Telenor, a 172 million subscriber mobile operator that is operational in over 14 countries and 54% owned by the Norwegian government may be in the press this week for the mounting debts at it’s Indian venture Unicor, but it’s still a formidable force to be reckoned with as it has already posted an increase of 16% in stock value this year across the group.
Whilst the groups run away success story in neighbouring Bangladesh (the Grameenphone joint venture) has been heralded as an example of emerging market ICT innovation and picked up some prestigious awards with it’s “Healthline” service which is a 24/7 “NHS Direct” style call centre operation which provides cross network access to licensed physicians (accessible by dialing 789 and charged at 5 BDT/ ~$0.07c per minute with a minimum charge of 15 BDT/~$0.21c), it’s great to read in this latest press release that it’s not overlooking the potential for advanced mHealth services as a future growth opportunity in its more developed markets.
The press release reveals that they’re now looking at how “mobile health can help the aging population” and are already running a pilot project in Tromsø Norway that involves “testing technology that will make it possible for older people to live in their own homes longer” with different “in-home sensors” that are wirelessly connected to a “medical alert system” ranging from “motion detectors to electronic pill dispensers”. The project aims to discover if caregivers can be alerted instantly to an issue in the home so that they can provide immediate assistance.
In the article Telenor’s Lilly Ann Stenvold, a mHealth researcher (who has nearly 20 years of experience in telemedicine with Telenor), gets a little tripped up about what constitutes mHealth:
“The combination of mobile devices and healthcare is today referred to as mobile health or mHealth. mHealth is a sub-set of eHealth and it is defined as the delivery of health-related services and information via mobile telecommunication technology”
Please take the time to remind yourself of how mHealth is no more a subset of eHealth as TV was a subset of Cinema (even though when TV was the newest new media it was probably just as hard to imagine the opportunity that it presented beyond what was already being done with the cinema format eg. before we experienced rolling/live 24hr news, quiz shows, reality TV programmes etc etc)
The reasons for this confusion become clear when Lilly continues to explain that mHealth devices include PDA’s and GPS’s… Surely everyone knows it’s been years since PDA functionality converged to mobiles and todays smartphone market is already eclipsing the GPS device market?
The objective of the “latest mHealth pilot study on home monitoring systems for the elderly” being conducted in conjunction with the Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory’s Center for Research also suggests that the focus is probably going to be on sickcare rather than healthcare:
“The purpose of this project is to help maintain a preferred way of living for elderly citizens, while cutting costs for healthcare services, as full-time care is quite expensive. If you can offer elderly people the opportunity to live in their own homes for one additional year, the savings are significant”
Whilst I hope I don’t seem discouraging of efforts to research into the very important mHealth needs of seniors (I recently spoke at the Senior Mobile Market conference where I elaborated on how I see the adoption of mobile services by senior audiences as being fundamental to mHealth reaching its potential) but I’m not so sure it’s this “additional year” that mobile operators should be chasing. Surely there is a much bigger market gap in the existing lack of adoption of mobile and mobile services by seniors the vast majority of whom are still potentially decades away from this time.
Surely there is a much bigger and more immediate opportunity in the market that is currently still being developed by the simple phone manufacturers such as Doro, Jitterbug and Emporia? In my opinion most of these customers are already familiar with using mobiles but just aren’t interested in the current content offerings that are being churned out by their youth-focused mobile service providers:
Stenvold also alludes to Telenors interest in medical devices with inbuilt “wireless communication capabilities”. With tiny GSM modules being integrated into leading products from leading medical device brands (see my post on Cinterion the world leaders in this market and sponsors/exhibitors at the forthcoming Mobile Healthcare Industry Summit) I have high hopes for this promising area so it’s great to hear another mobile operator that’s optimistic on this opportunity.
Looking again at the image that featured at the top of the press release:
I just couldn’t help but be reminded how much there is for the mHealth industry to learn from the more advanced Korean and Japanese markets where multiplayer multigenerational mobile games are already popular amongst senior subscribers… which of course reminds me where are we at with that game of chess dad?