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Future Tech 2024: An Interview with Christine Ekman – Mobile Pulse (Part 2)

Future Tech 2024: An Interview with Christine Ekman – Mobile Pulse (Part 2)

Posted by Shara Evans in Blog 02 May 2014

Mobile Connectivity in 2024, Drone-based Wireless Networks, Technology Innovation and VC Technology Investments

Christine smaller bio photoIn this Future Tech interview, we’re speaking with Christine Ekman one of the co-founders of Mobile Pulse, a mobile analytics firm based in Denver, Colorado. She has been advising start-ups and venture investors for over 12 years at Evolve Adapt Survive. Previous to Evolve, Christine worked in mergers and acquisitions for Bay Networks (Nortel) and previous to that she worked as a broadband network design engineer at US WEST. She is also the Chairperson of the University of Colorado Boulder’s ITP (Interdisciplinary Telecom Program) Advisory Board.

In Part 1 of the interview we discussed wearable devices, information sharing on social media, privacy + legal implications of wearable healthcare technology, GPS tracking and data mining your mobile phone.

 

Mobile Connectivity in 2024

Shara Evans (SE):  What do you imagine that the mobile connectivity, and app world, and wearable world is going to look like in 2024? That’s 10 years from now. So much can happen, and it’s just happening at a faster and faster pace, Christine.

Cloud-Computing-Leaders-Brands-Who-Revolutionized-the-CloudChristine Ekman (CE):   Well, I do think things are all going to move to the cloud. I think that the people selling this technology are going to make it so much cheaper if you have a device that has everything connected to the cloud.

As far as my understanding, with Apple, you have to have your contacts on the cloud.

It’s certainly true on Android: if you don’t have your contacts loaded up to the cloud, and your photos and all your crap, whatever that may be, when you buy a new phone all of that has to be re-entered manually. So it’s already being forced. Many apps on your mobile device just will not work unless it’s cloud connected.

I think that there’s going to be cloud fights. There’s going to be the Apple cloud, the Google cloud, the Facebook cloud. There’s been a rumour that Facebook is coming out with their own device, and they want to have all your information.

So I do think that’s the way of the world. I think the devices are going to be very ubiquitous, and they are going to be cloud-based devices. You’re just going to have to assume, like Eric Schmidt said at Google, “We know everything.”

os-x-10-9-mavericksSE:  I’ve been doing some investigation into Apple and its forced use of iCloud. At this stage, it’s limited to the new Mavericks operating system. If you have an iPhone or an iPad and you want to sync it with your computer, today you could use iCloud if you choose to, but you also have a choice of using your USB cable and connecting the device.

With the new operating system, even if you’ve got that USB cable to sync up your contacts and to sync up your calendar and other information, you’re forced to go through iCloud. You have absolutely no choice.

Users are complaining quite a bit about it because there are parts of the world where getting a mobile connection or an Internet connection at all is just impossible.

[There’s a 234-page Apple Support thread on this topic, and apparently Apple is now beta testing versions of Mavericks and iTunes that restore local syncing capabilities.]

What happens if your Internet is down and you need to sync a device?

Drone-based Wireless Networks

CE:  Well, talking about that, I did a lot of research to prepare for this interview, and just today found that Facebook is in discussions to buy a start-up company that has drones, and that the drones are going to be used to form wireless networks.

Titan AerospaceThey’re going to launch drones, and they were talking about doing this in Africa — or perhaps in places like the Outback in Australia — that they will put up drones that form a wireless mesh. The idea is the cloud is so important and the big data information is so important that they will circle the Earth with the wireless capability, Shara.

SE:  Wow. I’ll have to follow up.

CE:  That was just announced today. I don’t know if that’s going to be the way it actually happens, but that is how they’re solving the problem of cloud-only availability. They need to make the network ubiquitous, which is going to make network performance even more important going forward.

[Subsequent to this interview, Google bought the company (Titan Aerospace) — putting Facebook’s drone plans into limbo, at least for now.]

SE:  Yes, I’m just trying to imagine what the world is going to look like in 10 years. Are we going to be loaded up with wearable devices in pretty much any gadget or piece of clothing that we buy?

CE:  I don’t know. You know how when you were a child you had to learn how to write in print and write in cursive? Are we going to not have to learn how to even speak?

SE:  Oh, no. That will make the world a boring place.

CE:  For a lot of people, they don’t like that. They’d rather communicate in some sort of text, email or Twitter basis, so I don’t know, but it does look like the build out of the wireless network worldwide is going to be required in order to have everything be cloud-based.

Technology Innovation

SE:  Christine, you pointed me into another area that I wanted to talk to you about, given your background in technology start-ups. Where do you see technology innovations coming from? Are we seeing trends with some start-ups growing big and buying other start-ups like Facebook, Google and others — or are we going to see something different? What’s your view?

technology-innovationCE:  I think start-ups have been around for a very long time.

The age of the companies like Bell Labs that focused on innovation is a great example of that. For the telephone company, they invented everything internally, and I think that stopped really happening during the 1960s.

People started saying that they didn’t need to work for a big company, that they could go out and try to do things on their own. I think there’s also been a very deep connection between start-ups and the engineering and technical universities.

And, the introduction of the microchip has allowed people to innovate — you’re not building giant machines that require giant amounts of capital. Microchips and silicone in general enable people to build companies from scratch with a very small team. It changed the way the world works at that point.

I think start-ups are very often like outsourced engineering for larger companies. That’s how we’d look at them when we were at Nortel. That’s how Google looks at this. That’s how Facebook and Cisco has always looked at start-ups — as outsourced engineering. Rather than doing things internally, you keep your eye and ear to the ground for what other people are doing, and then purchase them when they’re relevant to either your current product line or your future strategic product lines. I think that’s the way the world works now.

SE:  A very interesting perspective, and I suppose by embracing that there’s room for a lot of innovation because you’re not constraining people with the world view of a larger company, they’re basically free to use their imagination and the technical building blocks to come up with some pretty crazy ideas, some of which will fail and some of which will succeed wildly.

CE:  Well, a lot of it is because start-ups are, for the most part, run by young people. Young people are just not familiar with corporate etiquette, and they’re very high risk takers. They’re willing to engineer towards an idea, versus in a corporation, if you have an idea you have to study it, and quantify it, and evaluate it, and figure out an ROI. That is not how a start-up works. They have an idea and they have a passion, and they bring it.

Often, these people are single, they’re in college or they’re nearly out of college, and they just don’t have the pressure of a boss, or a salary, or a family, and they’re free to take great risks and pursue their passions in a much different way than people are when they’re working at a corporation and they have a day-to-day job assignment. They’re not free to go off and experiment, play and pursue a concept. So that is what makes start-ups so valuable to technical innovation.

VC Technology Investments

SE:  Where do you see VC (venture capital) money going right now, and are there particular technologies or categories of technologies that are being funded?

CE:  Typically in the VC world the money goes to a variety of areas, and you have different VCs that specialise in different areas. You have VCs that specialise in biotech. You have VCs that specialise in health care.  You have VCs that specialise in things like transportation. Tesla’s a good example of that.

venture-capitalYou have people that invest in hard-wired networks, and you have people that invest in mobile network. There are a number of different specialties that are out there.

I particularly follow a lot of the mobile VC financing, and even within mobile you’ve got consumer mobile and enterprise mobile. You’ve got device-specific mobile investments. You’ve got app investments, and then you’ve got telecom infrastructure investments. So venture capital firms tend to specialise, but right now mobile is taking a lot of the overall VC financing, at least in the US.

SE:  Well, it’s no surprise given that we’re moving to an increasingly connected world and people, just by the nature of being people, aren’t tethered to a desk and they’re using communications wherever they happen to be —whether it’s at work, at home, driving along, playing sports, doing everything that people do in daily life.

Another question though: are you seeing VC money going into ventures that focus on collecting big data and perhaps doing products that are focused at micro consumer segments that can perhaps be targeted using location-based data?

CE:  Absolutely. Big Data’s a big segment, and then consumer data analysis is another very big segment. We had a company last year that Oracle bought in Boulder called Collective Intellect. There are a number of other companies in Boulder, just Boulder alone that are doing that, as well as companies in Silicone Valley.

There’s ad agencies that are developed around specifically pulling this data out of whichever social network applies, or all the social networks — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, what have you — and advertising specifically to those social networks, what I call tribes.

SE:  Would the end goal be individual advertising — in other words, serving up ads that are based on all the different points that you or I might have in our daily lives and might be interested in? Do you think it can get that specific?

CE:  I think it can get that specific, but I don’t know that the return on investment to individual advertising is ever going to be enough to make it as big as more group advertising. I think that the economics of group advertising outweigh the economics of individual advertising, but that could change. I am not an advertising person, and maybe that will be something that changes in the next 10 to 20 years, but right now the economics of actually serving up individual ad content — well, I can’t imagine that they pay off as much as even small group advertising.

SE:  Would the end goal be individual advertising — in other words, serving up ads that are based on all the different points that you or I might have in our daily lives and might be interested in? Do you think it can get that specific?

CE:  I think it can get that specific, but I don’t know that the return on investment to individual advertising is ever going to be enough to make it as big as more group advertising. I think that the economics of group advertising outweigh the economics of individual advertising, but that could change. I am not an advertising person, and maybe that will be something that changes in the next 10 to 20 years, but right now the economics of actually serving up individual ad content — well, I can’t imagine that they pay off as much as even small group advertising.

SE:  I’m also now thinking from a telecoms services perspective, from the big telcos, do you see these companies getting into the business of selling data, selling information about client patterns?

Word Cloud "Big Data"CE:  I think definitely that they will. I think they were selling the data to the NSA. At least the US Government sued Sprint this last week over overcharging for the data that they sold to the NSA — some $29 million dollars. So they’re already selling it to somebody, right? And one of the big fears in any telecom company or cable company is that they’ll become a dumb pipe — the terminology that’s used in those industries — that they’re just a highway and that they don’t have any other relevancy.

The problem with being a dumb pipe is that it’s a very low-margin business. You don’t get to charge a lot. But if you get to charge for the data and parsing the data, you can charge a much higher margin and make much higher profits. I think under that umbrella of saying, “Well, we owe this to our shareholders,” yes, they are going to get into the business of selling big data. Twitter already sells your data. Facebook already sells your data. Why not the telcos?

SE:  I suppose the difference with Facebook and Twitter is that the consumer’s actively putting it out there in the public domain in some way, shape or form; whereas when you have a conversation on a telephone call, whether it be a mobile network, fixed voice network or you send an email to someone, there’s an assumption of privacy.

CE:  Right. As you were saying, though, the privacy assumptions are going away. I think they’re just disappearing. Those walls — that’s something that is in the past.

SE:  That’s a scary thought for the future.

So just to wrap up our conversation today, in the year 2024, 10 years from now, what kinds of start-ups do you think might be driving innovation?

CE:  I wish I could have the answer to that. That would make me a very wealthy woman!

Just the introduction of the iPhone and giving third parties the ability to put software on phones, which did not exist before 2006, so radically changed the world. It’s very hard to predict, and I don’t think it is even possible to predict in 2024 or 2034 what’s going to change.

That one person, Steve Jobs, came up with the idea for a phone that allowed third-party software vendors to write software on it much like a PC environment changed everything.

So do I think start-ups will drive innovation? Absolutely. Do I know what they are? No, which is what makes the world so exciting.

I think you need to watch trends and keep your ear to the ground. I remember the first time that I used Netscape. It was so revolutionary to have a full pre-done interface in order to communicate with the Internet. The Internet had been very difficult to use as a communication tool before. These things are hard to predict. But it will be easier, more seamless to communicate. You might not even know you’re communicating. Like I said, those privacy walls come down, and everything you do is communicated.

SE:  Wow! Lots of food for thought, Christine. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about the future of technology. It’s been so much fun talking with you about with this.

CE:  Thanks, Shara. Always fun to chat with you.

 

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