Musk is on the road to disrupting mobile communications

Part of What if Tech: Experimenting with series of posts called What if Tech, these aim to explore interesting scenarios in tech ranging from the real to the absurd — What if Google opened a bank? What if Musk set out to build WhatsApp?


Musk started off with a simple but slick payment service and moved quickly from there to automotive and now he has already made his presence felt in outer space — what if Musk shifted his attention to mobile tech, or communications in particular? Would he create an app to rule all apps or would he look at transforming the core hardware? What if tech has a look at a scenario in which Musk enters mobile tech in some form — a handset, mobile network or even a communication service. The one thing that is for sure is that the product will not have a WhatsApp-style disruption on the comms industry, but Musk will seek to flip it on its head by questioning and re-imagining the very fundamentals of the internet and communications. This can already be seen with his internet in space ambitions, where he has literally put his money where his mouth is, $10 billion of his money to be precise. His long term plans not only involve reducing lags in communication but it will change the nature of how the internet functions by lifting the internet server and router infrastructure 1200km high into space, the final frontier (or so we believe).

Musk’s venture has not be motivated by a need to improve communications (or profit), but because it will be a core component in his vision of smart cities (perhaps even smart galaxies?), and will neatly align with SpaceX, Hyperloop, SolarCity and of course Tesla Motors. All of Musks’s ventures neatly fit into each other and pave the way for him to work on a communications service in space. For instance, Musk has also been putting effort into building efficient and long lasting batteries as a part of Tesla Motors, which will be disruptive for the electric car industry and will also find applicability with the device industry. As we all know smartphones are becoming the very core of daily lives, and their battery life worries our very core. Longer, more efficient batteries will help not only for devices but also sustaining the communication networks. Through the SolarCity project, it enables consumers to take charge (no pun intended) of their energy consumption which is an imminent threat to electricity and heating providers, and this will also widen in its scope to the usage of internet and smart home products. Luckily for the big boys of utility (namely the electric companies), it’s still restricted to a small area in the US.

Communications forms a key part of all Musk’s initiatives, and though the WhatsApps and SnapChats make comms an interesting space at the moment, there is a need to move beyond VoIP and chat apps to venture into new and revolutionary tech that will send comms services into hyperdrive.


Set phasers to stun: What impact will this have on the internet bigwigs, such as Google and Facebook? Most OTT giants (over the top, because their service fly over the internet networks) will welcome this move. Google has even rumoured to have invested in Musk’s plan to break the internet away from the gravitational pull. The real fun will begin a few years after the launch of SpaceNet (as I call it). When Musk begins to introduce new ways to communicate using this SpaceNet as the foundation along with smart cities and smart cars, they will pose a serious threat to Facebooks, WhatsApps and Googles. Who should be most afraid? Mobile operators! Their long term strength lies in providing access to data services (that expensive network that OTT players go over), which will be come under purview if SpaceNet blasts off. Mobile operators have taken a bit of beating over the past few years, with WhatsApp damaging operator SMS revenue and now VoIP services like Viber threatening mobile voice revenue as well. Imagine, what would happen if WhatsApp took away SMS revenue, Viber took a cut out of voice revenue and SpaceNet cut into strongly growing mobile broadband revenue — Ok, perhaps this not really something operators really want to imagine.

Expected launch date: T-five years.

Likelihood co-efficient: High. This ‘What If Tech’ piece is a very real possibility but is set for the long haul. There will be a lot of interesting updates along the way, but execution will happen after a minimum five years.


I am an analyst and follow the tech and telecoms industry as a part of my job, however this post is purely a personal pursuit.

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