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How mobile technology is removing barriers to travel

  • Posted by admin on June 9, 2018

In July 1997, says Dave Ashton, CEO of Loco2, I was a new analyst for the tech consulting firm Accenture. My boss’s client, China Telecom, had asked us to aid in a spin-out IPO of their mobile unit and so I was sent to Beijing to work on the project.

My grunt work job was to call federal governments in the world’s most developed countries in an attempt to forecast the growth potential of China’s mobile market, which at the time had a penetration rate of .001%.

“Hello, Mr Swedish Communications minister’s Office Intern, I’m calling from Accenture. What is mobile phone penetration in your country today, what was it from 1990-95 and what will it be from 1997-2005?”, I would ask.

The 4th floor workspace given us for the project didn’t have a landline, ironic since we were working at that phone company. We had to buy three Nokia bricks to do our work. It was the first time I’d used a cell phone. It cost nearly £3 (€3.40) a minute per call and I had to stick my head out the window in the sweltering summer heat just to get a signal that dropped about half the time.

I gathered data for a few weeks and we crunched the numbers: Mobile phone penetration in China would grow steadily to somewhere around 6% by 2005, we told the world (it turned out to be about six times that). But privately I didn’t believe a word of it.

“Cellular technology is shit and no one can afford it anyway”, I told my wife during one of our daily (landline) calls from my Beijing hotel to our apartment in San Francisco. “It will never penetrate the mass market.” When I finished the project two months later the phone bill was $ 2800 (€2371.47).

I’ve perhaps never been so right and so wrong at the same time. As the French say, “Zat’s life.” But I’m pretty confident I’m correct now in believing that in 20 years 2018 will be viewed as a seminal year for the way we all travel. All thanks to the technology in that Nokia brick from 1997.

Why? Because mobile data access, devices, apps, services and GPS have all converged to make travel cheaper and easier in a way that was previously unimaginable.

Mobile data: Enabling travellers to stay connected

A data revolution happened in 2017. Until last year, when leaving France (where I live) I had to turn off mobile roaming when I arrived at any border. Leaving it on meant risking things like this. But turning it off cut off everything that makes modern travel both possible and enjoyable.

I, therefore, had to plan all travel outside France in advance and calibrate everything to ensure all would go smoothly. It was stressful, inconvenient, and at times quite frustrating.

But in May 2017 all mobile roaming charges in Europe were abolished. Such a simple change has made all the difference. Now we can travel anywhere in the European Union (EU) and use all the mobile tools that have come to represent the heart of the travel management experience: Finding a hotel or Airbnb, calling an Uber, booking a train on Loco2 and checking if it’s […]

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