Infrastructural Innovation: Flexibility, Generativity and the Mobile Internet

Infrastructural Innovation: Flexibility, Generativity and the Mobile Internet

Ole Hanseth (Department of Informatics, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway) and Petter Nielsen (Telenor Research and Future Studies, Fornebu, Norway)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/jitsr.2013010102
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This article addresses issues related to how to enable broadest possible innovative activities by infrastructural technology design. The authors focus on the development of high level services based on mobile telecommunication technologies. The focus of their analysis is how features of the technology enable or constrain innovations. They do so by looking at embryos of the Mobile Internet (primarily the Norwegian CPA platform, but also two pre-CPA platforms in Norway and Japan’s i-mode) through the concepts of end-to-end architecture, programmability of terminals and generativity. This analysis illustrates that the change from closed infrastructures like MobilInfo and SMSinfo to more open ones like CPA and i-mode increased the speed and range of innovations substantially. At the same time the differences between CPA and i-mode regarding programmability of terminals, and the billing service provided by the CPA network enabling the billing of individual transactions, also contributed to basically the same speed and range of innovations around CPA as i-mode in spite of the huge differences in investments into the networks made by the owners. The analysis also points out important differences between the Internet and the existing Mobile Internet regarding technological constrains on innovations. It points out important ways in which powerful actors’ strategies inhibit innovations and how they embed their strategies into the technology and creates technological barriers for innovation.
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2. A Changing ‘World Of Standards’ And The New Needs For Flexibility

The research presented in this paper is part of a growing interest in research on infrastructure standardisation in general and on the tension between standardisation and flexibility within ICT in particular. This increasing interest is a result the transformation of the ‘world of standards’ (Brunsson & Jacobsson 2002). This transformation is a result of the growth in the number and importance of standards due to the so-called convergence of telecommunications and information technologies. This convergence leads to the development of a whole range of new standards, and new kinds of standards, in particular domain specific ones like standards for Electronic Patient Records (see for instance Hanseth et al., 2006).

The necessity of flexibility, as well as the contradiction between standards and flexibility has been a central topic in the literature on standardisation. In this section, we describe how changes in information and telecommunication technologies (ICTs) have brought new requirements for flexibility. From a perspective on flexibility as the seamlessly fit of objects into larger systems as well as the standards adaptability to contextual changes, the very nature of today’s ICTs also require them to be flexible in the sense of enabling and promoting innovation, and in particular innovation by third party contributors. Namely, they must be generative to endure and grow.

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