The morning of Tuesday June 13th 2017. Over in the USA, it was announced by all national press outlets and appeared as a leading report on almost all of the TV breakfast shows that the Golden State Warriors had won their second National Basketball Association (NBA) title in three years, late that Monday night, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-120. A few not so newsworthy political developments across the globe. Other than that, nothing of global interest reported, right? Well, there wasn’t but most definitely should have been…

On this day a couple of years ago, the Director General of the GSM Association (GSMA) Mats Granryd announced that according to real-time data from GSMA Intelligence (the research arm of the GSMA), the world’s mobile industry had signed up its 5 billionth unique mobile subscriber. The 5 billion milestone meant that more than two-thirds of the global population was connected to a mobile service. Looking at the detail of the announcement, the most amazing aspect for me was the fact that it had taken only four years to add the last one billion subscribers. That equates to over 30 per second. Although growth has slowed somewhat more recently and is running at just under 4% year-on-year right now, it is still very much on the up.

Take together the increasing coverage and penetration mobile network operators (MNOs) are providing through their huge investments in spectrum and network infrastructure, and the rapid adoption of internet access globally (facilitated via increasingly easy to use mobile devices) and you have a couple of the key factors driving the phenomenon of the hyper-connected world many of us find ourselves living in today. It is an oft-forgotten fact that there are though several billion people out there yet to be connected to our world of mobile engagement so there is still much to be done by all of us and it is way too early to break out the champagne and congratulate ourselves on a job well done when it comes to connecting the unconnected.

MNOs have become the bedrock upon which the world of Application-to-Person (A2P) mobile engagement as we know it exists and continues to be built upon. Operators service billions of subscribers. Without them there simply wouldn’t be much of the infrastructure required to deliver the valuable Marketing and Transactional related content people want and expect to receive, all in a timely fashion. There are over 1,000 MNOs worldwide today but where did they all come from? After all, as the famous Chinese proverb states, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Before 1973, mobile telephony was limited to phones installed in cars and other vehicles.True mobile phones. Motorola was the first company to produce a handheld mobile phone and on April 3rd 1973 a senior researcher and executive, Martin Cooper, made the first mobile telephone call from handheld subscriber equipment, placing a call to Dr. Joel Engel of Bell Labs – his rival!

The first commercially automated cellular network (1G) was launched in Japan by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in 1979. The initial launch network covered the full metropolitan area of Tokyo’s over 20 million inhabitants and within five years had been expanded to cover the whole population of Japan, becoming the first nationwide 1G network globally. Several other countries also launched 1G networks in the early 1980s, including the UK, Mexico and Canada. In 1991 the first GSM network was launched by Radiolinja (now known as Elisa), in Finland. That was 2G. Fast forward to today and countries are scrambling to launch 5G, over which it is technically possible to download a two-hour movie in 3.6 seconds. 6 minutes with 4G. You get the picture. These are some serious leaps forward in technology.

Whilst the world of mobile data is taking much of the limelight and indeed focus of MNOs, SMS remains the only truly ubiquitous mobile content delivery channel out there proven consistently to drive super high client engagement levels. We are seeing our Enterprise clients demanding more truly direct SMS connectivity with operators globally and so are continuing to invest in our program, expanding our number of direct A2P SMS operator connections.

Operators are increasingly switching on to the benefits a proactive stance towards A2P SMS can have. With our help, they are monetizing it and ensuring the channel remains clean by limiting unsolicited traffic, something more commonly known as spam. There is much work to be done in this area globally though.

Mobile network operators who do understand A2P SMS appear to be almost exclusively focused on the inbound A2P SMS side of things only though, traffic heading to their subscribers. They however would benefit greatly on so many levels if they engaged heavily in the Enterprise focused, outbound side of things more themselves as well. The process of achieving all of this can be accelerated greatly though through partnerships with the likes of Mitto.

MNOs have a leadership role to play in the transformation of the industry, especially with the inevitable changes that are going to occur in the fixed network. Fixed operators need to decide how to proceed beyond the copper or the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks. Fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-curb are the most likely options here and 5G is one of the options to drive proper high-speed broadband into people’s homes. A holistic approach will be needed instead of one that is aimed at protecting a sharp divide between mobile and fixed networks. Whichever path an MNO chooses, the next few years are sure to be very interesting.

The Carrier Relations team here at Mitto look forward to forging even closer links with our existing operator partners and expanding our connectivity network yet further. To that end, we look forward to meeting many of you in person in International Telecoms Week’s (ITW) new home of Atlanta, starting Sunday June 23rd! Safe travels and see you there.