Innovation is truly a puzzling buzzword which many people love to hate. Every business leader agrees that it is important, yet nobody can quite seem to agree on what it actually is. A quick Google search for the definition of innovation doesn’t help much, listing millions of results with countless definitions. Google’s own definition is pretty vague in itself: “the action or process of innovating.”
Everybody formulates their own definition of innovation. Personally, I view it as the introduction of new products, services, processes, systems or practices that add value to the organisation. Adopting an innovative approach to my work was not a choice; it was a necessity in the ever-changing industry of telecommunications – even more so at a global company such as Vodafone.
Telecommunications technology touches every aspect of our lives. It affects the way we do business, the way we govern ourselves and the way we keep in touch with those we love. The vast improvements in semiconductors and digital electronics have dramatically changed the telecommunications landscape over the last 20 years. Products and services continuously improve as a consequence of significant, sustained and rapid innovation.
Before the emergence of the Internet and other data networks, telecommunications had a clear meaning: the telephone (and, earlier, the telegraph) was an application of technology that allowed people to communicate at a distance by voice (and earlier by encoded electronic signals).
Today, through innovation, telecommunications have expanded to include data transport, video conferencing, e-mail, instant messaging, web browsing, and various forms of distributed collaboration. These are enabled by transmission media that has also expanded from traditional copper wires to include microwave, terrestrial wireless, satellite, hybrid fiber/coaxial cable and broadband fiber transport.
However, this is not enough. With customer expectations rising exponentially, coupled with the need to differentiate from competition, constant innovation is crucial to the longevity of any company. In fact, all of the above technologies have now matured. Instead, the cellular network has become a platform on which to build future innovations. Internet of Things (IoT) is one such innovation but there are many more. We are now seeing the rise of blockchain, digital twins, autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality, drones and others.
Yet there is another angle to innovation - the evolution of cellular networks. The telecommunications industry is now squarely focused on the next generation of mobile communication – 5G connectivity. 5G promises to be much faster than the existing 4G standard and could be rolled out as soon as 2020. Not only does 5G have the potential to boost efficiency and unleash the potential of automation, but it will also enable the development of emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality.
Whilst 5G is still somewhat distant, another new cellular network is right around the corner. This technology is called Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) and has been recently launched for the first time in Malta by Vodafone. NB-IoT provides connectivity for IoT applications requiring low data transfer and long battery life, where devices connect and interact with the Internet. Devices are equipped with sensors used to monitor and collect data, which is then transmitted over the NB-IoT network and stored on a server. The data can then be managed and converted into information which can be visualised through dashboards in apps or websites. The applications of NB-IoT are endless, ranging from monitoring patients to intelligent parking and efficient street lighting.
The intensity of competition combined with strong demand is a major driver of innovation. Every organisation and business is feeling the impact of globalisation, migration and the acceleration of technological revolutions. Innovation is improving people’s quality of life and making the world a better place. The future is exciting. Ready?