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Why Wigig will be a wireless game-changer

The new high-speed short-range wireless standard promises a bandwidth bonanza for users

WiGig is a relatively new wireless technology that lives in a part of the radio spectrum (60GHz) where bandwidth is extraordinarily plentiful. The FCC has allocated 14GHz of spectrum — from 57GHz to 71GHz — for unlicensed use. That’s more new spectrum for consumers than all of the spectrum previously allocated for consumers.

WiGig is first and foremost a shot in the arm for Wi-Fi. WiGig began as an independent development effort, but is now managed by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Last year, the Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying products based on the WiGig standard (802.11ad). WiGig will relieve congestion in the Wi-Fi bands at 2.4GHz and 5GHz by giving Wi-Fi users an alternative band with 20 times as much spectrum. WiGig also offers extra-wide channels (more than 2GHz wide) for bandwidth-intensive applications such as super-fast file transfers, screen-sharing and virtual reality.

Engineers have long known that the higher you go in the radio spectrum the more bandwidth there is. Why didn’t we take advantage of this fact sooner?

Challenges and Benefits

Until recently, the electronics required at 60GHz were bulky, sophisticated and expensive. The military used millimeter waves — frequencies above 30GHz — for years because it saw that remote part of the radio spectrum as inherently private and secure. However, it’s now possible to build small, inexpensive millimeter wave products using standard semiconductor materials and processes.

WiGig still faces some challenges. Radio signals at 60GHz are like flashlight beams: The signals can’t penetrate walls or other solid objects. Tiny, sophisticated antennas are required to point the signals in the right direction. The WiGig antenna (a little smaller than a postage stamp) should be installed on the surface of a mobile device in a location unlikely to be blocked by the user’s fingers or hand.

WiGig can’t do everything that today’s Wi-Fi products can do — but it can also do things that today’s Wi-Fi products can’t do. Wi-Fi products operating in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands can communicate over longer distances and through walls. WiGig products will normally be confined to applications within a room or large open area.

However, only WiGig can deliver the high speeds and low latency required by applications such as streaming a video from a smartphone to a nearby HDTV, using a cordless VR headset, and quickly transferring content from a server to a mobile device. Plus, WiGig will enable hotspots in crowded environments, such as airports, to serve more users simultaneously.

Today’s Applications

The short-range applications for WiGig are compelling. Today, screen-sharing is possible at Wi-Fi speeds using data compression. Unfortunately, compression typically entails a reduction in picture quality due to lost data and increased latency. WiGig eliminates the need for data compression.

Virtual reality headsets are another example. Headsets with cords limit the user’s mobility. VR headsets with WiGig offer a better user experience — particularly for applications requiring quick, unimpeded movement such as gaming.

Companies specializing in WiGig semiconductor solutions include Blu Wireless, Intel, Nitero, Peraso, Qualcomm and Tensorcom. Dell is a notable early supporter among device makers, and is including WiGig in select laptops and wireless docking stations. Other companies supporting WiGig include router makers Acelink, Netgear and TPlink. New tri-band wireless routers support 802.11n at 2.4GHz, 802.11ac at 5GHz and 802.11ad at 60GHz.

Tomorrow’s Applications

WiGig could be instrumental in the development of all-wireless environments. Office workers often use laptops, tablets, or 2-in-1 devices that they can take home or on the road.

When at their desks, they want to use the larger display, local area network and various peripherals at their disposal. WiGig is the first wireless standard that can handle all of their communication needs. However, USB-C can also handle all of their communication needs and charge their mobile device at the same time.

According to Dell, an all-wireless solution in the office requires both WiGig and wireless charging. Dell’s new Latitude 7285 (a 2-in-1 device that can be used as either a laptop or a tablet) and the Dell Wireless Dock support wireless operation. Add a charging pad supporting WiTricity’s magnetic resonance standard, and you have an all-wireless solution.

Conference rooms are an even more compelling use case. Users may want to connect to projectors, the office LAN and each other. WiGig would eliminate the need for cables and different types of connectors. Users are typically in conference rooms for shorter periods, so wireless charging would be optional. Only WiGig has the bandwidth to handle all of the communication tasks simultaneously.

In the future, mobile devices may not have any connectors. All short-range communication could be handled by WiGig, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth included to support legacy devices (which will likely be around for a long time).

Charging will also be wireless, though the location of the device being charged will be less critical. While today’s wireless charging typically requires exact placement of the mobile device on a charging pad, solutions are under development that could allow charging devices anywhere on a table or even anywhere in a modest-size room.

There is one more compelling reason to use WiGig: privacy. WiGig is attractive for mission-critical applications (such as on the factory floor) because it offers exceptional bandwidth using signals that can’t easily escape the building.

As WiGig matures, it could even find use in smart homes. For instance, WiGig could be used within the home to remotely control smart locks.

Future Potential

The success of WiGig will depend on several factors. As with any new communication standard, there will need to be a critical mass of products supporting WiGig, particularly infrastructure devices such as routers, HDTVs and desktop PCs. Practical antennas must be developed for handheld devices such as smartphones.

Improvements in performance will allow WiGig to be used over greater distances and where there isn’t continuous line-of-sight access. WiGig can support speeds of 2Gbps to 3Gbps per second at 30 feet today, with even higher speeds and longer distances possible in the future.

The history of Wi-Fi offers a good reason to be optimistic about WiGig. The first wireless LAN products were introduced in the early 1990s. They were slow, bulky and expensive. Back then, you could buy proprietary wireless LAN products that ran about 100Kbps and cost about $1,000 per device. Fortunately, there were some mission-critical vertical applications that absolutely had to have wireless. Over the following years, the industry developed wireless LAN products that were faster, smaller and less expensive. The first Wi-Fi standard (802.11b) was published in 1999.

All in all, it took about 10 years for the wireless LAN market to finally take off. Given how much bandwidth WiGig offers, there is plenty of incentive to improve WiGig’s performance and reduce its cost. As Wi-Fi proved (and continues to prove), persistence pays off.

There is one more reason to be optimistic about WiGig: It appears clear now that millimeter wave technology will play a big role in 5G mobile networks. Therefore, it’s not unrealistic to expect billions of smartphones (and other devices) featuring WiGig. That means hordes of engineers working on ways to boost WiGig’s performance — and penny-conscious handset makers doing everything they can to squeeze out costs.

WiGig won’t happen overnight. But one day you just might wake up and find WiGig is everywhere.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

 

Survival strategies for a hyper-regulated economy

Software automation and mobile communication can ease the pain of regulatory compliance.

Federal regulations increase the cost of doing business, and can be a disincentive for anyone thinking about starting a business.

Fortunately, there are technology solutions that can take some of the sting out of regulatory compliance and even turn it to advantage. Many regulations involve collecting information and informing consumers — tasks that can be largely automated using software and mobile devices. The data gathered can often be used to fine-tune operations and better serve customers.

During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised to eliminate the most daunting rules and scale back regulations. Specifically, Trump called for a government-wide review and, more recently, suggested that two existing regulations be eliminated for each new regulation enacted.

Good luck with reducing regulations. Any such attempt is likely to encounter fierce opposition from the federal bureaucracy and special interests. The new administration would be wiser to focus on overturning the most prohibitive regulations, and let technology ease compliance with comparatively innocuous regulations.

An era of steady regulatory expansion

Nearly all U.S. regulations were created after 1900 — most in just the last half-century. The Code of Federal Regulations has grown from 22,877 pages in 1960 to 178,277 pages in 2015. Growth has been relatively steady regardless of whether there was a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. Market-leading companies are rarely opposed to regulations: They are more interested in shaping than eliminating them, because regulations can be a bulwark against new competitors.

Even when both political parties agree to deregulate an industry, the result is often more pages of rules — not fewer. For instance, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was conceived to open the communications business to competition. However, new carriers had to be guaranteed the right to interconnect with incumbent carriers’ networks at reasonable prices. That required a slew of new technical and business rules.

Generic business and industry-specific regulations

Many federal regulations cut across multiple industries. They include tax withholding, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Affordable Care Act (ACA), nondiscrimination and consumer credit rules. These regulations are typically handled by HR departments, though many only apply to businesses above a certain size.

Other federal regulations are industry-specific. Financial institutions are subject to know your customer (KYC) rules designed to thwart money laundering, terrorist financing and identity theft. KYC rules require confirming the customer’s identity, checking the customer against lists of persons being watched and comparing actual behavior to expected behavior.

According to a study commissioned by Pegasystems, a developer of strategic business applications, care must be taken by financial institutions when onboarding new customers and upselling existing customers. KYC compliance can be baked into client life-cycle management software to smooth the information gathering process and use the data to improve business performance.

Regulations have become so extensive, complex and subject to change that companies often find it difficult to keep up. Some consultants expect financial institutions to turn to artificial intelligence for help in the future. Natural language processing can be used to scan new regulations, identify rules relevant to specific business areas and determine precisely how the rules apply.

There are also regulations specific to the life sciences industry. Medical products (drugs and devices) must pass rigorous clinical trials before they can be marketed. Clinical trials are expensive and time-consuming, and it’s a problem when patients drop out. In the future, expect companies that provide clinical trial management software to offer mobile apps for communicating with participants.

Safety regulations often require on-site inspections. Traditionally, inspections were conducted using paper and clipboard. That required transcribing the handwritten data — an extra step that was frequently a source of errors. With mobile devices, many fields can be filled in using drop-down menus, and images can be attached or linked to each report. On-site inspections are required in industries such as construction, oil and gas, and manufacturing. Mobile apps may support bar codes, RFID and NFC for identifying assets, and GPS, Bluetooth beacons and Wi-Fi positioning for recording their current locations.

Easing compliance: Opportunities for startups

Safety compliance can be automated by integrating smart devices and apps with the work environment. For instance, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) — passed in 2011 and put into effect in 2016 — requires retail outlets that produce ground beef to record the source of meat for each package and label it accordingly. This makes it easy to trace contaminated beef back to its source so it can be immediately taken off the market and all affected shipments can be recalled.

However, compliance is a challenge for butcher shops and meat departments within supermarkets, because they are less-than-ideal places for working with paper. Meat is stored in refrigerated rooms. Workers wearing gloves spend most of the day handling fresh meat and keeping work surfaces clean.

St. Louis-based startup SaniTrace has developed a solution for logging and labeling the origin of each package of ground beef, as well as logging the daily sanitization of meat-grinding equipment. The solution consists of a tablet computer, label printer, bar-code scanner and the SaniTrace software. The label placed on a package of ground beef confirms that the source has been recorded and gives the consumer the option of receiving a text message in the event that the package becomes part of a recall. The consumer simply texts the product ID to the phone number on the label. Being notified directly is much faster and surer than hearing about a recall through the news media.

Though complying with the new regulations is extra work for meat departments, the use of a touchscreen computer makes it relatively quick and easy, and promises to get contaminated meat off the market faster while giving consumers a little extra protection.

Even most critics of the current federal code accept the need for basic regulations to ensure safety, prevent fraud and fight terrorism. Safety and security can be baked into software for managing critical business processes, and mobile devices can be used both for gathering data in the field and communicating directly with consumers.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

 

Mobile operators won’t find safety in content deals

Mobile operators need to look at reinventing their operations instead of content deals if they want to guarantee future success.

AT&T wants to acquire Time Warner and Verizon Communications wants to buy Yahoo because they believe delivering news, sports and movies to the small screen is the best way for mobile operators to ensure their long-term success. Mobile communication service has become a commodity and operators have known for a long time they need to do more than just provide “dumb pipes” if they want to continue prospering.

On the surface, everything appears to being going well for the U.S.’ four largest mobile operators. Both AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless have more than 100 million subscribers each, while T-Mobile US and Sprint have more than 50 million customers each. However, the mobile industry is in constant flux. Within the next five years, mobile operators are expected to begin deploying fifth generation wireless technology. And mobile operators know from experience that innovative companies can disrupt their businesses. When Apple burst into the mobile phone business with the iPhone in 2007, it broke up the handset makers’ exclusive club, and put operators in the unaccustomed position of having to negotiate for sales rights.

Threats to mobile operators’ businesses are very real. Cellular telephone was originally developed for automobiles, but today mobile phones are mainly used indoors. Competitors offering low-cost service relying primarily on Wi-Fi hot spots and only secondarily on cell towers are springing up everywhere. These include small independent companies such as Republic Wireless, Google’s Project Fi, cable TV operators and city governments offering “municipal Wi-Fi” service.

Another threat comes from so-called “over-the-top” providers. These companies have found ways to use mobile operators’ networks to deliver the same services for less – or even for free. For instance, Messenger allows Facebook users to make international phone calls from within Facebook, avoiding international phone charges. Other OTT companies have cut into operators’ messaging revenue.

A subtler threat comes from new smartphone-based services. Uber’s ride-sharing service is a prime example. The service lets you choose the type of vehicle you’ll be riding in, tells you the estimated charge, shows the approaching driver’s progress on a map and handles the payment automatically using your stored method. Currently valued at around $60 billion, Uber is generating significant revenue in cities all over the world while the mobile operators that provide the underlying communication service receive only pennies.

What should mobile operators do? There is only one way for technology companies to ensure their long-term success: they must continue to innovate. Amazon.com is a good example. The company that created the “Earth’s biggest bookstore” did not stop there. It developed e-book readers that now threaten to make printed books obsolete. Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos understood that it’s best to cannibalize your products before someone else does.

The biggest obstacle to innovation for mobile operators is found in their mobile information technology systems. These are the systems that store the customer account data, define the service plans and handle the billing functions. The problem with these mobile IT systems is that most were developed in the early 1990s – when mobile phones were used exclusively for voice calls. As mobile phones and networks evolved, operators created new services by patching their mobile IT systems rather than replacing them.

Ironically, while other businesses are leveraging smartphones to enhance the customer experience, mobile operators continue to rely on call centers and storefronts. As mobile IT provider ItsOn puts it, operators must “fundamentally change how mobile services are delivered and consumed.” The customer experience for activating new devices, purchasing usage, subscribing to content and setting family controls should be like requesting rides on Uber. Customers should be able to do these things right on their devices via a simple and intuitive app.

Mobile operators need modern mobile IT systems enabling them to quickly design and launch new services, to present customers with timely information and offers, and to interface with third parties. These capabilities will make operators more agile competitors, allow them to shape and enhance the customer experience and permit them to work more closely with business partners.

Sure, mobile operators can beef up their offerings by acquiring exclusive content. But what they really need is a culture that encourages creativity and the tools to deliver innovative new services.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at RCR Wireless. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

Why mobile operators need a digital makeover

Mobile operators are still using business support systems architected in the early 1990s. They need to become digital service providers delivering digital user experiences.

The global mobile phone business is booming. Up until recently, operators had their hands full rolling out 4G services and upgrading users to the latest smartphones. Going forward, operators will face growing threats from Wi-Fi, over-the-top (OTT) services and innovative solutions not yet on their radar screens. Pressure to seize partnership opportunities will increase.

To meet these challenges, mobile operators must acquire new skills: the ability to quickly design and launch new services, to gather information and act on it in real time, and to create more compelling user experiences.

The problem for most mobile operators is that they are still using a business support system architecture developed in the early 1990s. Back then, voice generated almost all of their revenue, there were few smartphones, and opportunities to partner with content suppliers and app developers were practically nonexistent.

Today’s environment is dramatically different. Operators now provide a multitude of voice, text, data and video services. Most users have smartphones and many have additional smart devices. Operators are partnering with (or even acquiring) content providers, app developers and manufacturers.

To prosper in this new environment, mobile operators need to modernize their business support systems.

Digital technology is accelerating the pace of innovation in one industry after another. For instance, Uber is using digital technology and mobile connectivity to upend the taxicab industry — an industry that long seemed impervious to change. Uber’s mobile app model of engagement has fundamentally changed the ride-for-hire experience. It’s faster, more convenient and totally self-service.

While companies such as Uber are leveraging mobile networks to create significant new revenue streams, mobile operators have been lucky to see a modest uptick in billable traffic — if that.

Doing business digitally

Mobile operators have said for years that they want their networks to be more than just dumb pipes — they want to create and sell added-value services. To accomplish this, they must become digital service providers (DSPs) and create digital customer experiences.

What is a digital customer experience? Today’s customers — particularly millennials and Gen Z — desire real-time information, contextually relevant offers and personally engaging interactions. In a sharp break with the past, they want to purchase services on-demand. And they expect to do everything right from their smartphones — preferably through a simple and intuitive app.

A digital service provider possesses the business support tools to quickly design and launch new services, to engage users in ways that drive sales (using analytics and predictive marketing), and to generate new revenue streams through collaboration with business partners.

How can a mobile operator become a digital service provider? There are three options.

1. The complete overhaul

The first option is to completely overhaul the carrier’s business support system. This approach is offered by companies such as Amdocs, Ericsson and Huawei.

Amdocs pioneered billing systems for wireline and wireless carriers. Today, the company describes itself as a provider of “customer experience software solutions and services for the world’s largest communications, entertainment and media service providers.” Digital transformation has become a major focus for Amdocs, and it has exciting ideas about how DSPs will provide enterprise customers with powerful new marketing tools.

Ericsson is a leading provider of networking technology, particularly infrastructure for mobile phone networks. Ericsson is working with operators to change the way they conduct business and interact with their customers, and to that end it has acquired numerous telecom consulting and system integration firms. Ericsson recently announced a five-year contract worth $1 billion to “digitalize and globalize” VimpelCom’s business support systems.

Huawei is another major supplier of infrastructure for mobile phone networks. The company has developed a digital business support system (business enabling system, BES) as part of its next-generation “Telco OS.” Huawei has conducted commercial trials including a large pilot program with one of the world’s biggest mobile operators, China Unicom.

2. Spot upgrades

The main drawback to completely overhauling the mobile operator’s business support system is that it can take years and cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.

The second option is to instead perform focused upgrades.

Dublin, Ireland-based Openet provides policy management software solutions for wireless operators. The firm has conducted studies of multiyear projects and has identified some major risks. Openet believes that it’s wiser for mobile operators to think in terms of a phased digital transformation. The company has helped operators implement features such as tiered data pricing, content and data bundles, and usage notifications and upsell offers.

3. The parallel stack

The third option is to deploy a separate communication stack to work alongside the existing business support system. This approach lays the foundation for all of the capabilities of a DSP (service agility, digital customer experiences and partnering tools) in a relatively short time. It’s an attractive solution given the urgency of responding to competitors’ moves and seizing partnership opportunities. Operators are expected to derive a growing share of their revenue from business partners in the years ahead.

ItsOn describes its mission as “to fundamentally change how mobile services are delivered and consumed.” The firm’s cloud-client architecture delivers an end-to-end solution enabling operators to quickly create new services and offers, and letting users buy the exact services they want right from their smartphones. ItsOn’s digital solution has been fully integrated by operators including Sprint, Telefónica Mexico, STC and MTN Group.

Matrixx Software emphasizes that today’s mobile operators need real-time policy management and charging systems. The firm’s communication software stack can be deployed as a virtualized system interfacing with the operator’s existing business support system. Matrixx is working with operators including Swisscom and Telstra.

Digital transformation should be a top priority for every mobile operator. According to a survey conducted by Pegasystems, a provider of strategic business applications, telecom carriers tend to underestimate the threat posed by disruptive new entrants. In today’s hypercompetitive digital environment, mobile operators must become as innovative and agile as startups.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

Beware the Internet of Things Hype

The “Internet of Things” is a misnomer. Maybe that’s why Internet of Things forecasts are often exaggerated.

Now that we’ve connected nearly every person on the planet, the focus has shifted to connecting things.

No doubt more and more things will be connected to the internet. However, as I discussed in a previous post, predictions about the scale and pace of growth are inflated. This is partly because the “Internet of Things” is a misnomer.

Estimates of the number of things already connected to the internet (2016) are all over the map, ranging from around 6 billion to over 15 billion. The only possible explanation for such a large discrepancy is that forecasters don’t agree about the types of things that qualify. For instance, should a wearable device that uploads data to a smartphone once per day count?

Similarly, forecasts for the number of things that will be connected to the internet by 2020 run from 26 billion all of the way up to 50 billion. Analysts become giddy when they realize that there are well over one trillion things that could potentially be connected to the Internet. Though the most optimistic forecasts assume that RFID or NFC tags will be attached to everyday items, and that somehow qualifies them for membership in the Internet of Things.

Note that even the most conservative forecasts would require connecting at least 3 billion new things to the internet each year. That works out to more than 8 million things per day. Connecting that many things isn’t impossible — consumers worldwide buy well over one million gadgets each day. However, it took the mobile phone industry more than 30 years to reach 6 billion total subscriptions. Remember also that forecasters were predicting tens of billions of things would be connected to the internet within five years back in 2004.

Not surprising, there is a great deal of confusion about what is meant by the Internet of Things. Ten years ago, it was understood that the Internet of Things referred to machines as distinct from consumer devices. Since then, the dividing line between consumer devices and machines has blurred. Today, your phone is as adept at tracking your motion and location as it is at letting you make and receive calls. Consequently, the Internet of Things now includes not only sensors and actuators in oil pipelines, but components in smartphones and televisions that can be queried or instructed to execute commands. Perhaps that’s why companies such as Cisco, Intel, and Qualcomm talk about the “Internet of Everything.”

The Internet of Things lumps together markets at different stages of development that really deserve to be examined separately. It doesn’t help to speak about opportunities in environmental monitoring, health care and transportation as if they are just different facets of one huge market. The buyers, motivations, and application requirements in each of these industries are very different. Understanding and addressing their specific needs is key to success.

There are also some technical issues that challenge widespread assumptions about the Internet of Things. While many types of things can benefit from connectivity, they are not necessarily best served by being connected directly to the internet.

Arguably, every human being should have internet access, because the internet is a fabulous resource for learning, communicating, and shopping. But not every sensor and actuator needs to be directly connected to the internet.

Francis DaCosta, author of Rethinking the Internet of Things, uses the Mars Rover as an illustration. It makes more sense for the Mars Rover to analyze its own sensor data and make on-the-spot navigation decisions than to send the data all the way back to Earth and wait for commands. That doesn’t preclude Earth-based engineers intervening when the Mars Rover isn’t making sufficient progress. However, efficiency, privacy, and security are compelling reasons for keeping as much of the decision-making local as possible.

Similarly, requiring every device to support the internet protocol (IP) is self-defeating. Sensors have come down in size, price and power consumption, enabling them to be used more widely. Insisting on IP support adds back cost and complexity. A better arrangement is to permit simple sensors and actuators to communicate with local hubs possessing the intelligence to filter, reformat and package data as needed.

What’s driving the connection of things to the internet? Things are used to collect information in the field and apply it where it makes the most difference. It’s this rich flow of information that enables digital business models and digital user experiences.

For instance, medical gadgets can be used by patients to detect health problems before hospitalization becomes necessary, to shorten hospital stays, and to reduce readmission rates. Dr. Eric Topol predicts that the continuing advance of medical technology will lead to a future with far fewer hospitals. Hospitals will be mainly for intensive care.

There has been too much chatter about the fantastic number of things that will be connected to the internet. Instead, the focus should be on how individual industries can connect the right things to create unprecedented value for customers.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at Computerworld. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.

How Mexico went from telecom laggard to mobile trailblazer

Twenty years ago only one out of 10 people in Mexico had a telephone of any kind. Today, more than 100 million people (out of a population of roughly 125 million) have cell phones and, more amazingly, more than 70 percent of those are smartphones. To keep up the torrid growth, scrappy competitors are offering smartphones for every budget and plans that let users choose right from their handsets which services they want and how much they want to spend.

Three factors have catapulted Mexico’s mobile industry into the 21st century. First, Mexico has grown into the world’s 11th largest economy (in terms of purchasing power) in just the last two decades. Second, millennials are Mexico’s largest demographic group (they make up more than half of Mexico’s online population) and they want and expect what their counterparts in developed countries have. And third, the towering presence of a company that Mexico’s government considers a monopoly in both the landline and mobile markets has spurred its smaller (though not unsubstantial) competitors to be more inventive and aggressive.

That monopoly is the creation of a man who for four years in a row was ranked the world’s wealthiest individual, Carlos Slim. His flagship business, America Móvil, is one of the largest telecom concerns in the world, with operations in nearly 30 countries.

The telecom titan controls roughly 80 percent of Mexico’s landline market and 70 percent of its mobile market. The Mexican government has been trying unsuccessfully for years to break up Slim’s empire. However, his mobile competitors aren’t waiting for that to happen. Instead, they are challenging the status quo that America Móvil is struggling to preserve by bringing innovative technology and business models to Mexico’s mobile market.

Mexico’s second largest mobile operator, Telefónica, is shaking up the market by offering users a more modern solution for purchasing and managing mobile services. As the fifth-largest mobile operator in the world, Telefónica has the financial assets and know-how to give America Móvil serious competition. The company introduced a new service, branded as Movistar On, in response to the rampant confusion and frustration among consumers that it discovered through intensive market research.

Telefónica partnered with Silicon Valley-based ItsOn to build Movistar On around that firm’s cloud-client platform. “Cloud-client” is the architecture of choice among internet phenoms like Amazon and Uber. The cloud component enables the operator to quickly introduce new services, while the client piece gives users the self-service functionality that millennials crave. The combination enables Telefónica’s marketers to engage subscribers directly, presenting them with timely offers and closely tracking their choices.

While traditional mobile operators force users to purchase data by the megabyte or gigabyte, Movistar On gives users more comprehensible buying options, such as “1 day of YouTube,” “3 days of Netflix,” and “30 days of Spotify.”

Users can see exactly what they’ve used at any point in the billing cycle and make adjustments right from their phones. This appeals to millennials who prefer self-service over calling customer service and being put on hold, and who feel they have a right to know exactly what they are getting for their money. Such are the expectations of young people who have grown up with the internet and smart devices.

Mexico’s third-largest mobile carrier, AT&T Mexico, holds the remaining 10 percent of the market. The company is leveraging its operations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to provide seamless service throughout the North American Hispanic community. With smartphones, subscribers can keep in touch with friends and family just by participating in the same social networks, and by using over-the-top services that make voice and even video calls more affordable.

The shift to smartphones in Mexico has been nothing short of spectacular. Smartphone penetration soared from 17.9 percent in the second quarter of 2014 to 59.8 percent in the third quarter of 2015. That means the number of smartphone users tripled in little over a year. Why are so many Mexican users making a relatively big investment in their phones? Because a smartphone gives them all of the capabilities of telephones, TVs and personal computers in a single device that is loaded with intelligence and goes wherever they go.

Despite America Móvil’s dominance, which is very real, Mexico’s mobile users have compelling choices, and the way that operators are competing for their business is a case study for mobile carriers everywhere.

Mexico’s millennials did not grow up in a wired world with its physical limitations and bureaucratic practices. They are flocking to smart devices that add new features almost on a weekly basis. They demand mobile operators find new ways to engage and empower them — and Mexico’s mobile operators are advancing to make it happen.

This post is based on commentary by Ira Brodsky that first appeared at TechCrunch. Brodsky is a Senior Analyst with Datacomm Research and is the author of five books about technology. Brodsky focuses on mobile solutions for payments, retail automation, and health care.