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Friday glass of whine: The mobile highway is in fact a dirt road

by Dave Hannon

February 18, 2011

Dave Hannon

There is a lot of excitement about the power of enterprise mobility these days. New devices coming out every other week. iPhones growing more crowded with little icons. Heck, I spoke with a CIO this week who said his IT organization has basically transformed from a support role to a team of app developers in the past year or two. It’s all very exciting stuff, but there’s a very big fly heading straight for the ointment, folks, and we all know what it is. It’s the mobile elephant in the broadband room, if you prefer mammalian metaphors to entomological ones.

The volume of users and data merging onto the mobile broadband highway is just growing too quickly for the existing infrastructure to handle and, I’m just going to say it – I think we’re all in denial.

I think you know it’s true, but if you need some arbitrary numbers to instill that sense of panic we in the media are so fond of creating, consider this. Last month, market researcher Ovum predicted that by 2015, 1 billion people globally will use mobile broadband as their sole source of Internet access. That’s 13% of the world’s population competing for spectrum so they can Tweet their thoughts out to the 999,999,999 others. And the vast majority of that growth is coming in regions with, well, less-than-stellar reputations for infrastructure development. 

And that’s no knock on the emerging markets, because frankly, we in the “emerged” markets can’t handle the mobile traffic we have now. This New York Times report from the Mobile World Congress sums it up perfectly. It’s exactly what I was thinking while I was at TechEd last year, surrounded by some of the smartest IT minds in the world struggling to find a reliable WiFi signal.

But despite such ominous signs, the number of mobile apps and devices and use cases explodes out of some of the most innovative companies in the world, while we’re leaving the most important part – the infrastructure – to a select few already overstressed providers like Verizon and AT&T, here in the U.S. That’s sort of like building a Ferrari that can drive 160 m.p.h. so the owner can tool around the overcrowded potholed streets of the inner city.

Maybe it’s not that bad and I don’t mean to belittle some of the work the infrastructure companies are doing – I think of them ever time I watch Netflix on my iPhone on the commuter train. But my point is that while I am genuinely impressed – almost daily – by the creativity and excitement I am witnessing in the mobile space, I am also genuinely concerned there is not enough attention being paid to the mobile infrastructure that is going to be required to allow all 1 billion of us leverage the very cool bells and whistles the IT strategists are coming up with.

Anyone else feel that way?

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