Monday, June 10, 2013

Media: Why Broadcasting is Needed in Emergencies

The aftermath of the Boston bombings. Creative Commons licenced by Hahatango.

When do you need information the most? In an emergency. The problem is only that your preferred means of communication is unlikely to work. Your smartphone. Which without a connection to the outside world is as dumb as your high school calculator.


Because mobile internet and other telecommunication will stop working very soon after emergencies. That is because they are not designed nor capable to handle a surge in usage. The two-way networks "fill up" when disaster strikes and everyone therefore simultaneously tries to access information or to get in touch with loved ones.

To relay essential and possibly life saving information to the public, a robust one-way broadcasting network is needed. It does not go down in case of heavy usage, and it is the perfect backup. Given that people have receivers available, of course. Do they? Currently to a certain degree thanks to built-in FM radio in mobile phones. In the near future we will see smartphones with built-in digital broadcasting receivers. In over 40 countries in the world that means DAB+ (digital radio), in some countries also DMB (mobile TV).

Why is digital broadcasting needed in case of emergencies like the bombs in Boston?
1. A separate network can cope with extreme demand from "everyone" at the same time.
2. A one-way network is virtually hack-free, something that increases safety and robustness.
3. Mobile network operators will not have to answer to critisism by governments or families of victims as they offer information via a "backup" network even when the mobile internet goes down.
4. Broadcasting networks are designed in such a way that they can "wake up" a device that has been switched off in case of extreme emergencies. That provides information to people that may otherwise not get it.
5. Broadcasting networks can be used to distribute text messages, maps and other graphical information of high value in a calamity. In addition to traditional radio and television.
6. Broadcasting can easily be combined with mobile internet to ensure two-way communication. This is typically done in an app, and you as a consumer may not know, or care, whether broadcasting or mobile internet is used for whichever service you require.
7. That the mobile internet is used less for synchronous information such as live radio and television also minimizes the risk of the mobile internet falling down in the first place. A broadcasting chip inside a phone will in other words help offload the telecom networks.

But where are the phones?
This is a good question. MNOs do as a rule want to "own" all distribution to and from a mobile phone. The customer is theirs, they claim. They have been able to maintain that position for years as they have owned the pipe (the distribution) and comtrolled the applications on the phone. I believe that MNOs now see the value of such smartphones and that we will soon see them on shop shelves.

Why?

New ecosystems have changed the ball game. Now anyone can download any app and use it via a Wi-Fi zone not controlled by the MNOs.

The fact that the pipes are filling up also creates some boardroom noise. MNOs now seek to offload their telecom networks. That can be done through establishing Wi-Fi spots in crowded areas such as stadiums, shopping centers and main streets. It can also be done through introducing smartphones with built-in broadcasting chipsets, such as DAB+. This naturally generates less traffic on the telecom networks, something which increases QoS for all asynchronous services. Checking emails and updating statuses on social media will be fast and fun again, not increasingly slow and frustrating.

Apps that seamlessly combine broadcasting and the internet furthermore open up for new business models. MNOs can benefit from new revenues thanks to touch screen shopping, sale of music, sharing of opinions with your friends and interactivity as a part of your favourite programs - all while listening to broadcasted radio or watching mobile television. The combination of technologies also offer a huge potential for new and innovative services and new business models.

Such smartphones will also be more attractive to customers, thanks to the added functionality. Especially since the add-ons are services that have been proven to be successful through years and years. Radio and television still rules.

MNOs will finally benefit from joint marketing with broadcasters. Both industries, and third parties that make apps and services, will see new opportunities in devices that are smarter than today's smartphones. Even if the internet connection to them goes down during a disaster or a big event.

Lean forward
It is a better move for mobile network operatorss, smartphone manufacturers and broadcasters to work together on launching DAB+ and DMB enabled smartphones now than having such functionalities mandated by governments in the future. Forward leaning organizations are usually more appealing and successful than backward leaning ones.

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