What a truly mobile-first world offers
There is a wealth of benefits and opportunities to be gained from expansive mobile. The challenge lies in removing the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing the positive contributions it can make to productivity, income and employment growth, improved digital inclusion and a host of other areas.
The term 'expansive mobile,' or mobile connected computing, basically refers to having wireless connectivity that is more ubiquitous, more efficient in terms of the cost per unit of data traffic carried, more consistent and more capable, and which can be tailored to a range of specific and more demanding applications as we enter into the world of 5G.
In my new report, sponsored by Ericsson entitled Expansive Mobile: Reaping the payoff from investment in mobile connected computing, I argue that mobile and wireless communication have provided us with an opportunity similar to that of previous general-purpose technologies such as steam, electricity and computing. And this opportunity is the ability to boost long-term productivity growth by using these technologies to support a broad range of consumer, commercial and industrial applications.
General-purpose technologies always lead to spill-over benefits throughout the economy, and in the case of expansive mobile, these benefits are also complemented by network effects. And the benefits are likely to significantly exceed private returns to investors in mobile networks.
Mobile broadband already supports a diverse and growing set of applications, which therefore makes it a general-purpose technology. But expansive mobile, including 5G deployment, would deepen and broaden the role of mobile as a general-purpose technology, thereby underpinning transformation throughout the economy and the realization of the associated benefits.
The benefits of expansive mobile
So, what are some of the benefits that expansive mobile can offer? Well, to start with, expansive mobile would improve the availability and affordability of mobile connected computing. And, with the flexibility to offer bespoke service levels, it could extend wireless to areas ranging from ubiquitous support for low-power, low-data rate Internet of Things (IoT) applications to ultra-low latency applications in industry. This would both help sustain the contribution of mobile to productivity, income and employment growth as well as deepen it.
But the prize goes beyond productivity, income and employment growth to include a larger tax base, improved digital inclusion and gains across all areas of public policy driven by improved information to inform policy and an expanded and more effective set of policy options, for example in relation to health and the environment.
The improved coverage through expansive mobile, coupled with lower unit costs, would also contribute to digital inclusion. This is valuable in its own right, but it is also a requirement to support the mobile delivery of government services, including health services. These shifts will benefit consumer and business users directly, but also contribute to productivity and income growth throughout the economy.
In terms of the environment, expansive mobile would open up options for substitution which could be environmentally beneficial, especially if these are supported by other policy initiatives. In addition to productivity and income growth, it is therefore reasonable to expect leisure, employment, health and the environment to be enhanced by expansive mobile.
The obstacles and how to overcome them
To realize the full potential of expansive mobile means reducing unit costs and having the ability and freedom to offer tailored mobile broadband, IoT and low-latency industrial connectivity. The barriers to private investment also need to be removed and investment itself should be actively encouraged.
Investments in expansive mobile are a part of realigning Europe's 'mobile first' policy, which is long overdue. Nearly a decade has passed since internet companies began announcing mobile first strategies and in that time, there has been a monumental rise in multi-touch smartphones, apps and mobile data, with a growing number of applications now only available in mobile format.
But when it comes to actually putting mobile first in Europe, the continent has lagged behind other areas of the world such as the US and China. Europe has taken a business-as-usual approach to the regulation of and investment in mobile. And while it has been good at setting goals in this respect, it has been slow to update them.
There is a large potential economic and social payoff from expansive mobile. But to truly seize the potential of expansive mobile in Europe, we need to adopt a new approach to regulation and investment. Spectrum availability and improved incentives for infrastructure investment are required for Europe to build out expansive mobile. And there needs to be a shift in high-level policy focus, away from the priorities identified in the pre-'mobile first' era, which are reflected in current policy objectives, metrics and institutions and have seen network investment, adoption and use lag behind that of other developed regions.
Embracing expansive mobile will increase the contribution of mobile to productivity, income and employment growth. But the benefits go beyond this to include improved digital inclusion and gains across all areas of public policy. Europe should therefore seize this opportunity that expansive mobile presents.
Read about my findings in more detail in the full report.