice package and provided a unique user experience of intuitive user interface, easy access to wide array of music (through iTunes) and high quality audio. Similarly, the iPhone bundled a mix of existing technology in a nice package to provide us a unique experience of touch-based intuitive graphical interface on a cellphone, doing away with the need to refer to a user manual, thereby enabling a technophobic older generation (such as our parents and grandparents) to embrace mobile communications.

Let us look at how the mobile technology has evolved and how a “killer user experience” has driven the adoption of these technologies; this will gives us some indication on what kind of “killer user experience” will drive the adoption of LTE technology. Before the advent of mobility, users were confined to a particular location when they had to talk to someone on a telephone. If one was away from telephone they were not reachable. 2G wireless technologies such as GSM gave a unique user experience of being reachable anytime, anywhere and being able to reach anyone, anytime, anywhere. So, the “killer user experience” that drove the adoption of 2G wireless technology was “the ability to communicate on the go.”

 Then came the Internet and access to a huge cache of information. Most of this information was textual and was accessed  through personal computers connected to the wired network. 2.5G wireless networks such as GPRS provided the ability to  access and send data over mobile, albeit at low dial-up speeds of 64kbps initially. But, this was good enough to have access  to the huge swath of textual information available on the Internet or send someone a quick one-liner message instead of  spending a few minutes talking to them. So, the “killer user experience” that drove the adoption of 2.5G technology was “the  ability to communicate verbally and have access to textual information simultaneously, on the go.”

 The Internet rapidly morphed into a treasure trove of media rich information. 2.5G technology was not good enough to  provide real-time access to multimedia information. Users were yearning for the “killer user experience” of savoring  multimedia information on the go. 3G wireless technologies such as UMTS provided mobile broadband capability with  speeds up to 14.4Mbps (with HSPA). Meanwhile, “killer apps” such as YouTube along with 3G mobile broadband, continued  to fuel the “killer user experience” of having access to triple-play traffic (voice, video and data) simultaneously.

Before getting to LTE, let us take a quick detour to discuss another trend. Most of this decade has been about convergence to a single device which will combine computing, communication and entertainment. We have made a huge leap toward that with the advent of smartphones and tablet PCs such as the iPad. We will continue to see these devices getting more powerful, intuitive, functional and portable with longer battery life in the future. These devices are great while on the go.

However, when we are at home, we still want to savor our visual experience over the largest available screen and listen to our music over the best available audio system. So, wouldn’t it be nice to have a seamless transfer of our user experience from our smartphone to a better device when in proximity? That is, seamlessly move from a “converged device” to “specialized functional device” and back again when appropriate. This could be enabled by new technology such as machine to machine (M2M) communication.

Coming back to LTE, with its higher bandwidth (in 100’s of Mbps), simplified core network and innovations such as Internet offload, the next generation wireless network will be more suitable to converge and stream triple-play traffic to user-devices. In my opinion, the “killer user experience” to drive LTE adoption will be improved experience of triple-play traffic on the go using smartphones – and, more importantly, seamless transfer of that user experience to specialized functional devices (such as large screen HDTVs) when coming into proximity and then back again to the smartphone when moving out of proximity.

We in the telecom business are in for some interesting and exciting times. The world is shrinking further and further into a global village and innovative communication technologies and killer applications are compressing the distance between people globally and making it possible to render precious services where none were possible in the past. So long as the human desire for ever-improving user experience burns, we will not rest on our laurels of existing technological marvels….

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