5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?
In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Micky Watkins.
Micky is a telecom entrepreneur and futurist who has raised millions in VC and private funding from institutions such as Deutsche Telekom and Carmel Ventures amongst others. In 2012, Micky founded Yallo, the first VOIP platform of its kind, and has spent the last decade developing solutions and business models that change the way we consume communications. Today, Micky is the CEO of World Mobile.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been in telecoms for approximately 20 years, and I’ve spent a lot of that time working with private funds and VCs to build cutting-edge mobile networks, hardware, and software that makes telecoms more efficient. Before World Mobile, I co-founded Yallo, the first VoIP platform of its kind.
For the past 15 years, I’ve been using off-the-shelf equipment to connect rural areas. For most of my life, I’ve been developing solutions and business models that change the way we consume communications.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Work hard. Work smart. Perseverance is everything. It allows you to create and do things you wouldn’t otherwise think you could achieve.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people that have helped me along the way! The person I have to give most credit for would be my wife. She’s looked after my family for the last eight years while I have mostly worked away from our family home. She has supported me and enabled me to achieve what I’ve achieved so far. I have to admit I’ve missed some important milestones, which I need to catch up on! Also, my brother Josh who has been my longest-standing business partner and we’ve been kickin’ ass together since forever.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I’d have to say conviction, perseverance, and determination.
- Conviction — My conviction to our mission, ability, and tech has allowed me to attract the most elite members and advisors to my team. We all share the same core mission to create a sustainable and affordable global mobile network promoting data protection, economic freedom, and digital inclusion.
- Perseverance — I’ve had a lot of people tell me connecting the unconnected is too ambitious. They’ll ask me if existing mobile network operators couldn’t succeed, how will you? So, if you believe in it, no matter how difficult something is, persevere until you succeed.
- Determination — Being determined to make a change has been a catalyst for most of my adult life. Without determination, like many others, World Mobile would have shut down and not found an alternative solution to connect the unconnected. Remember, it’s the darkest before dawn.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?
Connecting Zanzibar is what we’re focused on this year, and then toward the end of the year, it’s all about making the sharing economy work. Then, the first quarter of next year it’s about rolling out in Tanzania, and we expect to bring on millions of users. I think this will be one of the most effective deployments on blockchain that drives this industry forward.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?
OK, so the hype is that 5G is supposed to be nearly 100 times faster than 4G with very low latency, which will help enable real-time applications and handle millions of devices at a time.
But in reality, it is just another G for operators to market new packages to their users. Many people may not realise that to achieve the highest speeds, and lowest latency, the radio frequencies that are used have more difficulty getting through buildings or traveling very far, so the amount of base stations needed will dramatically increase from the existing infrastructure. Users will end up with a very unreliable and inconsistent service.
4G is very good, and most people with a good 4G signal are pretty happy with their service.
Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.
Why are people obsessed with 5G? There are nearly 4 billion people that have no affordable Internet connection. 5G is not going to bridge the digital divide. It is more likely to make the divide greater as the cost for 5G devices and network is higher than existing networks, which are already too expensive for more than half of the planet.
What is needed in the industry right now is an approach that involves more network sharing and spectrum sharing to make frequencies more efficient. That is one area where 5G may be working towards a better future. It looks to enable network slicing, allowing much more efficient use of the network. This feature will allow more secure networks, better management of quality of service for particular applications such as emergency services or IoT remote monitoring of devices.
The reality is that we need more of a hybrid spectrum approach. It is not all about 5G. For example, in buildings, WiFi is a more effective delivery mechanism supported by most devices. However, where 5G may provide improvements is in its framework. Rather than switching between 2G, 3G, or 4G, all frequencies are managed under a single framework, 5G.
To me, 5G is not groundbreaking and will not change people’s lives enough for all of the hype.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?
There is always fear around something new. However, I do not perceive any drawback to the technology in itself.
People should think deeply about why half the world is still unconnected and how big tech companies are harvesting our data. The true potential lies not in 5G, but in how we can collectively deliver a solution that gives everyone equal access to the Internet, protects people’s data, and enables economic freedom of choice.
5G is just a tiny part of the overall architecture.
Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?
Yes. This is absolutely the case when the cost of handsets, frequencies, power, and base stations are passed onto the subscribers. When nearly four billion people cannot afford today’s networks, when are mobile operators going to realise that this is not the solution?
Here’s what we can do to deliver an affordable network to the end-user:
- Lower power consumption (use off-the-shelf hardware, solar power, and batteries)
- Reduce the cost of frequencies (use unlicensed spectrum and hybrid network approach)
- Reduced the operational costs (sharing economy, blockchain, and smart contracts)
- Focus on technologies that are not purely GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G — there are many
- Use other IoT networks and unlicensed frequencies such as CBRS, TVWS, WiFi, Sigfox, LoRa, Zigbee
- Be demand-driven and not profit-driven
Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the telecommunication industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A demand-driven business
- Providing real-world value
- Putting privacy first
- A sharing economy where everyone earns
- If there’s something readily available that already works, just use it and DO NOT reinvent the wheel
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Yes. The movement is called World Mobile, and we believe that we can connect the unconnected and bank the unbanked before the 2030 goal set by the World Bank. I genuinely believe that connectivity and digital identity are a human right and that our sharing economy can unlock the true potential of Africa and the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.