There’s a lot happening in digital communications this month with the GSMA’s annual Mobile World Congress event returning to Barcelona bigger, busier and healthier than it’s been for years. Jim Morrish, co-founder of analyst firm Transforma Insights tells IoT Now and VanillaPlus’s editorial director, Jeremy Cowan what to look out for at the world’s best tech show. Plus Jeremy gets ready for a busy retirement as an author, and hands over the Trending Tech Podcast mic to two enormous talents in the shape of Jim and his TI co-founder, Matt Hatton.
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Jeremy Cowan 00:01
Hi, and welcome to the latest Trending Tech Podcast brought to you by the team at www.IoT-Now.com , www.VanillaPlus.com , and The Evolving Enterprise which you will find at www.TheEE.ai. My name is Jeremy Cowan, I’m editorial director, and co-founder of these tech sites. And it’s great to have you with us. Today’s pod is just a little bit different because it begins the handover of a number of tasks from me to my good friend, Jim Morrish, of the digital transformation analysts, Transforma Insights (www.transformainsights.com). And by an amazing coincidence or superior planning, you work it out, Jim is our guest today. Jim, welcome.
Jim Morrish 00:48
Thanks, Jeremy. It’s good to be here.
Jeremy Cowan 00:50
Great. Good to have you. Now, there’s two things I want to discuss with you today of widely varying importance to the comms market, Jim. First things first, I wanted to get a heads up on what you think we can expect to see this year at Mobile World Congress, the annual Barcelona bunfight, which runs from I think, February 27th to March 2nd. What are you expecting to see there, Jim?
Jim Morrish 01:21
Well, there’s going to be a lot of change. And it is an annual bunfight, as you say, but it’s been missing for a couple of years, it was cancelled for a couple of years, and it was a bit low key last year. I think this is a reflection of a wider factor to be considered in the industry. We’ve had a few years where things have been quite quiet, people have been locked down, people haven’t been travelling and there’s been quite a lot of technological developments, the software has developed, the tools have developed. But the business propositions leveraging these new tools haven’t developed quite so quickly. So, there’s a bit of a COVID backlog to catch up on. So, I’m expecting a lot of change. Underlying that, I think there’s one key theme in there, it’s going to be a lot of migration to software, there’s gonna be lots of stories about services rather than assets. There’s going to be a lot of talk about 5G, which is really beginning to gain traction now, both in the both in public networks, private networks. And specifically in IoT (the Internet of Things), I think there’s going to be more of a focus on monetisation and tangible opportunities. Of course, the economic situation factors into this, but I think that the IoT industry as a whole is reaching a level of evolution where people want to see the money, they want to see the results. So, it’s about consolidation and delivering on real business, rather than blue sky thinking about potential as I say that the economic situation factors into that. So, it’s going to be a lot of innovation, and some pretty real and tangible messages, I think, coming out.
Jeremy Cowan 03:01
Do you think there’s any impact from the war in Europe?
Jim Morrish 03:03
I do. I mean, certainly that conflict has accelerated a number of aspects of IoT and technology deployment overall. And that’s something which also happened during the Coronavirus. So, there is more of a focus on moving things away from people doing those tasks and automating tasks because they are less dependent on people being present in a location, specifically as a result of the conflicts in Europe there’s a lot more focus now on the use of hydrocarbon fuels, on transition to renewables. And also on just running operations more efficiently. So, control of smart buildings, managing power consumption, etc. So there’s been quite a quite a lot of good well, acceleration, there are certain aspects of the market, some aspects of the market will have taken a hit just because there’s a downturn in the economic situation, people potentially not prepared to invest so much. But many of those IoT solutions, which are delivered to enable efficiency and cost reduction, and those two things tend to go hand in hand with reducing resource consumption, that those have taken a bit of a bump, there was a bit of acceleration there.
Jeremy Cowan 04:24
In previous years, there seems to have been a bit of a fixation amongst speakers and exhibitors on 5G, in particular the use cases or the need for proven use cases. Consumers don’t see it like that, obviously. What’s your expectation about this year? And dare I ask, are we about to be bombarded with a lot of information of dubious veracity about 6G?
Jim Morrish 04:51
Well, yes, probably yes to both. So, there’s going to be there’s going to be a lot of 5G around, a lot of 5G messages around. The reality is there’s not a lot of 5G out there at the moment. If I look at the forecast that we have, and the number of 5G non-mMTC connections – so that’s the higher speed connections, not the LPWA connections – you know at the end of 2022 that was about 1% of the installed base of all cellular connections. So, it’s still quite a small concept. There’s about another 500 million or 29% of IoT connections, or cellular IoT connections are the mMTC, LPWA-type 5G connection. So, it’s an early story. But there are definitely use cases. So, for instance, the GSMA has an initiative. They have a 5G transformation hub which illustrates a number of particularly interesting case studies that use 5G technologies.
And as for 6G, well, one day I guess. As yet, there’s no standard for what qualifies as 6G. Although that’s not necessarily held back the industry in the past where of course, LTE was branded as something like 3.95G and then rounded to 4G. So, we have found ways around that before. But right now, I think the industry is attempting to digest 5G, it’s still early days in that story. And there’s a lot of things that you can do with it. It’s particularly suitable for private networks. And it also enables the control to move out of the network and into the software managing the network. And that allows for a lot more flexibility. And this kind of trend towards software-centric service providers in the IoT space rather than necessarily what we had up until now is many providers essentially tied to hardware and building on that basis. So, there’s a long way to go with 5G, I think before we get to 6G.
Jeremy Cowan 06:56
About a decade ago, everyone claimed to have an M2M or machine-to-machine story and then that transitioned to claiming to have an IoT story, even when they really didn’t. Is it the same now with artificial intelligence and the metaverse? I’m sorry, if I sound like a cynical hack, but I am an elderly cynical hack.
Jim Morrish 07:18
I know, it seems reasonable. And by the way, somewhere in there blockchain came and went. (Laughter) So yes, we should definitely expect to hear a lot about AI and the metaverse. But this is always going to be the way; the industry’s press and conversation and buzz tends to pick up on the new technologies. So, sprinkling a little pixie dust never hurts for these vendors. What is often left behind though, as a legacy is often very tangible. IoT now is a real and very significant thing. It’s a highly impactful thing, which is coming of age. Similarly, AI will find itself embedded in all sorts of devices and enterprises processes over the next decade. Even metaverse, if you can put to one side for a moment the image of legless avatars, it can be a very significant technology. There’s a lot of potential for VR, and particularly AR in enterprise context. So, for example, take VR, there’s a company called Northdocks (https://northdocks.com/) in Germany. They’ve created an ultra-detailed digital twin of Cologne Cathedral using 5G connected drones. That’s a great asset for the stonemasons renovating the building. It avoids the need for scaffolding and allows them views from places which would have been previously inaccessible. Or AR, where, for example, you’ve got PTC’s Vuforia Chalk allows remote experts to provide AR guidance to field engineers. So, there are some really tangible things that set under that metaverse buzz.
Jeremy Cowan 10:17
The last thing I wanted to ask you about in this particular regard for MWC; do you think that as an industry, we’re shifting our focus quickly enough from the technological innovation that has really been front and centre of everything we’ve done and has always been exciting to watch, through to the human impacts and changes in society like ESG?
Jim Morrish 10:45
So, this is a tough one. And definitely, it’s something that I spend some significant time thinking about, you know. We are definitely shifting focus. But there’s a real question over whether that’s happening fast enough and how it can happen successfully. So, it’s encouraging, for example, to see the work taking place to develop the EU‘s AI Act. But there’s real questions whether that will prove to be a handicap when competing with the USA and Asian countries, or whether it will prove to be a benefit. It’s hard to call at this point. But certainly it to some extent restricts the potential of what can be done with new technologies. And I think there’s a wider challenge here. And, and it’s one of ambition, because I think when many folks set out to regulate or to govern these industries it’s, for example, seeking to regulate AI to meet some ideal standards. But you know, it can be proven, for example, that’s impossible for machine algorithms to be fair in all contexts, because different people have different definitions of fair. And there’s a great example of this. Where in a concept of correctional offender profiling in the USA, and this is basically assessing convicts, prisoners on the basis of their probability to reoffend whilst they’re out on licence before they’ve been sentenced. The specific challenge there was to assess the risk of reoffending and rate prisoners of different racial groups fairly, whilst also ensuring that the risk assessments assigned to individual prisoners are accurate. And some research has focused on this and they came to the conclusion, and they claim to have proven mathematically that it is impossible to satisfy both of these goals at the same time. And in many ways, for us to ensure that technological innovation reflects the kind of society that we want, we first need to decide what we want society to look like, and then have technology reflect that. And we’ve not done that first piece yet. Which makes it something of a problem to really define, ideally what we want the technology to achieve, because we haven’t assigned quite what we want society to be yet.
And I’ll take a much more simple example that doesn’t really get to troubling the dynamics of society. But take a simple example, which I think illustrates the point about the problems of migrating traditional approaches to things into a technological environment. If you consider a legal document of 20 pages or something, a 20-page contract, and there’s a last page on that, which is a signature page, you could sign that signature page. And quite often these documents are loose leaf, there’s nothing to associate that signed page with the first 20 pages. Now, that is an incredibly insecure way of certifying legal document, it would never be allowed in a technological system. So in many ways, you have this problem of fixing some of the problems and some of the challenges, which is just accepted as part of day to day life when you decide to render something as a system. And that is one of the significant challenges which underlies this consideration, that we need to do the way that we we regulate technology to ensure it’s consistent with what he wants to achieve with society.
Jeremy Cowan 14:31
Well, I think that’s fascinating. Jim, I know when I’m in Barcelona, how to find the coffees and I know where at the end of the day to find the beers, but I’m not sure where I’ll find you. So, where might our listeners find you if they want pick up on any of these points or have a wider chat?
Jim Morrish 14:52
Well, probably the best way is to is to send through an email and arrange something. I tend to spend my time at Mobile World Congress trooping round from one booth to another, between various vendors and various interesting companies that are exhibiting there. Being a small company, we don’t have our own booth. And that results in a lot of mileage in tracking all the installations of all the people we want to meet. So, I have kind of a virtual presence across the organisation – but available on email, and happy to meet with anyone who might be there.
Jeremy Cowan 15:35
Great. And your website if people want to email you?
Jim Morrish 15:38
Transformainsights.com. Probably best to reach out to email@example.com which will come to me and also Matt, my co-founder.
Jeremy Cowan 15:48
Well, look, best of luck with the foot slog round Barcelona. It’s always exciting. It’s always fascinating. And I love those sort of occasional moments when you meet people you totally weren’t expecting, to learn things from, and you do. And I may well see you there.
As I said earlier, there’s a much less important thing to discuss today in the podcast, and that is that after 27 years covering the communications sector, I’m retiring this year, which has implications for you, Jim. So, following a decade or more reporting on … well, it’s been quite a journey; shipping and transport, healthcare and parenting, then defence, and manufacturing, I found myself managing an immensely talented team of telecoms journalists producing 13 magazines, including the likes of Mobile Europe and Communications News. And I inherited an amazing team that included writers and influencers. And I say that in the kindest, best sense, people like Keith Dyer, Justin Springham, and Peter Sayer, all of whom have gone on to bigger and better things in the communications industry.
For decades, the communications sector has had the power, but I suppose you could probably say the responsibility to change the world, because it can. It is unlike any industry I’ve worked in before. So, when the opportunity arose to launch a telecom software magazine of my own, in 1999, called VanillaPlus, I grabbed it. And 24 years later, thanks to the energy and outright creativity of my past and present, co-directors like Natalie Millar, Cherisse, Jameson, and Charlie Bisnar, it’s still growing. Over the years, we’ve added other successful communications brands like IoT Now, IoT Global Network, and most recently The Evolving Enterprise, which covers all things around artificial intelligence and a lot more besides. So, now seems a really good time for me to step back and let a new generation show what they can do. So, I’m going to be retiring later this year. And I am absolutely delighted to say that Jim Morrish here, along with support from his TI co-founder, the excellent Matt Hatton will be taking over as webinar moderators and podcast hosts on this site. So, follow them here and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.
Jim, while I’ve got you, what changes to these IoT and communications pods and webinars can we expect to see under your guidance?
Jim Morrish 18:43
Well, thank you, Jeremy. Firstly, again, it’s an honour and a privilege to be to be invited to take this over. You’ve established many brands, and clearly there’s a significant following to these podcasts and webinars and so on. So, it is it is a privilege to be taking the baton. So, thank you for your kind invitation. In terms of what happens next, I am anticipating that things will continue in much the same way they have up until now. My philosophy, I think, is not to change something that seems to be working well. So, I think it’s going to be more of the same, discussions with various industry luminaries, trying to focus on particularly impactful technologies or new announcements or new propositions, and trying to identify those real world impacts of technology and tangible benefits and the real challenges, and filter out some of that noise. Some of the pixie dust I referred to earlier, and actually cut through some of that to what actually matters.
Jeremy Cowan 19:47
Because there is a lot of noise in this industry and filtering it out is what editors are there to do. Social media doesn’t do that. It just allows everyone to shout louder. So, you know, we’ll be relying on your good sense and your experience.
Jim Morrish 20:04
Absolutely, definitely. I think there is a key role to play that filtering and just highlighting the bits of a message that actually do matter. What is noise and what has been spun in a way, which is ultimately divorced from the underlying capability or the underlying proposition and just, as you say, cutting through that noise. But also some of the softer things that we were discussing in terms of the impact of humanity and society, and the way we live our lives. I think taking a little time to focus on that, and how technology fits into that and how technology enables that. And the implications both ways from, from technology to how society should be run, and how technology should be viewed in the context of society. I think taking a little time to do that would be beneficial as well. These are the kind of things that tend to figure less frequently in vendor press announcements and industry initiatives. So, I think it’s worth specifically ring-fencing a little time to talk about those kinds of things.
Jeremy Cowan 21:09
Yeah. Just broadly, what do you think is the role of podcasts and webinars today?
Jim Morrish 21:14
Well, I think it’s many of the things we were just discussing there, Jeremy, in terms of, you’re trying to distil down, you know, what can seem like a lot of noise. Lots of announcements, lots of vendors, lots of publicity, talking and shouting about many different things that are happening. But actually drawing some of those together and saying, ‘Well, hang on, there’s a fewthings happening in these different places and they’re kind of consistent, and what that means for the overall direction of the market is …’ and then whatever it is. And just drawing out those key messages from the noise. And particularly in the context of webinars and podcasts, I mean podcasts have the ability to fit into a listeners’ life in the way that many other media formats don’t. And webinars, there are many of them around but actually, they’re a pretty good vehicle for communicating new technologies ornew capabilities, new propositions. I’ve quite often attended some really quite interesting webinars, and you can learn a lot about new and innovative companies that way.
Jeremy Cowan 22:27
I love the way that they pack in an awful lot of information in a short amount of time, you can access them whenever you want to. So, if you’re busy at the time of recording and broadcast it, so doesn’t matter. You just get it later to enjoy on the train or in the bath, or wherever you choose. And the great thing is I think that the audience, we rely so much on the audience, as well as the other speakers to keep it all honest. So, you know, yes, sometimes, because these things are sponsored, there is always the concern that you’re only getting one view, but the audience are brilliant at drilling down through that and making sure that all aspects of a question or of a topic get analysed. And, you know, we’re immensely grateful to ours.
Jim Morrish 23:16
Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. But, just on a slightly different topic, and as the as the baton hands to me, and it starts to be me asking the questions. My first question, Jeremy, I think would be, ‘What are you planning to do with your retirement?’
Jeremy Cowan 23:34
It’s kind of you to ask, Jim. I want to do a bit more writing. It sounds like a busman’s holiday because what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years is writing. But I enjoyed enormously putting together a novel and publishing that few years ago, called The Tin Soldiers, which was about conflict minerals and modern slavery. (The Tin Soldiers, Austin Macauley, 2018). And I enjoyed it so much, not just the writing, but the research that I plan to do that again, and I already have a couple of works on the go, plus a historical novel that I want to do for a totally divergent view. So, I think it’ll be a bit of fun and it will keep me busy. It’ll certainly keep me out of my wife’s hair.
Jim Morrish 24:17
Okay. And any indication on what those topics are? I mean, conflict minerals could be a topic worth expanding on as we adopt more and more EVs (electric vehicles) and we’re hunting for those raw materials.
Jeremy Cowan 24:34
Yeah, the first book that I have in mind is a historical novel, which is about the last days of the artist Caravaggio and his death, because there’s an aspect of it that I don’t think has been well explored. But perhaps more related to the conflict minerals, the second book that I want to do is looking at other materials that are exported and mishandled. And I can’t go into too much detail at the moment, but it will be very topical because it’s in the news right now. And I intend to get on with it as fast as I can. So, yeah, watch out for something by JJ Cowan.
Jim Morrish 25:16
Absolutely, we’ll invite you back to talk about that. I agree that that’s a very, very topical subject.
Jeremy Cowan 25:23
Thank you. So, I think, on that note, and thank you for your kind interest, you can count on me as a listener for where we’re going next with this podcast. And I know you and Matt will just bring an enviable depth of analysis and experience to this, as well as some, I’m sure very interesting contacts. I really can’t think of a safer couple of pairs of hands. Anyway, that’s it for us today. I’ll still be grabbing the mic occasionally before I go, if people will let me. And I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at Mobile World Congress later this month and other events for a few months more. So, until then, it’s bye from Jim.
Jim Morrish 26:09
Jeremy Cowan 26:11
And it’s bye from me. Bye for now.