The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, meeting place of all that is new and shiny in the mobile business, gave unexpected attention to the subject of mobile healthcare. As well as announcements by the GSMA Development Fund and UN Foundation on the progress that is happening in the developing world, the GSM Association also hosted a panel session on mHealth, which I was fortunate enough to moderate.
Alongside me were David Neale of Telus and Brian O’Connor of the European Connected Health Campus. Both are pioneers in mobile health and excellent advocates for the subject. The biggest question we all had, which we posed to the networks and service providers is “why aren’t you doing it?” The examples shown by the GSMA’s “Doctor in your Pocket” report show that mobile phones can play a persuasive part in healthcare. Yet network operators in the West constantly reject health applications in favour of content. It doesn’t need to be like that.
Today has been a good day for mHealth. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, both the GSM Association and the combined UN and Vodafone Foundations have made major commitments to the development and support of mHealth. For those unfamiliar with the word, mHealth is the use of a mobile phone to deliver healthcare.
The White Paper that the GSM Association has produced in conjunction with its announcement explains it well – it’s all about “The Doctor in your Pocket”. It surveys four countries that already have established remote healthcare schemes – a mix of both private and government initiatives, and concludes that not only does it work, but that it has the potential to bring significant improvements to the lives of people who have the greatest difficulty in accessing healthcare provision.
Just in time for the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the GSM Association has published a new milestone – the number of mobile subscribers in the world has just passed the four billion mark. That’s a pretty amazing number – equivalent to almost 60% of the world’s population. It seems that the demand for mobile connectivity is unstoppable. The same report predicts that the number of subscriptions will rise to six billion in 2013. That’s one phone for every person over the age of ten.
With numbers as spectacular as these it’s easy to sit back, smile smugly and give ourselves a well deserved pat on the back. But there’s another school of thought that says is six billion just being complacent? The insatiable desire for personal connectivity will almost certainly deliver the six billion, but what about the market for mobile subscriptions for machines. M2M has always been touted as the next great marketplace for mobile connectivity. The GSM Association acknowledges this with a new initiative. But if we look at numbers of machines, they’re an order of magnitude greater than people. Some years back Deloitte suggested that there would be 60 billion machines in existence by 202. If just a small percentage of these are connected, then the six billion target begins to look decidedly unambitious.
Last week’s announcement that the IP behind Meshnetics’ ZigBee stack is being acquired by Atmel underlines the continuing consolidation of the short range wireless industry. Since the boom in short range wireless that was started by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi there has been a growing number of VC funded silicon and stack companies entering this market space. It has been obvious for some time that the number of companies is not sustainable and that at some point the bubble would burst. The sale of Zensys to Sigma heralded the start of the process. 2009 will be the year when momentum builds and a lot more wireless dreams hit the buffers.
Last week Stephen Carter, UK Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, launched the Government’s Interim report on Digital Britain. I’d recommend reading it – its scope is wide and it contains a refreshing amount of joined up thinking. The initial press coverage concentrated on its aim to bring broadband to all UK homes by 2012. That’s a highly laudable aim, but by concentrating on that one conclusion the media missed much of the more promising underlying detail, particularly its relevance to home telecare.
This is going to be the year of the Femtocell. At least that’s the message that the industry is putting forward. Next month at the Mobile Congress in Barcelona, the industry is likely to be united in singing off that particular hymn sheet. However, an RFQ from a network operator that was put out just before Christmas suggests that opinion might not be as solid as the industry hype portrays. Rather than looking for femtocells, this particular operator was contemplating the deployment of small 802.11 access points around the home, connected together and to the broadband line using HomePlug. The implication is that instead of providing a personal 3G cell in the home to compensate for their lack of indoor coverage, they’d prefer to flood it with Wi-Fi. It’s an interesting approach…