Jun 012017

As always Mary Meeker’s State of the Internet report hits us with mass of information, this year compressed onto a 355 slide Powerpoint presentation.

There’s a wealth of detail in the report but two big trends stood out – that global internet advertising spend will overtake TV ad revenues and music industry revenues have reversed a 16 year decline as subscription services gain market share.

Subscriptions becoming the main revenue source for music companies suggests ]new internet business models are slowly evolving although how that lessons can be applied to other industries remains to be seen.

In the world of advertising, that online is now attracting a greater spend than TV is a major milestone in the shifting marketplace. Although Facebook and Google’s dominance – Meeker estimates 85% of revenue growth is going to the two companies – will present challenge to advertisers and agencies.

Also notable is how mobile revenues and handset sales are slightly better than flat, indicating the biggest market of last decade is now mature.

There’s many other insights in this report so it’s worth spending a few hours on it to reflect on how some of these trends may affect your industry.

May 222017

“I stand before you as a failure,” was how I opened my presentation at the Talking Justice conference last weekend. “If I were giving this talk ten or fifteen years ago, I’d have described how the web and social media were going to usher in a new era of democracy and accountability.”

“Like most of the cyber utopians, I was very, very wrong.”

Basically we were wrong because we didn’t see how the internet would concentrate rather than diffuse power or the extent of how new gatekeepers and monopolies would be replaced the old ones.

My friends and I were not alone, in a somewhat rambling interview with the New York Times Twitter co-founder Evan Williams describes how “the internet is broken” and how he thought the messaging service could make the world better.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Mr. Williams says. “I was wrong about that.”

Instead Twitter has become home to trolls, harassment and misinformation, something that saddens Williams and most of us who thought the web would bring about a more open and fair society.

Hope isn’t completely gone though, we are still in the early days of social media and the internet so the current trends may only be a transition effect as audiences, markets, regulators and the community get to grips with the new medium.

There’s also Amara’s law which states we overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

So it’s best to be a pessimistic optimist where one accepts in the short run things are dire but over time things will turn out well.

We can only hope.

Feb 152017
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

If you missed the show, you can listen through the ABC Nightlife website. Sadly we didn’t get to half the topics but our callers, as well as the NBN PR guy, were fabulous.

Paul Wallbank joins Phillip Clark on ABC Nightlife across Australia from 10pm Australian Eastern time on Thursday, February 16 to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

Last week the NBN announced a third of the country was now covered by their services and the company’s CEO, Bill Morrow, said Australians really don’t want super fast internet. A few weeks before, Telstra announced a new service that will deliver gigabit broadband over their mobile network. We can expect their competitors to offer similar products soon.
At the same time we’re seeing a blast from the past as Nokia are rumoured to be soon releasing an updated version of their classic 3310 phone – are we going to see the ‘tradie phone’ making a comeback?
While the old phone is nice, many people need fast broadband so how is the NBN going and, if you can’t get it, what can you do? Some of the questions
  • So how is the NBN going?
  • Wasn’t the government’s revised plan going to mean the whole thing is going to be cheaper and faster than the original project?
  • Who can get it?
  • Is it as good as promised?
  • So what alternatives to the NBN are there?
  • Doing the sums on those mobile plans, using them can be a pretty expensive business?
  • It seems we’re going backwards. How does Australian broadband compare globally?
  • How is this affecting regional communities and businesses?

Join us

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Australian Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Feb 012017

Yesterday communications vendors Qualcomm, Netgear, Ericsson and Telstra, unveiled their Australian gigabit LTE service that gives users high speed internet connections over the 4G mobile network.

Billed as a world’s first, Telstra will offer customers the Netgear supplied hotspots that can connect up to twenty devices over WiFi.

Listening to the Telstra spiel yesterday, it wasn’t hard to conclude the company is making a pitch for the market frustrated by the National Broadband Network’s tardy rollout and patchy service.

The service doesn’t come cheap though, as Finder’s Alex Kidman points out, an hour’s movie streaming on one device could easily cost $4500 dollars on Telstra’s current plans with one of the company’s executives emphasising the product is “aimed at the premium end of the market.”

Being aimed at the premium end of the market is shame for Qualcomm as their spokespeople were keen to show off the gaming, AR and VR potential of the Snapdragon CPUs driving these devices. It would be a brave or very affluent family that bought one of these devices for their kids given the data costs.

While the Telstra Gigabit LTE service might be an NBN replacement for deep pocketed customers, telco veteran John Lindsay points out the mobile network can’t support too many people doing so unless many more cells are deployed.

For the moment the Telstra service is going to be attractive for companies needing high speed. low volume connections in the central business district and as the gigabit LTE upgrades roll out across the country, it will be useful for travellers as well as frustrated NBN customers.

Ultimately the gigabit LTE product is another step toward the 5G networks that we’ll be seeing appear at the end of the decade, something that both the Ericsson and Telstra PR folk were keen to highlight.

The key message for consumers and businesses is the rate of innovation in the mobile communications market is not slowing and another generation of connected devices is coming that will change things as dramatically as the smartphone did.

Jan 292017

Internet and electronic games addiction is a problem that regularly surfaces in the media. In 2015 a Taiwanese man died after three solid days of gaming while in 2010 a South Korean couple allowed their three month child to starve while they concentrated on playing with a virtual child.

Some Chinese families have taken to dispatching their kids to boot camps to cure their addictions with the New York Times reporting how some are resorting to electrotherapy treatments to wean children off games and the web.

Three years ago the Times posted a fascinating and somewhat distressing video story on those Chinese boot camps with tearful teenage boys writing letters home telling their parents how they felt betrayed.

More telling are the comments by the Addiction Specialist Director of the Daixing rehabilitation camp, Tao Ran, who believes the parents are responsible for what their children’s addiction to what he calls ‘electronic heroin’.

“One of the biggest issues among these kids is loneliness,” he tells a parent group. “Did you know they feel lonely? So where do they look for companions? The Internet.”

The problem of internet and electronic game addiction is real – exacerbated by the incentives for developers and social media sites to maximise the time users spend on their platforms.

It’s also not just an issue for parents and children. For adults and business owners the lost time, productivity and health issues of spending too much time behind the computer are immense – not to mention the distorted view of the world that comes from a narrow slice of information and opinion.

While electroshock therapy certainly isn’t the answer, we do need to be asking questions about responsible and safe use of computers and the internet.

The Chinese response is an extreme, and probably unworkable, solution to the problem of electronic addictions however we will have to find ways to manage it.

Jan 162017

Should a business spend a lot of time on its digital strategy? A recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests many businesses, and consultants, are focusing too much on the technology.

Freek Vermeulen, an Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, describes how strategists may be making a mistake in responding to digital disruption. He argues many industries are learning the wrong lessons from disruptors like Amazon, Uber and Google.

In Vermeulan’s view, the world is not a globalised as we’d like to think and the network effects that work so well in internet based industries don’t necessarily translate to other sectors.

As a consequence, businesses that work on the assumption their industries will be affect the same way as, say, the taxi industry with Uber or newspapers by Google and Facebook may well be making their own strategic mistakes.

Digital is changing the nature of competitive advantage in many businesses – just like major technological developments have done before. However, the change will not be uniform across all industries. Digital technology is affecting and will affect different businesses in different ways. Miss these nuances and your strategic decisions could lead you seriously astray.

That’s certainly true and how technology or a rapidly changing economy affects each industry, or business, is far from uniform.

One of the case studies Vermeulan uses is that of a consulting firm that has largely eschewed digital platforms and focused on its human assets – primarily the skills and connections of its associates and staff.

While that’s undoubtedly true of all consulting businesses to some degree, the use of digital tools and marketing is changing that industry dramatically as well.

Vermeulan is right in that some industries may want to respond more slowly than others to digital or economic changes, however a business that disregards them or reacts too slowly may not know what hit it.

Dec 132016
Does the digital divide really exist

Earlier this year, Telstra released the Digital Inclusion Index along with its report on measuring Australia’s digital divide.

Last week in Sydney the company hosted a half day conference to look at the ramifications of the 2016 report.

Overall the report was good news with most indicators showing improvements although the gap between the connected and the most disadvantaged has widened since the first index was compiled in 2014.

In general, wealthier, younger, more educated, and urban Australians enjoy much greater inclusion. All over the country, digital inclusion rates are clearly influenced by differences in income, educational attainment, and the geography of socioeconomic disadvantage. And over time, some Australian communities are falling further behind.

The one factor the survey found that is declining nationally is affordability which the authors put down to Australians’ increasing reliance on the internet.

The Affordability measure is the only dimension to have registered a decline since 2014, but this outcome does not simply reflect rising costs. In fact, internet services are becoming comparatively less expensive – but at the same time, Australians are spending more on them.

Sadly affordability isn’t going to improve should the government’s proposed broadband levy of seven dollars a month become reality to subsidise rural users.

That such a levy would be proposed by a government that was opposed to a National Broadband Network and to ‘Big New Taxes’ while in opposition is an irony left for Australian political historians to discuss but it shows how comprehensively the NBN project has failed.

Even sadder is the NBN  isn’t delivering for businesses as it increasingly becomes apparent the network being built will struggle to deliver 21st Century services to most of the nation.

That businesses are struggling to connect emphasises just how serious the digital divide is becoming for the economy – as supply chains in every industry become increasingly globalised regions that aren’t connected risk being isolated from their markets.

Policy makers have to consider the costs of those communities and groups being isolated from the modern economy. If we are going to be serious about building a twenty-first century society then we have to consider how disadvantaged groups and regions access global networks as well as making sure they have the skills to benefit from these technologies.

Mapping the areas of the disadvantage is a good first step but we have to look at how we address the segments of our society that are being left behind.