3 Minutes On: Motorola

In our series, “3 Minutes On,” we give the mic to one of our own for three minutes to respond to what the Internet is talking about on any given day. Running the gamut of topics, expect some pointed and passionate opinions you may or may not agree with. And if you don’t, drop us a line.

With CES having wrapped last week, I should probably be writing about the next big thing in tech. But in a week that’s all about what’s “in” at the world’s coolest trade show; I’m most struck by what’s “out”. Motorola, as CNET confirmed, is no more.  

Now I can’t speak for yuppies past who may look back on the brand’s laughably enormous, world-first phones with less nostalgia and more phantom back pain. But as an archetypal millennial, I’m sad to see the back of a brand that at age 10 showed me the first mobile phone I ever saw (something like this) and by age 15 had created the only one I ever desperately wanted (David Beckham’s RAZR, of course).

If I replace my navel-gazing Gen Y cap with my outward-looking strategist hat, I’m disappointed for more urgent reasons. Those brands hoping to drop the next big thing at CES could learn a few lessons from Motorola, a business that launched its fair share of firsts during its prime.

The trouble is, Motorola was a first mover that only ever moved once. Moving first but never next, the brand hurled one-trick tech (1983: “It works!”…1997: “It flips!”… 2004: “Its so thin!”) into a rapidly evolving market with ever-more options and ever-shorter attention spans. When this strategy worked, Motorola thrived. But it also unwittingly sewed the seeds for its own demise, teaching the industry what to do next without ever beating them to it.

Sure, Motorola made flip-phones happen in the 1990s. They also helped Apple move into mobile phones in 2005 with their iTunes-equipped ROKR. And they made one of the first Android-enabled phones in 2009. But Motorola’s innovations were so one-dimensional that they just created space for a multiplying set of competitors to blow them out of the water. That’s why in 2007, just two years after ROKR, Apple launched the iPhone and made Motorola’s device comparatively obsolete.

As we now know, the brand’s one-dimensional hits reflected a deeply divided business in which software and hardware teams literally didn’t speak to each other. A highly competitive culture resulted in a network business so isolated that it tested software on phones made by Motorola’s own rivals. Hence why Motorola could never make a next move with a more comprehensive product. By the late 2000s, a divided Motorola was prime for conquering with a ton of smartphone patents and not a single smartphone to its name.

Motorola never knew what to do next, because its people didn’t know each other well enough to work that out. Brands making noise at CES this week would do well to take heed.

Now that I am in my twenties, I care less about a super thin phone and more about a super convincing VR headset. If the business behind the first one I own doesn’t have the culture in place to know what I‘ll want next, they wont be behind the last one I buy.

-Zami Majuqwana

Illustration by Oliver Thein.

Read Zami’s recent thoughts on applying design thinking to healthcare here and follow her @ZamiMagic

The World’s Not Waiting for Another Telecom

If all the telecoms disappeared tomorrow, would we rebuild them? Or would we build something different, and what would that look like?

For businesses that provide us with something so essential, like the ability to check our phones (100 times a day), stream loads of movies from home, or on rare but important moments – make a phone call – it’s surprisingly hard to say: Yes, long live!  The world is simply not waiting for another telecom. In fact, some people would be happy to do away with them altogether and build something radically different.

It begs the question: are telecoms becoming irrelevant?  

It is no secret the telecom industry today is struggling. For one, their main source of revenue, phone calls, are on decline as people turn to messaging and free internet calling with Skype, Google and WhatsApp. The struggle to remain relevant as a business is only confounded by their questionable relevance in people’s lives. We get excited over new smart phones and watches, robotic gadgets and apps that make our lives easier, simpler, more exciting, more enviable. In this scenario, the network providers have become the pipes- buried, boring and easy to interchange.

The irony is that being connected has never been so important to people. A third of global Internet users say they cannot survive more than five hours without access to the Internet (Tata Communications, 2014). In fact, when commuters in London were asked, nearly 40% said they would rather lose their heating or water than the Internet. Digital dependence, as the phenomenon is called, has risen to the level of addiction for many. This is especially true of the younger generations, where a growing number say they are connected “almost constantly” (Pew Research, 2015). Research is showing that it is even changing the shape of our brains. The human attention span has fallen from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013; bear in mind that goldfish have an average attention span of nine seconds (Microsoft, 2015).

So while connectivity becomes more important to us than ever before, the ones that connect us become less important to us. 

Telecoms still matter; in fact they matter more than ever and perhaps this is particular to the extent that they make our lives better. In a world where connectivity has become something we expect, a given, telecoms need to ask themselves, how are we making people’s lives better? Do we make things easier for people? Do we give them more ways to do things? Do we respond when they need us? Do we reassure, surprise, excite? How do we make people feel?

I’d argue that despite best efforts, telecoms are falling short of making our lives feel better. In fact, when I asked people, the bar is so low that they said they would be happy if their telecom just answered the phone when they called and gave a straight answer to their questions. As the New York Times has called out, while telecoms today all promise more simplicity, never before have they been so complex for customers. Contracts, pay-as-you-go, leasing, data plans, international on the weekends, throw in a smartphone, and family packs, all make understanding what you are buying feel like hard work. Even the great promise of bundling your phone, TV and internet to save hundreds a year is a frustrating experience at best, wrought with sly loop holes and dark pits. It’s enough to send anyone screaming for the hills. The real problem is not that telecoms don’t provide a relevant service, but that too often today they make us feel tired, confused, frustrated and sometimes down-right duped.

Meanwhile, our expectations as customers are undergoing a fundamental change. Companies like Uber, Netflix, Amazon, and Airbnb are redefining our standards for feel-good service. We increasingly expect service to be on-demand wherever we are, to get an immediate response and to have a simple transaction that lives online. Even more interesting is that consumers increasingly want to be engaged as real emotional human beings. Emotion is a major currency for today’s youth who share content based on the emotional tone, as opposed to it coming from any single brand (Streamsafe, 2015). Ordinary moments are eclipsing major cultural moments, as social media sharing over cats and DIY eclipse the Oscars and sporting events. Hyper-connected consumers are craving a greater sense of realness, with 57% of consumers saying they want experiences that stimulate their sense through sight, sound and taste (JWT, 2013).  

If telecoms are to remain relevant, they are going to have to drastically rethink their roles in people’s lives and what they are in the business to do.

Over the years, Wolff Olins has helped businesses across the globe make big leaps that have radically transformed their role in the world and how they do business. Propelling GE from a light bulbs maker into a global leader in new technology and service; redefining how we bank with FirstDirect, the UK’s first online bank and most loved brand for its customer service; or reimagining how we fight AIDS with (RED), a new way to do charity. We partner with ambitious leaders who want to be part of creating a fundamentally better world for people.

Given how essential communication is in our lives, in the last 20 years we’ve had the chance to partner with both telecoms and new disruptors in pivotal moments of change. In the 90s, we created the BT brand that lived as an identity mark for the giant utility. At the turn of the century we introduced brands with bold personality like Orange, Oi and EE. They marked a new era for telecoms, from state-led utilities to high-street retailers that brought the future of technology to the masses. The following years were a time for growing up. We helped telecom companies recreate their brands to deliver on a broader range of services, and we worked with some fast growing tech brands like Skype, Facebook and Google to make the transition into big-league disruptors. But given that the world today is more digital, mobile and interconnected than ever before, given that we expect connectivity and want to feel more, what will the new leap look like?

It seems that the world is yearning for something more radical – the next big leap. Telecoms are also shifting gears. Orange has taken a major leap forward by repositioning everything around what’s essential to customers, “Our priority is an incomparable customer experience.” (Orange, 2015). TeliaSonera is also evolving in a big way this year, bringing to life the New Generation Telco. Meanwhile, AT&T and Vonage, both major carriers in the US have just hired new CMOs to help change the way these businesses interact with customers. At Vonage it means embracing a new role and attitude in the world. “Everyone thinks of Vonage as a telco or a phone company - it’s really an Internet company that delivers communications service” said new CMO, Ted Gilvar. Meanwhile AT&T has its first change in CMO since 2007 with Lori Lee to pave the way for how AT&T offers a broader set of solutions whether in the home or through media and entertainment.

If the world is not waiting for another telecom though, what is it waiting for? What would we build?

What if telecoms were social and shareable, like Airbnb. The collective would own the networks and everyone would be their own hotspot. You could share your bandwidth when you weren’t using it and jump onto other people’s networks when you traveled. No more data or travel limitations.

What if telecoms were all about amazing customer service, like FirstDirect. They would be available 24/7, you could always speak with a human and everything would be delivered to you fast. There would be no stores, no physical SIM cards; everything would be accessed online and in the cloud.

What if telecoms were all about content on-demand, like Spotify. We would have access to the right level of content and services for your changing needs. We could access TV and music from across the world, store all of our data and get security guaranteed. You would get the services you wanted, when you wanted, the way you wanted. Whether you have five kids or live alone or whether you need extra bandwidth for long travel or to outfit your smart home.

What if telecoms were a smart layer, like Simple. Instead of telephone numbers for each device, everyone would have a personal marker that all their devices could ladder into. You could mark what you were contacting someone for: work, just to chat, emergency, etc. and the smart layer would pull up relevant information, a photograph, notes from your last talk or how you know each other. As our homes get smarter you could see all your consumption and movement habits, from energy usage to sleep patterns.

People are ready for something different, simpler, better. If telecoms are to remain relevant, they’ll need to focus on how to create experiences that make people’s lives feel better. It’s an exciting time to imagine the future and to think we haven’t even scratched the surface of this new world. 

Illustration by James Kape.

Marilyn Markman is Lead Strategist at Wolff Olins London. Follow her @marilynmarkman

Mexican indigenous groups form co-op phone company to serve 356 municipalities

Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias A.C. – a nonprofit telcoms company operated by and for indigenous groups in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz – has received a license to operate cellular services in at least 356 municipalities. It’s the first time the Mexican telcoms regulator has given a operations license to an indigenous social group.

TIC is the sequel to a network created by Rhizomatica, who installed internet-based telephony in remote communities serviced only by expensive payphones, lowering the cost of calls by as much as 98%. TIC is a co-op venture with Rhizomatica, and the communities it will serve with high-speed wireless telephony and internet connectivity are both underserved and overbilled by Mexico’s for-profit telcoms companies.

Time is running out for Net Neutrality in Europe: here's what you can do about it [PLEASE SHARE!]

The Net Neutrality fight in Europe epitomises everything wrong with the EU: a decision that will adversely effect the lives of hundreds of millions of people being taken by unelected bureaucrats, working in obscurity, attended by the well-paid lobbyists of the telcoms industry, which will only make continental headlines when it is a fair accompli.

The European Parliament – the elected part of the EU – voted in pretty good Net Neutrality rules. The European Commission – the unelected bureaucrats, who have a revolving door between regulating industries and getting high paid jobs in them, a rot that goes all the way to the top – are crafting rules that will let telcoms companies decide whether Europeans get to see the services they ask for quickly and efficiently, or whether the best quality of service will be reserved for online services that pay fat bribes to the carriers.

You have until July 18 to submit comments to the European Commissionon its Net Neutrality consultation. Let’s overwhelm them with comments from Europeans who want to have a network operated to their benefit – not one that uses Europeans as hostages, held to ransom by the carriers in their shakedown racket against online services.

BAN FAST LANES: Regulators need to close a loophole that could allow carriers to offer special “fast lanes” to normal websites and applications for a fee. The telecom companies that connect us to the Internet want the power to charge websites extra fees to reach people faster. In a world where some websites can pay telcos to be in the “fast lane,” anyone who can’t afford the extra fees – start-ups, small businesses, bloggers, artists, activists, and everyday Europeans – will be left behind in the slow lane. Innovation and economic growth will suffer, and Europeans will be left with an Internet that is less vibrant, less diverse, and less useful.

Europe’s net neutrality law stops telecom carriers from creating fast lanes online. But it contains an exception for “specialized services” that cannot work on the regular Internet. Carriers want to squeeze as much of a pay-to-play business model as they can into this exception, turning it into a giant loophole. Their stated goal: A world in which any application can buy a fast lane – not just those that could not function without it.

Regulators need to close this loophole by clarifying that the “specialized services” exception cannot be used to create fast lanes for normal Internet content. And they should regularly review what qualifies as a specialised service – remember that in the not too distant past, everyday services like web-based email or online video would have been seen as a specialized service!

BAN ZERO-RATING: Regulators need to ban harmful forms of zero-rating. Carriers want to be able to exempt certain favored applications from users’ monthly data caps, a practice called “zero-rating”.

Like fast lanes, zero-rating lets carriers pick winners and losers by making certain apps more attractive than others. And like fast lanes, zero-rating hurts users, innovation, competition, and creative expression. In advanced economies like those in the European Union, there is no argument for zero-rating as a potential onramp to the Internet for first-time users.

The draft guidelines acknowledge that zero-rating can be harmful, but they leave it to national regulators to evaluate zero-rating plans on a case-by-case basis. Letting national regulators address zero-rating case-by-case disadvantages Internet users, start-ups, and small businesses that do not have the time or resources to defend themselves against discriminatory zero-rating before 28 different regulators.

The guidelines need a comprehensive, Europe-wide ban on harmful forms of zero-rating.

BAN DISCRIMINATION: Regulators need to prevent carriers from discriminating among classes of traffic to manage their networks. Carriers would like to define classes of traffic to be sped up or slowed down, even in the absence of congestion. They say this will let them offer better quality Internet access. But class-based traffic management lets carriers discriminate against services at will. It allows carriers to distort competition, stifle innovation, and hurt users and providers who encrypt by putting all encrypted traffic in the slow lane.

The draft guidelines make clear that class-based traffic management can only be used as a last resort during exceptional or temporary congestion if less discriminatory methods cannot solve the problem. This is good, and ensures that the Internet remains a level playing field even during times of severe congestion.

But the guidelines are less clear for traffic management in the absence of congestion. This ambiguity could be misused as a loophole to allow carriers to discriminate in the name of addressing problems admittedly less severe than congestion, where discrimination can only be used as a last resort.

The draft guidelines should clarify that class-based traffic management can be used only if less discriminatory, application-agnostic methods cannot solve the problem, regardless of whether there is congestion or not.

PROTECT INTERNET ACCESS: Regulators need to prohibit new “specialized” services from taking over bandwidth that people bought to access the Internet. Carriers want to offer new kinds of “specialized” services that need special handling not available on the Internet. People would buy these services separately, in addition to their normal Internet access. Carriers find these services attractive because they can charge the providers of these services extra fees for special treatment.

The draft guidelines allow these specialized services to take away bandwidth from people’s Internet connection. In essence, telecom companies would take bandwidth that a customer bought to connect to the Internet and use it for a specialized service that the same person (and, potentially, the providers of these services) is paying for separately. That means people signing up for a specialized service would pay twice for the same bandwidth, and would have less bandwidth available for the websites and Internet apps of their choice. This harms people signing up for a specialized service, and makes it harder for Internet applications, content, and services to reach consumers.

The current version of the guidelines directly contradicts the law, which requires that specialized services be offered in addition to access to the Internet and must not reduce the quality of normal Internet access. Regulators need to correct the guidelines. [Sign up here]

Four Days to Save the Open Internet in Europe: An Open Letter [Tim Berners-Lee, Lawrence Lessig and Barbara van Schewick/Web Foundation]