Standardisation Isn’t Sexy, But It Is Important
Standardisation in food safety and civil aviation keeps us safe. In education, standardisation is essential for providing consistent learning experiences. And standardisation means wherever in the world you log in to Netflix you’ll have the same interface (if not always the same content).
Standardisation is also important for business, playing a vital role in ensuring that products made for one market can also be sold in another, with no, or minimal, modification to the production process. Without standardisation, in different markets, there would be vastly different, and inevitably poorer consumer experiences.
Standardisation forms a set of blueprints encouraging competition by creating a level playing field as well as helping markets innovate to meet evolving consumer needs. As technology in wide-ranging sectors develops, in many cases becoming increasingly dependent on each other, standardisation will impact innovation, security and tackling climate change.
To illustrate this, let’s look at the mobile industry, which has learned that cooperation and collaboration help everyone.
One of the key benefits of standardisation is that it allows for greater competition among manufacturers. When there are common standards in place, manufacturers don’t have to create proprietary technologies that might not be compatible with other devices. Instead, they can focus on differentiating their products through design, features and pricing.
Additionally, standardisation also allows developers to create new applications and services that can be used on multiple devices and networks. This leads to a more vibrant and diverse mobile ecosystem, with greater innovation, better products and more choices for consumers.
What’s more, operators can more easily expand their networks and reach new customers, especially in developing countries, by using standardised equipment and technologies. This can help to bridge the digital divide and bring mobile services to people who might not have had access to them otherwise.
As mobile technology penetrates deeper into these developing regions, we will see a wave of innovation, particularly from India and Africa. Using the building blocks created by standardisation, new services will be exponentially developed to solve regional challenges. These innovations will have an impact on other areas of the world where, due to global standards, they can be implemented with minimal friction.
However, it’s important that standards are not so strict that they slow down the pace of innovation. When manufacturers are required to conform to common standards, they may be less willing to take risks and try new ideas, leading to a lack of choice for consumers.
Over the next few years, standardisation in the mobile industry will be increasingly driven by security concerns. Mobile devices and networks are becoming increasingly interconnected and relied upon for sensitive personal and business information, making them a key component of national infrastructure.
One particular area of concern for mobile security is telehealth. The pandemic and resulting lockdowns created an unprecedented healthcare crisis. The surge in patients needing medical assistance led to greater transmission of the virus in hospitals and GP surgeries. Telehealth was adopted en masse to provide a measure of healthcare without the need for physical contact.
What resulted was a rapid development of a burgeoning telehealth market. Yet, confidentiality and security of patient information became limiting factors in the growth of telehealth services, incentivising new solutions and services that would meet demand.
By establishing standards for mobile device security, developers can more easily design and implement solutions that protect mobile devices against hacking and data breaches. This can include things like encryption, authentication, and access controls, which can help to protect devices from unauthorised access and secure new telehealth services.
The other key concern for mobile security is the Internet of Things (IoT) and the resulting threat to national security. You might wonder why any foreign government might want to gain access to, for example, your smart washing machine. But imagine the impact of millions of smart washing machines turning on at the exact same time – it would likely overload the national grid and potentially lead to a water shortage.
With common standards for mobile security, governments can manage national security by preventing the spread of malware across mobile devices through things like software updates, anti-virus software, and sandboxing.
Unfortunately, the mobile industry currently contributes around 3.5% of total global CO2 emissions. That’s double the emissions resulting from the aviation industry. As the industry continues to grow, so too will carbon emissions, unless we make some major changes.
Standardisation in the mobile operator market can play a significant role in helping to decarbonise the telecoms industry. By establishing common technical standards for the deployment and operation of mobile networks, standardisation can enable the development and deployment of more energy-efficient technologies and practices. These can include energy-efficient base stations, energy-saving modes for devices, and efficient use of spectrum.
Standardisation can also enable the development of new technologies and services that can help to reduce carbon emissions. For example, 5G enables technologies such as IoT and machine-to-machine communications, which can help to optimise energy use and improve resource efficiency in various industries such as agriculture, transportation and healthcare.
Additionally, as standardisation enables the development of new services for telework and telehealth, there becomes less need for travel, helping lower carbon emissions in other areas of daily life.
Over the next few years, we will see an increasing amount of new standards within the mobile industry specifically targeting carbon reduction. From those directly designed to help mobile operators find more energy-efficient ways of operating, to those that impact other areas of society.
Whatever your sector may be, your business will be dealing with standardisation in some form. The role it plays in reducing carbon or increasing security in your sector may be different from its impact within the mobile industry, but standardisation (and how you react to it) will influence innovation to a similar or greater extent; it is important that the right standards encourage, rather than restrict, innovation and cooperation.
Dario Betti is CEO of Mobile Ecosystem Forum, a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with members across the world.