The roll-out of 4G mobile networks will gather pace this year, promising higher speeds and lower latency, opening up new opportunities for mobile working and customer engagement.
But what does 4G mean for IT leaders and how can they cut through the hype before taking advantage of fast wireless connections in their IT strategy?
IT chiefs met at Computer Weekly's CW500 Club to discuss the impact of the arrival of the 4G network in the UK.
By the end of the year the UK should have widespread, near ubiquitous, very high-speed mobile networks, which is an opportunity for a lot of organisations, with the opportunity to better interact and serve customers as one of the key benefits expected.
The three speakers at CW500 Club work in sectors where mobile customer interaction and services are not only vital to the operation, but also provide competitive opportunities.
4G's role in customer loyalty
Katie Lips, head of digital strategy and innovation at Aimia - the company behind the Nectar loyalty scheme - initially admitted the company is not yet a user of 4G but said, with the plethora of mobile development going on within the business, it will come.
- Katie Lips, head of digital strategy and innovation at Aimia, which runs the Nectar loyalty management scheme
- Kevin O'Connor, CIO at business travel company Carlson Wagonlit
- Ben Carter, global head of digital for Betfair, which pioneered mobile in its market
She said a key part of her job is to look at mobile technologies and decide what is relevant to the company and its customers.
Updating the scheme in line with the latest technologies is not straightforward, however. “You can imagine the challenges of taking a 10-year-old loyalty scheme and reshaping it to take advantage of new technologies.”
Lips believes 4G will help improve the loyalty scheme by making the user experience better and encouraging people to do more online.
But she believes the real benefit from mobile and the ability to generate more data about customers is the ability to target appropriate offers at people.
“TV adverts kind of work, they are a bit annoying but not too disruptive. Online adverts are little bit awkward, and on mobile they are really annoying,” she said. “When we have so much data about what people are doing, why are we sent irrelevant adverts? 4G is an opportunity to improve this through more contextual advertising on mobile.”
Read more about Aimia
She said because 4G will encourage more people to do more things with their mobiles, retailers will be able to target users with the right offers at the right time. “You know where I am, who I am, you know something about me, perhaps where I am going and even what I am going to do.
“4G is not just about a faster connection, it is a bigger connection – and if loyalty is about the balance of customers giving data away to receive rewards, 4G is about making this connection bigger. This is near us and we are doing research into it,” she said.
4G fuels mobility in the travel industry
Kevin O'Connor, CIO at business travel company Carlson Wagonlit, said 4G delivers a richer experience, but does not really open any doors for the business.
He said tablet devices are creating the business opportunity, and that will be accelerated by 4G. "There are so many doors that are closed, we need to open more. Don’t do something new because of 4G, but if you are in the mobile space you must harness it,” said O'Connor.
He quoted research from Morgan Stanley which found that by the end of 2013 there will be more mobile tablets in use than desktops and laptops. “Any business should be focused on mobile,” he added.
Read more about Carlson Wagonlit Travel
Carlson Wagonlit Travel will use 4G to improve customer experience by giving them lots more information while they are on the move, as well as making offers to them while travelling, said O'Connor. Armed with a tablet device, business travellers will be able to make changes to their plans in real time, as well as access all the information they require as part of the Carlson Wagonlit service.
He said mobile devices and 4G make the role of CIO more business critical. “I am a CIO now running the most exciting part of the business [mobile].”
4G raises the stake in mobile betting
Ben Carter, global head of digital at Betfair, which pioneered mobile in its market, is excited about the opportunities 4G brings.
Through its matching engine, the company completes more transactions on a daily basis than the New York Stock Exchange. This system matches up bets from different members in the same way a stock exchange matches people selling shares to those wanting to buy them.
Mobile is a massive driver for Betfair’s business by introducing new customers, and therefore revenue streams, rather than increasing sales to existing customers.
“It is key to us because it brings in a different set of customer through more recreational betting,” he said. “Previously, you could only put a bet on in a bookmakers, then you could online, and now you can via mobile.”
He said all growth in sales being experienced by bookmakers currently is coming through the mobile channel.
“We were focused on trying to drive existing customers to mobile, but we realised we needed new customers because existing customers would go online eventually.” He said new customers are coming to mobile first.
Read more about Betfair
4G will again enable customers to do more on the move, which will allow Betfair to offer more betting opportunities. For example, Betfair can work out odds during a football game as the scoreline changes and people can make different bets throughout.
“I am really excited about 4G,” concluded Carter. A feeling shared by all the speakers, with 4G set to underpin their mobile products and services.