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The Dawn of Skynet

From Google phones to satellites, uber-growth in Wi-Fi and mobility

By Gary Griffiths, CEO

2016: The Dawn of Skynet

From Terminator:

Sarah Connor: What did he just say?
Gas Station Attendant: There’s a storm coming in.
Sarah Connor: (sigh) I know.

A storm in technology, in connectivity, in mobility, in the rise of the machines…

Certainly no one will win a Noble Prize for predicting change in the technology industry. Change is assumed, and technology that doesn’t change simply dies (or are you still using that 8-track cassette player?) But as a leading provider of global mobile connectivity, iPass has to understand the changes and macro trends we’ll be experiencing in mobility and Wi-Fi in the next 12 months. It is fundamental to our business planning. After all, various industry analysts number today’s mobile connectivity nomads at over 5 billion consumers. And with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent devices have already outnumbered humans on the planet. Certainly, the era of wirelessly connected everything is upon us, and 2016 may well be the year that Terminator’s Skynet begins to look like a real possibility. So, for what it’s worth, this is how I see 2016 rolling out.

Mobile apps for the enterprise will accelerate. Yes, this may sound obvious, but it was only a few years ago when enterprises put a chokehold on their employees and their devices, carefully throttling the apps that employees could – and couldn’t use. But now, in a world of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and proliferating smartphones and tablets, enterprises, rather than continuing to resist, are embracing mobile apps, as productivity gains are increasingly hard to ignore. For more information, a good source on the issue is Emergence Capital’s Kevin Spain’s Mobile Enterprise Trends Report.

And for another easy one, Wi-Fi will continue its rapid global expansion. While no one really knows exactly how many Wi-Fi hotspots exist in the world – or where they are for that matter – we can safely bet there are as many as 100M, and we know that there are tons more than there were last year at this time. Several tons more. The reason is obvious: there are tens-of-millions more intelligent, bandwidth-hungry devices that need to connect, and they want to connect everywhere. Wi-Fi is truly becoming ubiquitous, as evident by the fact that a monster company like Microsoft is embracing Wi-Fi for virtually all of its products, and of course there’s Google’s highly vaunted Google Fi. At this year’s CES (The International Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas last week, it was reported that 2,200 Wi-Fi hotspots would be required to meet demand, up from 166 only two years ago.

Sticking with the theme of Google Fi, expect to see the continued proliferation of MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators). An MVNO, like Google, is a wireless communications service provider that does not own wireless network infrastructure, but instead enters into a business agreement with an MNO (Mobile Network Operator) to negotiate bulk-rate access to network services at wholesale rates, then sets retail prices independently. One of the earliest, and most successful, MVNOs was Virgin Wireless, proving that there was indeed a broader demand for mobile access than the services – and pricing – offered by the major Telco’s. Google’s entry into this market certainly adds credibility to the space; and in 2016, we can expect this market to swell, adding to a field already rich with over 1,200 MVNOs worldwide, including well-known brands, like Cricket Wireless, Republic Wireless, Family Talk Wireless, Infinium Wireless, Metro PCS, and TruPhone.

A big challenge in 2015 was finding ways to monetize Wi-Fi, which many users expect to be free or part of their mobile phone subscription. The degree to which Wi-Fi emerged as a customer retention tool probably was a huge surprise to many carriers; but the trend certainly became apparent when mobile phone operators saw customers flee to the competition. In fact, Wi-Fi has become so popular that many consumer brands are looking to Wi-Fi as their own means of making sticky customers. Consider Microsoft’s plans to embed Wi-Fi services in virtually all of the products it will roll out in 2016, as well as premier credit cards that include Wi-Fi as a perk for cardholders. It’s a safe bet that in 2016 Wi-Fi-services-as-a-benefit will be showing up in a wider range of consumer products and services.

Finally, let’s go to outer space. With the continued saturation of available spectrum, across both cellular and Wi-Fi bands, expect to see new technologies emerge in 2016 to increase capacity for the insatiable appetite for bandwidth. Globalstar, as you probably know, has been promoting its planned broadband Terrestrial Low-Power Service (TLPS) for several months, battling with regulators and carriers in an attempt to convince both that TPLS will not create unmanageable interference in current licensed and unlicensed spectrum. After months of debate, I expect the FCC will approve Globalstar’s request this year, and open up channel 14 as a brand new, uncluttered Wi-Fi band. Meanwhile, expect Globalstar and others to tap into communications satellite capacity, in bands that provide satellite phone services today, and offer new technologies and services to harness this bandwidth for mobile data transmission.

So, Sarah, back to you for the wrap:

Sarah, to Kyle Reese: Are you saying this is from the future?
Kyle: One possible future. From your point of view. I don’t know tech stuff.
Sarah: Then you’re from the future, too. Is that right?
Kyle: …Right