Mobile technology is changing the way Americans work as businesses cut the cords and take to the air at unprecedented rates.
In the five years since Apple introduced the iPhone, the proportion of U.S. households with landlines has plummeted from 98 to just 67 percent. At the same time the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the world’s population by year’s end, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast.
“We haven’t seen anything yet in terms of mobile enterprise. It’s only the tip of the iceberg,” said Gopan Madathil president of Investorfest Media and Chair of MobiTechFest Venture Conference Series.
Mobile has not only killed off home landlines, but is transforming business systems too as the workforce goes mobile, voice and data converge on VOIP and data moves to the cloud. Mobile data is now 85 percent of all U.S. mobile traffic and voice has dropped to just 15 percent.
Growth in data traffic is continuing at stunning levels – doubling in 2011 for the eighth straight year and expected to double again in 2012. And business demand is one of the chief drivers behind this increase in data traffic.
“It’s a really super time to be alive,” said Bill Versen, director of mobility solutions for Verizon, the nation’s largest 4G LTE carrier.
Verizon is preparing for a future when the default workspace for information workers is entirely mobile.Versen paints a scenario where work groups, especially in sales and marketing, will all have enabled devices to allow anywhere access to databases on the road. When they return to the office they’ll recharge their smartphones or tablets on docking stations that interface seamlessly with the company’s cloud storage facility.
“It’s really exciting to see this growth driven by all these choices, all these devices and all the applications that are being created,” Versen said
The most significant workplace trends are the move away from desktops to tablets and the explosion of demand for video, said Chetan Sharma, a nationally recognized telecom industry analyst who advises the top six global mobile data operators.
Thirst for video is pushing mobile consumption so that video now makes up 52 percent of all data traffic. And that isn’t just people watching YouTube, although it is dominant. ABC, NBC, CNN, ESPN and all the other networks now stream their programs both live and on demand.
Increasingly executives or other business leaders use it for keeping up on the latest news and communicating with each other. “So the trend is that video is not going to become just for broadcast but communication video is also going to grow,” Sharma said.
All that in the aggregate is pushing the rise in video traffic and the surge in data traffic. Other sites such as Vimeo, Vidler, Flickr, Dailymotion, Ustream, Yahoo Video and dozens of others are cashing in.
That also means big growth in the mobile app market as inventors and investors search for the next great idea. The Apple store now has 350,000 applications for sale and there were more than 400,000 apps available for the Android platform.
“The way you work in the enterprise is going to change and the way you write software is going to change,” Sharma said. “Instead of writing for Windows applications enterprise is looking to write apps that provide useful data and useful access to their employees.”
Sites such as salesforce.com are blurring the line between personal and business. Many applications executives and younger workers are bringing into the workplace have such flexibility of use that they are hard to categorize. Are Skype, Dragon Dictation, and Linkedin business applications?
“It really depends on your use,” Madathil said. “It’s the preference of the person that determines what is a business app and what is not.”
The potential is stirring the creative pot in markets like Sacramento too. “Of course the Bay Area is the epicenter of this, but we are seeing increasing energy and visibility in this region from folks who are involved in mobile app development,” Meg Arnold, CEO of Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA).
A recent Hack-a-thon co-sponsored by SARTA and the Hacker Lab pulled in 70 potential local app developers who presented ideas for a chance attract seed money. The winning ideas, Raidarrr, Bikepool and Texabl could result in viable products.
“This could be a really great thing for this region particularly if they stay here and actually take those ideas to market,” Arnold said.
And it is a market worth pursuing. US mobile industry revenue is expected to reach $80 billion in 2012 and data accounts for 40 percent of the pie.
The spectrum crunch is the major challenge facing the global mobile industry. Growth in bandwidth-sucking video needs a bigger pipeline and more robust 4G networks. Verizon and AT&T together control more than 50 percent of the U.S. wireless market. Verizon expanded its 4G network in 44 US markets including the capitol area in April and expects to replace all of its 3G footprint with 4G LTE by the end of next year.
The explosion of mobile choices has opened new revenue streams not only for app developers but for telco market leaders too. While competition from VOIP has whittled away from the wireline subscriber base, major carriers also see opportunites.
“Customers are coming to us saying, ‘I see it coming this time and I’ve got to embrace it but holy cow this is bigger than a tidal wave coming at me. Help me figure it out,” Versen said.