Connected living will give Europe a new lease of life

One of the most powerful tools in recent history, the mobile phone has had a profound impact on the world. There are nearly seven billion mobile connections globally, changing the way that more than three billion people keep in touch with each other, run their lives and their businesses, and consume information and entertainment.

Now, a new wave of connectivity is on the horizon. In the future, everyone and everything around us will benefit from a wireless connection. In addition to mobile phones and tablets, we will see connected cars, medical monitors, TVs, game consoles, environmental sensors, and a wide range of connected consumer electronics and household appliances.

Many of these will be connected intelligently, communicating and interacting with each other. For example, your car might automatically turn off your central heating as you drive out of your neighbourhood. Or your radio might turn on your favourite station when you walk into the kitchen.

We call this “connected living”. It is all about seamless and intelligent connectivity between people, processes and products, enabling a wealth of personalised and relevant services to be delivered whenever and wherever they are required.

For the mobile industry, connected living is the next major growth opportunity. As more machines, vehicles and devices come online, we expect the number of mobile connections in the UK to almost double over the next eight years to reach more than 200 million in 2020. Across Europe, we forecast there will be 2.1 billion mobile connections by the end of this decade, up from 1.3 billion by the end of this year.

Connected living will provide a major boost to Europe’s economy, with this opportunity worth almost €392 billion by 2020, compared with €155 billion in 2012, according to figures from Machina Research.

In most of Europe, the foundations of connected living are already in place: advanced mobile broadband networks are delivering faster data rates, low latency and expanding coverage. We are also seeing growing economies of scale; there are now 326 million mobile broadband connections in Europe alone, according to industry research firm Wireless Intelligence. Moreover, the mobile industry is built on a global network of standards-based services and devices that provide a highly stable platform on which to build the connected future. 

Connected living not only benefits the mobile industry, but a wide range of adjacent industries, such as consumer electronics, automotive, utilities, healthcare, construction, smart cities and transportation, manufacturing, retail, leisure and agriculture. There are also many ways to use mobile connectivity to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the public sector.

As more machines, vehicles and devices come online, the number of mobile connections in the UK will almost double to more than 200 million in 2020

In the automotive industry, for example, a connected car can automatically alert the emergency services to its location in the event of an accident or an attempted break-in. A mobile connection in a car can also be used to provide the driver and passengers with valuable services, such as real-time navigation and information on local roads, weather and amenities, as well as on-demand entertainment. By 2020, we expect the European market for connected car services to be worth about €48 billion a year.

Mobile connectivity can also be used to make buildings, and even entire cities, smarter and more efficient. It can, for example, provide both utility companies and their customers with real-time information about energy and water usage, enabling them to spread demand across the day and take action to reduce wastage.

The same principles can be applied to public transport and other services run by local government. For example, mobile connectivity is already used to provide passengers with real-time information on buses and could be used to help drivers find empty parking spaces.  By 2020, we think the market for “smart cities” solutions in Europe could be worth €46 billion a year.

In education, mobile connectivity opens up new ways of teaching and learning that improve performance and results. Mobile connectivity enables access to up-to-date materials, improves collaboration and strengthens learner engagement; children respond intuitively to the interactive touchscreens on smartphones and tablets.

For Europe’s stretched healthcare services, the widespread use of mobile connectivity could significantly cut costs, increase their reach and reduce the impact of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, on people’s lives. A heart monitor or blood sugar monitor, for example, could use a mobile connection to transmit regular readings to clinicians, reducing the need for patients to make regular trips to hospital for check-ups. By 2020, we expect the European market for mobile health solutions to be worth almost €23 billion.

Of course, in tough economic times, the pace at which Europe becomes fully connected will depend on the cost of deployment. To fully harness the existing economies of scale and inter-operability inherent in the mobile industry, mobile operators will need to work closely with companies from other sectors, and with local and national governments.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but in time connected living will become the norm; unconnected devices, machines and vehicles will be seen as archaic. Almost everything and everybody will be exchanging information in real-time, which will enhance everyday life and have a positive impact on the economy as a whole. In so doing, connected living will fuel growth, create jobs, stimulate innovation and reduce waste, ushering in a new, smarter era.

Former Microsoft and Nortel executive, Michael O’Hara is responsible for GSMA’s global marketing and communications strategy, working in close partnership with the organisation’s members to identify, prioritise and act on strategic marketing issues for the mobile industry.