The Wireless Industry’s Transformational Ripple Effect

It looks like 2014 will be a very exciting year as the wireless industry continues to transform not only itself but other industries as well. Have you noticed how things are changing, thanks to the wireless industry, smartphones and all those apps?

We will see wave after wave of change. Over the next few years we will see industries like healthcare, automotive and retail change and benefit from this early transformation. That will whet the appetite for a few other industries to jump in as well. Then, over the next decade virtually every other industry will be connected to the wireless industry.

This is an enormous early opportunity not only for the early adopters in these industries, but for the wireless industry as well. Networks like AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and C Spire have enormous opportunities in front of them. Handset makers like Apple, Google, Samsung and many others also see big opportunities.

Meanwhile, assorted other companies in the networking space — like Cisco — will allow these giants to win. I think Cisco will play a larger role in 2014; I’ll be following them much more closely.

3 Industries in Transformation

It’s not just the typical wire-line and wireless giants that will win, though. Early adopters in other industries will also be in a great position to win these early battles.

The first companies in any segment to jump in are the early adopters. They take the arrows, but they also set the shape and direction of the industry going forward. They get the early adopter advantage.

Then, after a while, when the dust settles, every other competitor in their space jumps in because if they don’t, they are at a competitive disadvantage. Suddenly, it seems the entire industry is rushing in this new direction — a rush that actually started years earlier, but is just now popping up on the radar.

Which industries will be first — and which companies within them? Three big industries currently in transformation are the healthcare, automotive and retail industries.

The Healthcare Transformation Begins

Call it mHealth or eHealth or whatever you want, but the ability to use your smartphone to keep better tabs on your own health and healthcare continues to grow and will get bigger, stronger and more important in 2014.

In fact, everything about the healthcare industry is going online and wireless. Doctors’ offices and insurance companies are struggling to put all their patients records online.

So what will our health world look like going forward? There are so many examples. The future possibilities look incredibly bright. Imagine not having to fill out a new patient form in every doctor’s office. Imagine each of your doctors knowing what other doctors have done for you. Imagine not having to go to the doctor’s office as often. Instead, your diabetes or blood pressure readings will be updated at the doctor’s office through your app.

All these things and more will result in better treatment for you with less hassle. That’s after we get through this multiyear transformation, however — we’re still just in the very early stages.

Barry Green, a healthcare technology consultant from the Atlanta area, told me something interesting. Specifically, medical and healthcare apps don’t really do well with those over 60 years old, he said; rather, such people would rather talk live and in person. This is something that has taken the healthcare industry by surprise.

So don’t go into this thinking there is no risk. There is plenty of new opportunity, but also plenty of risk. That’s why it’s important to go in with your eyes wide open.

Automotive Jumps In

The automotive industry is now jumping in with both legs after dipping its toes in the water over the past few years. Imagine connecting your smartphone to your dashboard and getting live traffic and weather through the automakers app, or listening to your favorite radio show using another app.

What started out as just a couple of major automakers is turning into a vast number. They each offer similar services that work differently. Believe it or not, people will start to choose their favorite car based on the type of wireless connectivity and automation offered. This is a big risk and opportunity for early adopters and aggressive automakers.

Increasingly, video plays a key role — your kids will be able to watch their television programming or movies on screens in the back seat while you listen to CNBC, Fox News or CNN up front. Service providers like OnStar can test and communicate with you letting you know of anything that is wrong. We’re still just at the very early stages, too.

Retail: Just Like Magic

Retail is another industry that is really exploring how wireless can change its world and give early adopters a leg up on the competition. Imagine walking into a store and having your smartphone recognized by their system; you get a text greeting and can ask any question you like.

You will be guided to the place in the store you are looking for. You will be offered specials based on what you are looking for or past purchases or behavior. Remember last time you visited, you stopped at the electric shavers? Maybe that’s why you get a coupon for a discount on the very shaver you looked at. Just like magic.

In fact, that’s a good way to describe the way customers will react to this. It will be a mixture of outrage at the invasion of privacy and delight over personalized service and offers. Each industry must work hard to make sure it stays on the right side of that line.

The Video Explosion

One more surprising thing to think about: Video is becoming the major growth driver on the wireless side. That was discussed at the AT&T Industry Analyst meeting last week; at the same time, Verizon Wireless is reportedly dealing with its own black eye in the form of video demand issues.

So, video is one of the key areas we need to stay focused on during 2014.

Bottom line: 2014 will be a very exciting year, so buckle up and get ready. Happy New Year!

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technology industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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