That’s Billion with a B

April 14th, 2010

Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg yesterday predicted that by 2020 the internet will count 50 billion connected devices. And earlier this week, Morgan Stanley research head Mary Meeker released an authoritative compendium predicting that mobile internet usage will surpass the tethered variety in only five years (the growth stats on iPhone and iTouch growth are truly mind-boggling; iPad will only add fuel to the inferno, and Apple announced today that international marketing will be postponed while the company catches up with overwhelming US demand).

I buy the notion that the mobile internet is the fulcrum of innovation, and that service providers are on the verge of massive transformation. It’s not just LTE and 4G, there are new approaches to fixed wireless access needed to accommodate smart grid, healthcare, consumer electronics, and as yet un-invented applications. The pace of capacity addition to backhaul networks will have to accelerate yet further, and the potential for disruptive innovation among content, device, and network providers is high.

What baffles me, however, is the continuing primitive state of the operations technology that is supposed to sit behind all of this and make it work: to ensure that the connectivity stays up, that new networks roll out as quickly as the content and devices are demanded, and that the whole intricate mesh remains reasonably secure from intentional or inadvertent harm. The pace of innovation in operations technology has been glacial, and this is not a sustainable practice. For every cool new location-based advertising service or must-have device, there is a consequence in the complexity, scale, and criticality of operations support.