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Do You Know The Secret Of Network Apps?
I was chatting with a friend the other morning and he told me he'd just seen the dawn of a new era. I couldn't wait to hear about it! Apparently, his alarm clock had gone off 20 minutes early, and on the screen was a message: "We've noticed trains are disrupted today so we took the liberty of waking you 20 minutes early. I hope this is OK with you." His mobile phone had just become intelligent! This is an example of network intelligence, where something in the network takes action on your behalf. This is going to change our lives. #Promise.
We've just lived through the age of the app. Millions of mobile apps have been written for smartphones doing all sorts of useful jobs from checking rail timetables to allowing people to spend endless hours lining up jelly beans, which is apparently very calming... But, as the mobile networks get faster and more reliable a new type of application is emerging - the network app.
These applications reside on servers in the network. Sometimes they interact with applications on your phone but often they sit invisibly in the communication stream until you need them. The first and most widely deployed network applications are passive applications.
Truphone, the company I founded, has a large business in mobile voice recording which is performed by a passive network application. This 'app' (there's no special name for them yet and I am not sure 'napp' will take off) takes a copy of the call you are on and sends it to a secure recording device in a bank's vault. Because the app is in the network it requires no download and is invisible to the users.
In India, for example, network applications have become big business, simply because there are fewer smartphones. One application allows people to buy consultation with a doctor in five minute chunks, another to negotiate forward contracts for their produce and many apps allow people to keep up with the national obsession, cricket.
All these applications run in the network and use USSD, SMS and voice as their human interface rather than the large full screen touch interfaces of smart phones.
The reliance on a voice interface makes this approach very applicable to the connected car environment where drivers cannot take their eyes off the wheel to check and tap around complex UIs. There are many situations where this might apply, meaning network apps are going to grow fast over the next five years.
The big change coming is that the network apps are getting much smarter and they are becoming proactive. Network applications know a lot about us. They know our location. They know who we are because of the strong authentication provided by the SIM.
Our verbal communication routes through them so they can record, translate and transcribe or observe patterns of behaviour and intervene to help us. Controversially they can also proffer advertising that matches our location or even the words we say in phone conversation. This might be a bit spooky but it also might be very helpful.
Every morning I wake up and take the train to make my 9:00am management meeting. (Sometimes I make coffee. Sometimes I don't.) Having someone, or something, to help me get organised, catch the right train and get things done would be great. The phone, or rather the network, is evolving into a personal assistant. This, I think, will deepen our relationship with it in ways we don't yet understand.
The ability to write and deploy this new breed of network app is being spurred by big changes in network and computing technology. Mobile networks have adopted Internet protocols for all their internal plumbing, often using IMS, but sometime using technology adopted from the OTT players.
IP makes it easier to integrate services using APIs and computers growing power is allowing them to start implement Artificial Intelligence techniques. Most of the AI is speech recognition, with Siri being the most famous example. But making intelligence decisions on our behalf, a feature known as agency, is becoming increasingly popular. That's what happened when the network moved my friend's alarm clock.
Welcome to the intelligent network.
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Photo courtesy of Thorsten Hofmeister