MWC15: Nokia boss questions net neutrality, warning connected healthcare and driverless car growth could be stunted

Nokia chief executive Rajeev Suri has waded in on the net neutrality debate suggesting that growth in services of the future such as driverless cars and a connected healthcare could be stunted due to a lack of differentiated service.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Sunday (1 March), Suri said fundamentally he believed internet access should be “open and fair” but added many services “simply require a different level of service and quality” which customers should be able to pay for.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week voted for the passage of net neutrality laws, “the strongest open internet protections ever”, which ban telecoms such as AT&T from splitting the internet into fast and slow lanes.

Theoretically, content providers would be able pay a premium for faster connections to their sites for users, while others in ‘slow lanes’ would see their service speed restricted.

However, Suri pointed to driverless cars in the first instance, as a sector which might suffer under the proposed regulations. It’s an area Nokia has invested heavily in through its Here maps division which harnesses rea-time data to build a detailed picture of a road; from accidents or roadworks to how close a curb is or the average speed a diver takes a corner.

“Driverless cars would require data to be served instantaneously,” he said. “You cannot stop collisions from happening in the first place if the information that would prevent them is slowly making its way through the network. Near instantaneous connectivity is a must.”

He said this is a case where “you need a differentiated level of service and quality”.

“It’s difficult if it’s pro-consumer in the short term, but not pro-consumer in the long-term because the operators aren’t allowed to differentiate. You need to be able to differentiate the quality of service for higher paying consumers to be able to make money like any other industry.

“Ultimately if you don’t give [telecoms] that opportunity to differentiate the service and make more investment you’re not going to get the quality of networks you need; then it’s going to be bad for the consumer. We’ve got to take the long-view on net neutrality.”

Suri suggested connected healthcare – a technology model which would, for instance, allow patients to be managed remotely as wards are connected to homes – as another area where progress might suffer. Connecting a ward to a patient’s home would not be feasible “in a situation where you can’t depend on the network because it’s simply ‘best-effort’,” he said.

Nokia took to the stage at MWC to update press and analysts on the opportunities it has seen in what Suri called the “programmable world”. It’s based on the insight that as billions of devices become interconnected, “[software] will hold those connections together and analytics [will] bring meaning.”

This is the area Nokia has focused on since it sold its mobile phone division last year.