The 2008 Economist awards were presented at a ceremony at The Science Museum in London on 30th October. This is the seventh year of The Economist Innovation Awards to recognise talented individuals in seven different categories.
Winner this year in the Computing and Telecommunications category was Matti Makkonen, Telecommunications Consultant, former Executive Vice-president, Sonera, for his work on Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging.
Mr Matti Makkonen had discussed the idea of a Message Handling Service for GSM digital mobile phone in 1984 in a pizzeria in Copenhagen with two other Finns Mr Tiainen and Mr Tapiola during a conference of mobile phone communication’s future. At the time he was working as a civil servant with P&T, the telecom and post authority in Finland that went on to become Sonera.
When the development of GSM digital mobile phone standard was extended from the Nordic countries initiative to the global ETSI workgroup, the idea of SMS was proposed to be included as a global standard. “Without this international collaboration SMS would not have become a global success story”, says Makkonen.
Mr Makkonen, did not receive financial payback for his pioneering work because he didn’t apply for a patent. “At that time there was an open sharing of ideas by monopoly operators so we never even considered to write a patent application” said Makkonen. “We just started to spread the idea and take care of it into the specifications. The mobile system today is open source and developed from innovations by hundreds of people” he said.
While Makkonen has retired from his executive position at Finnet, he is a shareholder and a board member in a young high tech company called Bookit. This small Finnish company has created an innovative platform for managing easy to use dialogues on SMS. Bookit calls their product the iSMS, because it is interactive and easy to use.
iSMS has become very popular in Bookit’s home country Finland, where has beeen used to make SMS based bookings easy to use since 2004; (SMS Check-in For Finnair). More than half of the Finnair’s passengers do their check-in with iSMS. The service is very easy to use since the user automatically receives a check-in request from Bookit’s iSMS service and can check-in simply by replying with letter A. Passengers like it since they avoid queuing and can proceed directly to the gate because Bookit completes the dialogue by sending an iSMS boarding pass directly to their mobile phone.
Secret SMS Fingerprints
Makkonen says Bookit’s innovation is very clever because it uses the benefits of an already existing SMS standard but manages SMS transactions intelligently by adding “fingerprints” to each message. The network doesn’t notice these secret fingerprints and so the iSMS service can be used by any of the existing 3.2 billion SMS users globally on any phone.
The intelligence of Bookit’s iSMS service is called Bookit DDM (dynamic dialogue matrix) and it has many international patents. While the messages are delivered as a standard SMS message, the iSMS server monitors the SMS message flows and uses the “DDM – fingerprints” to authenticate each individual message. Using these fingerprints, the right answers are matched correctly to the right question. In order to do business transactions on SMS, it’s imperative to know exactly the authenticity of the messages and to interpret the dialogues correctly.
Mr Jukka Salonen, the president of Bookit, explains the popularity of iSMS: “People don’t like to memorise complex keywords or do not bother installing software into their phone, but they all know how to reply to an SMS message. One-letter-reply to SMS message is so easy that most people answer the message instantly, that explains the popularity of the service. The standard SMS network, the mobile phone or the user do not notice Bookit DDM fingerprints so they work automatically in all existing phones and can be used globally on any operator’s network.”
Mr Salonen thinks that Makkonen is just the right person to receive the Economist’s innovation award because he’s a man with a clear vision of the future but is also able to put decades of hard work to achieve his visions. “When Matti was working on a NMT standard, many people laughed at the idea. Who would need a mobile phone? When he suggested the idea of a short message service SMS for the next version of mobile phone GSM, people already took him seriously, because NMT had become an amazing success story”, says Salonen.
“Matti has a talent to listen patiently to people much below him in the organization – then suggest out of a box idea. I was just a young guy, when I joined Telecom Finland in 1996. Matti was top executive but yet he took time and patience to listen to my ideas of making PC applications available to a mobile phone. Matti listened carefully and replied: “Why should we limit mobile applications to things we normally do on PC! The mobile phone has advantages that the PC does NOT have: It fits nicely in your pocket, so it’s always with you. You can use it with one hand and press buttons with your thumb, even when you are moving. Just think if we could make reservations, payments and quick and easy transactions by just pressing one button”.
Makkonen predicts that the mobile phone will become the remote controller of our lives and people will do most of their bookings and payments with a mobile phone.