2013: Mobile Internet Pivot Points

The mobile internet—the fifth wave of computing—is a tsunami. The convergence of mobile networks and devices with the internet creates a near-universal market of six billion users generates $2.5 trillion in annual economic value, and 2013 is the year it gathers force. The majority of the world now accesses the internet through mobile devices. Consumers are driving the mobile internet. Not business, as has been the case with earlier technology waves.

The mobile internet is about individuals who are constantly in motion. Mobile first means that apps and services need to be adapted to the lifestyle of people on the move, whether they are commuting to work, riding a school bus, or vacationing at the beach. Here is an overview of the most important of the new technologies and how they will enable new approaches, new business practices, and new consumer benefits in 2013.

HTML5 Goes Mainstream

Many of the new applications of the Fifth Wave will be built upon HTML5, the latest revision of the markup language that is used to define the building blocks of web pages. HTML5 resolves many of the practical issues of programming mobile applications in the current version of HTML, adds new features that improve performance on mobile devices, and most important provides a common platform for mobile applications to run on devices that have differing operating systems.

Fourth Generation Networks Become Pervasive

The 4G network is the first phone network to truly offer mobile ultra-broadband internet access and will offer many new capabilities including end-to-end quality of service (QoS), eliminating sketchy calls; many more active devices and users per cell tower; and support for fast-moving mobile devices. 4G/LTE networks will be the first mobile phone networks to provide true broadcast capability, video streaming, video conferencing, high-performance games, high-definition TV, and 3D TV.

The Cloud is Mobilised

The shifting of the great majority of the processing power and the data to the cloud enables mobile devices to remain physically small, relatively low-powered, and priced affordably for consumers. Consumers will get powerful new applications at low price points. Cloud computing will also change business. First, companies will use the cloud to meet expanding needs for traditional data processing and management and for other existing internal business needs. Second, the cloud will further accelerate the move to mobile computing for business apps.

Big Data Mining Accurately Predicts Behaviour

It is estimated that 90 per cent of the data in the world today was created within the past two years. The burgeoning number of machines and applications will create oceans of data that need to be stored, processed, manipulated, and analysed. This leads to the revolution that is now under way in three related areas of technology: big data, data mining, and predictive analytics.

The industry is racing to improve in all of the technologies that support these areas: massively parallel processing databases, in-memory databases, distributed systems, data mining systems, and cloud technologies. For the mobile internet, three considerations are the most important as the industry moves forward: 1) the sheer size of big data, which improves the ability to discern trends; 2) the potential for identifying the motivations of individual customers; and 3) the increasing ability of software systems to self-learn and self-tune based on the results.

The Internet of Things is Activated

Much of the data explosion of the Fifth Wave will come from smart machines. Not only are more individuals connecting, but an even larger number of devices are being connected, handling every conceivable kind of business or consumer task. Just as mobile devices used by people will greatly outnumber desktop installations, the number of devices on the internet will soon swamp the number of people. The networking company Cisco estimates that there will be 25 billion to 50 billion devices communicating via the internet by 2015—in just 3 years.

Web 3.0, the Semantic Web Becomes Real

The semantic web will provide “a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.” By creating a way to include semantic content into web pages through common data formats, the semantic web will provide structure to content that today is unstructured or only partly structured.

This new structure will enable machines to glean information from the web as easily as humans can, creating “a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines,” according to Tim Berners-Lee. The semantic web envisions information being architected formally so that machines, as well as people, can “understand” content and “understand” how different sets of data are related.

At the simplest level, the result will be more meaningful searches. At a deeper level, the semantic web will enable machines to provide information that is more contextually relevant and to act on data according to context. By introducing a significant reinvention of the search process, one that is based on the context of the query as opposed to just keywords, Web 3.0 fully activates Mobile Presence, an alchemical combination of hyperpersonal context and meaning.

Technology has been marked by a series of kairos moments, when the accumulation of change and the rate of change combine to dramatically restructure the industry. The mobile internet is the next kairos moment, and 2013 its biggest year.

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Robert Marcus is the Chairman and CEO of QuantumWave Capital, a global investment banking boutique specialized in early-stage mobile internet M&A. The architect of Microsoft’s early mobile internet strategy and solutions, he spent nearly a decade as a senior manager at the company’s Redmond headquarters, most recently as a director on the M&A team. He also built a public company to a half-billion dollar valuation, co-founded three successful start-ups, and led a turnaround, generating two IPOs. He is the co-author of The Fifth Wave, A Strategic Vision for Mobile Internet innovation, Investment and Return (2012) and Collective Knowledge, Intranets, Productivity and the Promise of the Knowledge Workplace (2002).