40 years ago yesterday the first mobile phone call was made. From a brick sized lump of electronics and at great, great expense. (For those of you of a UK only bent, it was 28 years ago that the first UK mobile phone call was made by none other than Ernie Wise from St Kathrine’s Dock in London to Vodafone’s HQ, which was above a curry house in Newbury). My how things have changed in those 40 years (or 28, if you are counting from Little Ern’s efforts) – but not as rapidly as the inventor of the mobile phone himself had hoped.
Sure, the devices are really quite different, but that’s just Moore’s law at play. What is truly startling – and Martin Cooper, the Motorola chappy who made that first mobile call in New York backs me up here – is that mobile networks still get clogged up. Cooper, while basking in the attention afforded by the anniversary, glumly admitted that he was disappointed that calls still get dropped, connections can be slow and not everything is connected via mobile to each other.
But hopefully all that is about to change with the advent of 4G (not to mention more wifi and better use of 2 and 3G networks) over the summer. In fact, eBay believes that 4G will make a massive difference to mobile retailing, as out lead story this week points out. It believes that there is a £1.8billion bounty to be had if retailers act now to get their mobile houses in order.
As ever, it is being driven by consumers, but retailers need to really start to think mobile in everything they do to capitalise on how consumers are looking to use devices. 4G will make the UK truly digital (hopefully, finally Mr Cooper) and it will on the face of it make getting online and doing things faster. But the real challenge is ‘thinking digital’. The real benefits of 4G for retail in how it changes processes, produces new products and services and caters for new ways of shopping.
As reported last time – on the back of IRX 2013 at the NEC – mobile holds the key to turning around the high street. Shops are likely to become 3D catalogues of goods where people can touch and feel and try then buy on mobile. Understanding and embracing such radical ideas as this is what digitising retail really means. It is not just a mobile issue, but one that is truly omni-channel (oops, Bandwagoning again) with mobile – and 4G – at its core.
Its all a far cry from Ernie Wise, a curry house and a brick, but 4G is likely to usher in the vision of a mobile world that Martin Cooper envisaged all those years ago. Of course, the arrival of the Facebook phone – possibly turning Facebook into a new breed of network operator with a billion customers – could really shake things up, but that’s something we’ll have to leave until tomorrow….