The next mobile networks

In 2011, there was a huge debate about what qualified as a 4G network. Today, flagship devices have to run on LTE (or Long Term Evolution) networks. But in 2011 many devices - such as the HTC Sensation 4G, Samsung Galaxy SII, etc - either had 4G in their name or advertised themselves as running on 4G networks. More often than not, these devices ran on HSPA+, a slightly faster version of the 3G network. Rolland Banks in Mobile Industry Review gives the rundown on 5G.

Banks notes that LTE has rolled out at different rates in different countries. The United States has the highest number of LTE subscribers (140 million), followed by Japan (51.2 million).

Source:  Statista

Source: Statista

Now that it has been established that 4G is LTE, what's next? According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance there are characteristics that allow networks to qualify as 5G:

  • Data rates of several tens of Mb/s should be supported for tens of thousands of users

  • 1 Gbit/s to be offered, simultaneously to tens of workers on the same office floor

  • Several hundreds of thousands of simultaneous connections to be supported for massive sensor deployments

  • Spectral efficiency should be significantly enhanced compared to 4G

  • Coverage should be improved

  • Signalling efficiency enhanced

This graphic shows the speeds and benefits of 5G networks. Source: Nokia

This graphic shows the speeds and benefits of 5G networks. Source: Nokia

Another question is how fast does a network have to be to qualify as 5G? Banks outlines these:

At the moment all there is to go on are lab tests and theoretical calculations made by mobile operators and equipment manufacturers. For example, last year Samsung managed to deliver speeds of 1 Gbps using 5G, and speed that makes it possible to download a 1 GigaByte (GB) TV show in less than 10 seconds.
But in practice, the speeds we might see as consumers could be anything from 10 Mbps to hundreds of Mbps…the dream of just being able to click to download content and have it appear almost instantly still seems a long way off.

Banks says that while speed is improved with 5G, capacity will also increase. With the onset of the Internet of Things (IoT) where everything has a connection to the network, 5G will be very welcome, as it is estimated that 80 billion IoT devices will be on our networks by 2020. However, it will take this long for true 5G networks to roll out. 

Source: Mobile Industry Review

Google and Apple winning the Internet of Things.

There are many companies in the space we broadly refer to as "The Internet of Things" (IoT). But the IoT is fragmented and there is little interoperability between platforms. Getting developers to dedicate time to a specific platform is very important, so who is winning over developers in the IoT race? Apparently Apple and Google, according to Matt Asay writing for Read Write

As I've written, to flourish the Internet of Things market needs millions of developers by 2020. Fortunately, the market is actively minting new developers each day, with the global Internet of Things developer population set to top 4.5 million by 2020:

Image courtesy of Vision Mobile.

Image courtesy of Vision Mobile.

Asay notes that many of these IoT developers are from the Asia-Pacific region, but these developers still identify as "mobile developers." Google and Apple will soon change that. 

As VisionMobile Q1 2015 Developer Economics survey data reveals, 53% of mobile developers are already actively working on Internet of Things projects. The top two markets within the field are smart homes (37% of relevant developers are working in this area) and wearables (35%).

The number of developers getting paid to work on IoT projects also matters. Most IoT developers work on hobby projects (30%) or side projects (20%). These developers are more likely to become full-time IoT developers if they can work on platforms that don't require them to learn an abundance of new skills. 

In the IoT space, Apple now has many platforms including HomeKit and Apple Watch. Google has Nest and Android Wear. Both companies offer platforms that are similar to their existing mobile platforms. So, the company with the most IoT developers is at an advantage, and right now that's Apple and Google. 

Phablets are changing mobile UX

Not only are phablets leading smartphone growth, they are also changing the entire smartphone user interaction experience, according to a Designmodo article by Armen Ghazarian.

The author defines a phablet as a smartphone that ranges between 5 and 6.9 inches (127 to 180mm). By contrast, the iPhone 5s had a screen of only 4 inches. Samsung effectively created the market with the release of the original Galaxy Note - a stylus-based phablet - which has long set the standard for all phablets to follow, including the iPhone 6 Plus.

Smartphones are increasingly used for consuming multimedia rather than making calls or sending messages, so it isn't surprising that people are opting for devices that enhance this experience. 

Image courtesy of  Statista

Image courtesy of Statista

But how do these devices change user interaction?

Phablets are cool and most consumers are expected to ditch their old smartphones for these devices. But even those consumers are not entirely sure about the comfort of using phablets over regular smartphones. The thing is that screens are getting bigger, while our hands and fingers stay the same. So we have to adjust the way we interact with phablets.
According to recent research conducted by Steven Hoober, “people use their non-dominant hand, and they frequently switch hands, as well as the way they’re gripping the phone.” This refers to different smartphones, including phablets.
But when we look at how the natural thumb zone changes on different screen sizes, it becomes obvious that users are not going to torture themselves with a one-hand grip trying to reach all areas of the screen. The assumption is that they’ll simply change the grip and adjust. With this in mind we can expect that users won’t bother about the big screen size and will just keep changing their grip to hold and interact with the phablet comfortably.

Ghazarian asks, how should user interfaces be designed for phablets? Samsung tried to solve this problem by including a stylus. Apple tried to implement "reachability" - a feature whereby double-tapping the home button would bring the screen down to the normal thumb zone. Designer Luke Wroblewski suggested ordering the most important interaction elements in the UI from top to bottom. Ghazarian points out that this might work for iOS, but it would be a non-ideal solution for Android users. 

Certainly, these large phones are challenging traditional mobile interface design practices, and there is much work to be done before using a phablet is a seamless experience. 

Source: Designmodo


Google Search Trends - Q1 2015

Every so often it's important to look at what people are searching for on the web. This is a new type of report for Tech Bytes, and something that will be examined every quarter - either with new keywords or old ones. 

The momentum of interest for wearable computing (especially smartwatches), home automation, and the internet of things has really picked up over the last six years, and there is a definite upward trend for Google searches.

However, it's important to note that we are still in the early stages of the industry when we are talking about mobile technology other than smartphones and tablets. If we compare the the above search terms to say the term "smartphone," this becomes very obvious. Smartphones are still overwhelmingly the most popular mobile technology, and this is reflected by the number of searches for smartphones.

So why is this the case? Well, wearable computers are still just companion devices. They are luxury goods. Until a new fitness revolution comes about, or radically new communication and navigation technologies are developed and implemented, it is likely that people will prioritize smartphones above all else. 

A comparable scenario is the current state of the tablet market. Worldwide tablet sale growth is down again, and Apple in particular is expected to ship fewer iPads. Does this mean that tablets are dead? No, of course not. It just means that - for most people who are on a limited budget - a smartphone is a "one size fits all" device that does most tasks "ok." Tablets like the iPad are expensive, so they are less appealing and are often viewed as "in between" devices. Wearable computing is the same.

The exception to this is home automation and the Internet of Things (IoT). We have been teased with this technology for a long time - probably ever since we were Shown Bill Gates' automated home ten years ago. Also, the connected home and connected world tie into the smartphone market, as many of these devices (the Phillips Hue lighting system for example) can be controlled by your phone or tablet. It is possible that interest in home automation and the IoT will surpass the wearables market, since the success of these products is more closely linked to the success of the smartphone.