If it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, it must be Barcelona and the 3GSM World Congress. I was here to chair a session on biometrics, identification and authentication. With 38,000 delegates and an entire exhibition village, it’s a bit of a do. I have to say I’m quite enjoying the conference as there were one or two quite interesting presentations (which is not always true of this kind of industry jamboree). One of the conference newspapers is headlined “The Circus Comes to Town”, which is just about right.
Walking around the exhibitions, I’ve really got two sets of eyes out: on the one hand I’m curious about a variety of technology developments (particularly location and positioning services) but on the other hand I’m really looking for things that will make a difference to our clients businesses. This means I’m looking for new stuff around mobile payments, mobile loyalty, that sort of thing: the m-commerce stuff. I’m less interested in the content-oriented developments (mobile music, mobile TV) except insofar as they generate a need for better payments infrastructure. Actually, I’ve got three sets of eyes out, because I’ve now realised that I’m much more interested in billing systems than I had suspected, but I’m not sure why, nor am I sure what this has to do with operational efficiency in billing systems…
I was on my way to visit a customer when I got caught up in crowd and disoriented. When I had recovered enough to get my camera out, I found myself watching three young Asian women dancing and playing classical music over a thumping dance beat while middle-aged men in suits (eg, me) swirled around them: it was a bit like being an extra in the Matrix and this clip doesn’t do justice to the strangeness….
I went to Steve Ballmer’s keynote (the CEO of Microsoft). He used the word innovate a lot, said that he was excited about mobile, and then demoed some of the innovative new products, which were the sort of thing Blackberry were showing four years ago (mobile pushed e-mail using the next release of Exchange), the sort of thing Skype were showing three years ago (a combined IM and VoIP server), the sort of thing Nokia were showing two years ago (reading a “smart poster” using an NFC-enabled PDA) and the sort of thing that everyone was doing five years ago (sending photos from one to another using Bluetooth). They didn’t seem very exciting to me, but then he’s a billionaire and I’m not, so you should discount my judgement. He did demonstrate a (faked) Paypass payment to a Vodafone NFC-enabled PDA, which was a useful validation of our long-held analysis that the strategic importance of NFC phones is as POS terminals, not “cards”. (As an aside, I got to play with the new Samsung NFC handset, and it’s pretty nice).
But will this be enough to energise the sector? In order to provide solutions to address the spectrum of m-commerce possibilities, m-payments are not enough. The industry needs m-identity as well, and it is entirely possible (in fact, I suspect, probable) that in the long run the evolution of standardised and interoperable (at the business, as well as systems, level) identity management infrastructure that incorporates mobile devices will be both more important and more profitable than the evolution of m-payments infrastructure. In the long run, mobile identity may be much more important the mobile money: SimID, rather than Simpay, should be the operator’s priority for co-opetition.