Convergence across verticals means new revenue opportunities for the wireless industry

This piece originally appeared on RCR Wireless as part of the publication’s “Analyst Angle” section. You can view the piece here.

Simon Fletcher chairing the 8th Future of Wireless International Conference

Simon Fletcher chairing the 8th Future of Wireless International Conference

Last month’s Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless International Conference (FWIC) provided a great opportunity to bring together representatives from many vertical industries with wireless technology providers. As ever the attendees were highly engaged, with plenty of challenging questions and thought provoking panel and open forum discussions.

Perhaps the most interesting insight from the conference was the way in which it was clear that there is a convergence of challenges across multiple vertical sectors. A lot of speakers were articulating similar challenges — in areas as diverse as healthcare and automotive — and this is vital for the future of wireless. Convergence opens up opportunities for greater standardisation and the creation of platforms that have applications in multiple sectors, increasing efficiencies and revenue opportunities for vendors and service providers.

For example, the continuing need to improve remote and in-building coverage was mentioned by several speakers — particularly those from the automotive industry. The poor coverage on the UK road network was highlighted as a significant barrier to future innovation and revenues. The relatively poor coverage of the UK is a well-known issue for the wireless industry. But now transport industry players are highlighting the issue as a significant deficiency that needs to be addressed, and government departments that take an interest in transport systems are also applying pressure to improve coverage.

The topic of regulation remained ever-present in a number of the industry sector sessions. Several speakers noted that regulatory frameworks could put up significant resistance to wireless enabled change, which will create opportunities for disruptive start-ups in a number of sectors.

A final major point of convergence was also the impact that “OTT” players are having in the vast majority of vertical sectors, often already being an ‘incumbent’ themselves. The OTT has driven the data demand on networks and, whilst financial results indicate that the mobile operators have struggled to keep up with this demand, the OTT is now part and parcel of the wireless industry package. Having seen how the presence of the OTT, with their global reach over the mobile internet, challenges existing business models, some vertical players may be looking to defensive approaches that can resist change. To take a defensive stance is unlikely to keep the competition at bay and will certainly not create a competitive advantage. A number of panels observed that their challenges are more cultural or regulatory — rather than technological. However such a perspective overlooks significant opportunities for vertical markets to partition technologies into manageable platforms, where the pace of change in each area can be better understood.

Aside from these challenges, there were also encouraging signs of progress within a number of the vertical sectors themselves.

In the health sector, after many years of failed large IT projects implemented from the top down, there is a growing trend of putting wireless devices in the hands of frontline doctors and nurses. This is having a transformational effect on technology in healthcare from the bottom up.

Smart city technology trials have been ongoing for a number of years. The smart city panel explored the tipping points at which scale up to common platforms may occur. The recently started Innovate-UK funded work in Manchester and the news that Singapore is establishing collaborations with countries like the UK, start to show promising signs of the possibility of common platforms emerging.

The fintech session also served as a good illustration of how the large incumbent banks are establishing incubators to increase awareness of innovation and determine how these developments could be adopted in their mainstream business.

Overall it was interesting to see that there seems to be broad recognition — both within the wireless industry and the verticals themselves — that new business models are required in a number of vertical sectors if significant new revenue growth is to be realised. What will be interesting is to see how that plays out, whether it will be directed by ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ approaches, or if large incumbents and smaller disruptors will ‘join forces’ in certain sectors to nurture these new approaches.

Under pressure: tackling railway connectivity in 2016 (downloadable guide)

Railway connectivityWireless connectivity on trains is set to become a key area of focus for the wireless industry over the coming years. On-board connectivity remains a significant technical challenge; providing connectivity to people within a fast-moving object that often encounters mobile blackspots is inherently difficult. However, pressure is rising from governments and passengers to improve the current levels of wireless service available on trains.

Currently, enhanced on-board wireless solutions face two major barriers. The first is how to enable cellular connectivity. The second is how to secure sufficient capacity for on-train usage and the necessary backhaul where on-train Wi-Fi is installed. While the technologies are available today to solve these challenges, the business case for moving connectivity along remains largely elusive.

rail-connectivityNow though we are seeing some interesting moves in the market that may help to break the commercial deadlock we have seen in recent years. In particular governments around the world are now attempting to ease some of the pressure by investing in connectivity for trains. The UK government is investing £50m to ensure passengers benefit from free Wi-Fi by 2017. The state government of Victoria, Australia, has committed $40m to tackle mobile coverage blackspots across the region’s Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and Traralgon lines.

Although these developments are welcome, ultimately the ‘right’ solution needs to work for train operators, mobile network operators and rail passengers alike. All industry stakeholders now need to work together to produce business cases that can benefit every party involved.

At this time of shifting market dynamics Real Wireless has put together a short guide assessing the current situation with regards to wireless on trains along with our independent expert recommendations for ensuring connectivity remains on track.

Christmas is the time for retailers to make the most of wireless

King-edward-street-leedsWe recently launched a report outlining the opportunities for retail businesses that take advantage of wireless technology to support their business — and as the first Christmas products are already beginning to hit the shelves, now is the time to react ahead of the busiest period of the year.

For many businesses, Christmas is a make or break time, particularly as the high street struggles to compete with the significant challenge posed by the online sector.

In our report we identified that consumers expect to receive similar levels of personalisation as they get online while visiting traditional high street shops. Consumers also want the whole process to be as simple and enjoyable as possible. But, faced with a choice between battling the crowds in shopping centres and browsing from a tablet at home, many are understandably opting for the latter.

Enhancing the instore experience is therefore crucial to encouraging customers to leave their homes, and it’s in this area that wireless can make a massive difference – it’s not just encouraging people in to stores by providing basic phone signal.

At Christmas wireless can provide the connectivity for shop floor staff to be able to display personalised information on shoppers’ preferences on their tablets — with their consent, of course. Rather than having to spend time asking many basic questions, this will allow staff to quickly provide recommendations based on previous purchases — and will more likely result in a sale.

Wireless can also help mitigate one of the negative aspects of the retail customer experience at Christmas, the dreaded queues, something that will only become more important as customers migrate to contactless cards or applications such as Apple Pay. A number of retailers and restaurants are now even offering the option for payment via a dedicated app, removing the need for queuing and staff from the equation completely.

This is just as relevant for the grocery sector as well as retail. At a recent conference, Joanne Denney-Finch, CEO of IGD, predicted a retail world that entails “automated replenishment, smart queuing systems and enhanced click and collect services”, enhancing the store experience by “allowing consumers to engage with brands and avoid perceived mundane shopping processes.”

All of these are services that require wireless connectivity to function efficiently. However, there’s a danger that the focus is currently on services and applications and the communications infrastructure to support these has been forgotten.

Wireless isn’t an easy challenge to address — from provision across a complex building to the business case for the investment. For more information on the opportunities enabled by wireless and the business case to support them, download our guide here.

The future of retail is already here 

The retail sector is one of the most advanced in the use of consumer facing technology. Faced with strong competition from online retailers, the use of innovative technology – supported by in-store wireless – is being used to help encourage people back onto the high street and into stores, as well as opening up new revenue streams and services for the stores.

In this blog post we take a look at some of the retailers that are already making use of technology to enhance the customer experience, and the role that wireless plays in providing this.

Picture1Time for dedicated apps

Shopping centres and stores are now increasingly rolling out their own dedicated apps, providing customers with information and support, as well as the latest offers and bargains.

London’s Westfield centre offers a simple, yet effective, example; its app provides customers with offers from their preferred stores, alongside ‘express parking’ that removes the need for a parking ticket to be purchased each visit. 

 

The endless shelf

The downside to shopping online is that we don’t get to see what we’re buying until it arrives, something that puts many people off when it comes to ‘big ticket’ items. On the other hand stores are limited by their physical storage and display space, limiting how much of their range they can stock and display at one time. There’s little more frustrating than seeing something online, visiting the store to see the physical product, and only then finding out it’s not actually in stock.

 

The Retail of Tomorrow project at Heidi.com’s flagship store in Switzerland attempts to tackle this issue, through the concept of the ‘endless shelf’. The store aims to stock a broad selection of its range, rather than a limited selection in many different sizes and editions. Customers can then get their hands on the product in some form, but then use large screens to view, select and order the product in the exact variation and fit required.

Picture2

At Burberry’s flagship store on Regent Street, RFID tags are woven into products and accessories, allowing them to be linked to digital product listing and related multimedia content. The mirrors throughout the store are actually screens, which use this information to automatically detect the product being tried-on by the customer and display relevant information.

This system also attempts to enhance the customer’s experience and relationship with the Burberry brand, allowing them to also view runway footage and live streams of fashion events.

The end of queuing

While it may be considered an integral part of the British psyche, queuing is nonetheless a big frustration for shoppers – particularly at the busiest times of the year. It can also lead to sales being lost because some customers will simply not join a long queue.

Retailers are now looking at ways of improving the checkout experience, with point-of-sale (PoS) terminals becoming more dispersed across the shop floor and also providing staff with tablets they can use to display products and take payment.

The other approach is building payment into a dedicated app — something Wagamama rolled out earlier this year. The app enables customers to pay directly and quickly through their smartphone, rather than having to get the attention of staff.

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Smarter customer service

Technology is enabling high street retailers to bring the personalised experience that customers enjoy online increasingly inside their stores, delivering recommendations based on previous purchases.

Rather than requiring a sales assistant to spend time asking questions to establish your likes and dislikes, simply scanning a loyalty card using a tablet can instantly provide the assistant with your purchase history – and even tailored special offers.

This functionality gives store staff more information than they’ve traditionally had access to, allowing them to enhance their credibility with customers, and enabling them to take advantage of information from product reviews and accessory lists that they may not otherwise be familiar with.

Virtual reality

Looking further ahead, virtual reality offers the potential to add a further dimension to both the in-store and at-home shopping experience. We’re already seeing some stores experimenting with this technology, thanks to the consumer-friendly offerings from Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.

A notable example of this is William Hill, who are using it to bring punters much closer to races they’re betting on. Once a bet has been placed on a race, customers get to view the race from the PoV of the rider – in full, interactive 3D.

Picture4

Virtual reality could also be used to enhance the experience of customers at home, providing a much better idea of how a sofa or TV would look in their lounge, or by enabling them to explore in-store displays in much more detail.

The wireless need

All of these applications rely on some form of data connectivity, and the vast majority rely upon this being wireless connectivity. Whether that’s a secure and robust Wi-Fi network for staff tablets, or mobile coverage so customers can use your dedicated app, wireless is an essential component in the future of retail.

72% of consumers use their smartphone while shopping and more than half of consumers under the age of 40 use their smartphone to get a second opinion before making a purchase. Without proper connectivity, consumers can’t use their phone and are likely to go elsewhere as a result.

In fact, without proper connectivity, consumers may abandon the store altogether and not come back. Recent research has found that 1 in 4 (25%) shoppers admit that they leave a shop if they can’t get online, and 1 in 4 (25%) leave immediately if the shop does not provide Wi-Fi. By contrast, 1 in 3 (34%) extend their visit and nearly half (46%) return if the connectivity is good.

Retailers therefore need to consider a dedicated in-building wireless system, one that provides a clear business benefit to staff and customers alike. For more information take a look at our recent report on the benefits of wireless to the retail sector: http://www.realwireless.biz/wireless-and-retail/

Technology and retail: how wireless is key to bricks-and-mortar shopping

3174937547_838753c182_oThe media love a good “the high street is dying — online shopping is the future” story. Compelling headlines that talk about the death of one industry in favour of another make for an entertaining read, and who wants the truth to stand in the way of a good headline?

The reality is that bricks-and-mortar shops are not disappearing. On the contrary, retailers and property owners are taking actions to encourage people to use the “real” experience of shopping to complement the online experience. However, the retail stores of today are significantly different to those in the past in how they attract and retain customers. Although each shop will have its own unique strategy for attraction and retention, the key trend of 2015 points to improving the customer experience and we at Real Wireless see technology playing a crucial role in achieving this.

For stores with big budgets, the technology can often be headline grabbing and quirky, and can potentially offer consumers experiences they don’t typically see every day. Harrods, for example, installed augmented reality window displays for its Tissot watch range.

But, of course, most stores are unlikely to want to invest in technology like that, certainly not at the early stage of any technology initiative. However, the premise of using tech to improve the customer experience remains important to every store. So, most retailers are focusing on how to capitalise on a piece of technology that almost every consumer has in their pocket nowadays — the smartphone — in a way that enhances the experience and ultimately improves business performance.

As consumers become more accustomed to using smartphone technology, they increasingly expect retailers to replace loyalty cards with a digital app, provide personalised discounts based on the consumer’s own preferences, interact with consumers through social media, accept contactless payment, let consumers themselves scan items to speed up the checkout process, and roll out countless other enhancements. At the same time the customer may want to do online comparisons and get an opinion from their friends through social media before making the purchase, so the customers need to be able to get online.

The key to capitalising on smartphones lies in wireless connectivity — not just Wi-Fi, but 3G and 4G too. If a retailer fails to meet today’s consumer’s connectivity needs, they risk losing out on sales. But by addressing those needs, retailers can enhance the customer experience, driving brand loyalty and, ultimately, improving sales.

To help retailers get the most out of good connectivity, Real Wireless has published a report detailing the importance of wireless for the retail industry, the business case for generating a return on technology investment, and how to overcome the challenges that any rollout will face.

The report, entitled Wireless and the omni-channel time bomb, is available free of charge from today.

Wireless technology and commercial property: why should property developers care?

CommIn 2015, mobile users — including both you and I — expect to be able to use our mobile devices and laptops wherever we are.

More than this though, we expect to receive the same level of service, functionality and, increasingly, data speeds, regardless of the environment we are in.

This has big implications for property developers and others that provide commercial property. While most people have been aware of how important mobile connectivity has been within their buildings for business tenants, in the past this has typically been basic voice and SMS access.

In the past developers and building owners typically found that there is adequate coverage and service for these technologies inside their buildings with minimal additional effort; the external mobile network could penetrate their building and serve their tenants to a sufficient level.

However, as mobile data connectivity (and the expectations of users of these services to receive good data speeds) has spread, the need for dedicated infrastructure inside a building to meet these needs has also grown.

It’s also no longer sufficient to rely upon Wi-Fi alone to provide data connectivity, with residents expecting 3G and 4G devices to work inside a building as well as they do outside.

Mobile operators, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly reticent to fund the rollout of this infrastructure for all but the very largest of their corporate customers.

It is therefore increasingly expected that the building owner themselves will invest in the infrastructure required to provide mobile services to people inside the building.

We’ve therefore created a guide that helps outline the wireless need — and business case for installation — that modern commercial property developers face. It outlines how wireless can improve current business models and practices, helping to both attract and retain tenants through enhanced connectivity.

After all, it would seem completely illogical to construct a commercial building that did not include a water or electricity supply, as no business would become a tenant. As mobile adoption amongst consumers and businesses becomes so universal, it’s time wireless connectivity was treated the same.

The guide ‘Wireless technology and commercial property’ is available free of charge.

240,000 fans can’t be wrong: One Direction fans likely to set UK record for mobile social media

One Direction fans are expected to share a staggering number of tweets, messages and selfies from Wembley Stadium later this week, as the boyband take to Wembley Stadium for a three-night residency. With attendees expected to potentially send as many as 10,000,000 tweets during the shows, the density of mobile traffic looks set to be over one hundred times that in central London.

With 19 million Twitter followers, five million followers on Instagram and over 30 million Facebook likes, their fans are notoriously keen users of social media. 

Based on a few simple assumptions,  Real Wireless calculated that their fans could send as many as 10,000,000 tweets during the three concerts.Wembley’s 90,000 seats corresponds to a density of 1.4million phones per km2, compared to 13,200 people per km2 in Central London. However, the traffic generated by 1D’s famously connected fans will be far higher than this average, thanks to their desire to upload photos and videos of the event to social media as it happens.

Speaking at the Stadium Business Summit yesterday, Real Wireless used the gig as an example of growing concerns over wireless traffic in venues.  They drew parallels between this and the recent Superbowl, where over 3TB of cellular data was used – an increase of 800% on 2013.

Mark Keenan, Director at Real Wireless, speaking yesterday at Stadium Business Summit, cited this as an example of the traffic peaks that Stadiums need to face. Mr Keenan also gave the explosive growth in traffic at Superbowl as a warning for European venue owners and operators.

“Getting coverage at a major event has always been difficult, but it’s now even tougher as so many visitors demand excellent connectivity with ever-faster devices and more apps,” said Keenan. “Customers at venues expect to get online and are unhappy if they can’t. They want to upload to social media or watch replays on smartphones; that requires the stadium has solid plans in place. If they don’t they will complain. But beyond customer satisfaction there are opportunities for stadiums to earn revenue from new sources, to improve operational efficiency and reduce cost”

“The US is a leading indicator: their 4G adoption is ahead of ours, but as we pointed out recently 4G is growing fast in UK. One Direction will be an early indicator of this, but as 4G adoption becomes far more widespread next year the full force of this will start to be felt – venues need to have their plans in place”

Typically a single mobile base station, even in a city centre, would serve an area the size of Wembley. However, with an estimated 72% of people in the UK now owning a smartphone, venues can no longer afford to rely on mobile network coverage from outside the venue.  Spectators and visitors want to be able to upload photos, check social networks and share updates as they happen, whilst continuing to do the basics – like make calls and text. This leads to a need for specialist, carefully engineered networks.

Real Wireless has put together a guide to the business benefits of providing wireless in stadiums and venues, available to download for free here. Drawing from its expertise in working with some of the biggest stadiums and venues in the UK, the guide looks at applications from providing at-seat video to tracking visitors and security.

In-building Wireless Video lecture and Books

See this recording of a lecture delivered on behalf of the IET Reading area, giving my views on the background, status and potential of in-building wireless. Warning – it’s over an hour long!

Lecture at iet.tv (the lecture itself starts after 6 minutes – you can fast forward to this point)

 

For further reading on this subject, see chapter 13 of this book:

Antenans & Propagation Book

or this recently published text on in-building design with distributed antenna systems:

Tolstrup Indoor Radio Planning

 

 

 

Simon