When I was 13, I wanted a phone in my room, so I could talk to friends in my own space instead of sitting on the basement stairs or pacing back and forth in the kitchen and ultimately knotting the curly cord like a noose. After particularly gossipy sessions, I would have to unclip one end of the cord to get out all the knotted twists. Today’s Gen Z teenagers wouldn’t understand this, but like this Gen Xer, they would want a phone in their room…just not one bound with wires. Due advancements in technology and wireless service, Gen Z of today have a handheld smartphone more powerful than a personal computer to stay connected – how Jetsons!

In fact, the photophone boasts the world’s first wireless telephone conversation[1]. It occurred in 1880, and the audio conversation was conducted over modulated light beams. Remember that in the year 1880, utilities, like electricity, didn’t exist yet, and the only limitations were sunlight, good weather, and a clear line of site between transmitter and receiver.

Since sunny days aren’t guaranteed and a clear line of site to your contact list is difficult, if not impossible, today we are looking to 4G/5G, powerful antennas, and Wi-Fi. That cell phone in your pocket is essentially a hand-held personal computer, but wireless has been around for ages. We’re just making it better.

Digital natives called Generation Z don’t remember a time when wireless didn’t work. They don’t remember landlines or dial-up modems. The outdated wired technology of the recent past makes Alexander Graham Bell’s statement that the photophone was “the greatest invention ever made, greater than the telephone” profound[2]. A hundred years later in the 1980’s wireless started to make a comeback.

Post-Millennial Gen Z doesn’t officially have an end date[3], and start dates range anywhere from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. The oldest of the generation are in their teens, so we have some measurable data. In fact, two key trends have come from research:

  1. Cell phones are a part of life. 77 percent of 12-17-year old’s own one[4] and 3/4 of 13-17-year old’s use a cell phone daily[5]. Gen Z is the first generation to be spending more time online using a mobile phone each day then all other devices combined[6].
  2. They aren’t brand loyal. If something doesn’t work, they move on. They have higher expectations for connection than Millennials and are less likely to give second chances. In fact, they may be influences on their Gen X parents, who are brand loyal[7]. Thus, it erodes any whim to rest on a company name or track record. If you want to attract Gen Z’s attention and money, you need to earn it every day. If they are loyal to anything, it’s brands that are always within reach via a smartphone and ones that save time.[8]

Cell phones are the new credit card. The new ticket to the movies. The new Game Boy and MTV. They are Gen Z’s ID and Identity. Research shows cell phones and wireless technology is core to Gen Z[9]. How they use it as teenagers is important, but even bigger is the interest they will take as they transition to young adults over the next few years. We need to understand how to best meet this growing demand in the U.S. and globally.

Gen Z in developing countries are experiencing a proliferation of cell phones. One notable region is Africa. Globally, about 26 percent of the world is under 15 years of age. Africa has a whopping 41 percent of its population under 15 years old[10]. Africa’s population has grown rapidly over the last 40 years, creating a youth bulge. In some African states, half or more of the population is under 25 years of age.[11]The whole continent is experiencing a 4G revolution[12] and Gen Z are embracing cell phones for better earning power, better education, and overall a better quality of life. Mobile service subscription rates are on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa[13]. It is expected to grow to 535 million unique subscribers in 2020. That is 50 percent of the population and it is concentrated in underpenetrated markets, including the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. More importantly, this growth area will serve under-represented segments like women and those under 16 (Gen Z). More access to technology means more growth and better quality of life. Per the GSM Association (GSMA[14]), which is the foremost trade body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, the mobile ecosystem supported 3.8 million jobs in 2015. That number includes both workers directly employed in the ecosystem (1.3 million) and jobs indirectly supported by the economic activity generated by the sector. The number of jobs supported is expected to increase to 4.5 million by 2020.[15]

A recent article on the ‘burgeoning tech scene in Nigeria’ mentions visits and funding by Millennial Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg[16]. Growth in technology is happening parallel to the growth in mobile internet subscribers: “Mobile internet is the platform of choice in Africa due to its relatively low cost when compared to wireless broadband. The growing uptake in mobile technology has fueled many of the innovative digital solutions and services emerging from the continent, and, as mobile infrastructure advances and the cost of smart devices falls, tech entrepreneurs are developing uniquely African tech solutions to African problems.” One of these uniquely African problems is banking. Mobile technology offers a non-traditional banking option that helps entrepreneurs run small businesses, and gives once off-limits access to women and Gen Z. Rapid growth in the African tech sector is fueled by necessity and due to the expansion of mobile technology. The three key tech ecosystems are in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. Underdeveloped regions like these are great opportunities to invest, not just in a generation, but in a quality of life for a group of people.

Today’s teenagers are changing the ways all generations view the world and the way network operators do their job. A 2017 study on Gen Z Connectivity and Technology conducted by CommScope via Praxis-Research Partners, shows Gen Z in New York, London, Tokyo, Seoul, and Buenos Aires check their smartphone over 20 times each waking hour! Youth in Berlin, Bangalore, and Hong Kong check it slightly less at between 13-19 times per hour. For all those surveyed, 59 percent would find it extremely difficult to go a day with texting. Text messaging and short bursts of social media are chosen methods of communication. Longer written email has become a rite of passage into adulthood.[17]

Gen Z also creates more new online content, like YouTube videos, than any other generation. They are not just consuming; they are creating.[18] “Today, everybody that can afford a smartphone has one. Simply offering a faster pipe will not increase the revenue for a mobile operator. The operator needs to change his business proposition, to sell something new…,” a March 2017 report from research firm, Mobile Experts, discusses the 5G wave, “5G Broadband could become a tectonic shift for telecom and entertainment. If the network is becoming a ‘dumb pipe,’ then some operators will rise above the pipe and start offering the content. Teenagers are already changing the nature of the entertainment market, opening up this opportunity for a mobile telecom operator to take control.” Today content is movies, games, and media. The future points to new technology, like virtual reality and augmented reality, where low latency broadband connections become important to customer value. Overall, virtual reality holds the most intrigue for Gen Z, most notably in London, Seoul, and Buenos Aires. In New York, driverless cars and holographic displays are the most interest. Berlin youth are fascinated with holographic displays, and Tokyo youth are keen on driverless cars and artificially intelligent personal assistants[19].

Gen Z differentiates itself from Millennials by being part of technology rather than being influenced by technology. Is it any wonder that their top aspiration is being a YouTube celebrity? Cutting-edge software developer and Twitter celebrity also rank in the top career paths, well above respected career paths of doctor and teacher[20]. Whether it’s entrepreneurs in Africa or YouTube sensations in London, technology is shaping and being shaped by our youth via the smartphone. Nowadays, wireless provides more than just a way to stay connected. As technology advances, cell phones have replaced many traditional computers as a way to improve quality of life, be it by starting your own business or getting in some extra steps playing Pokémon Go. Wireless has been around since the 1800s and it’s not going anywhere soon. Just as Millennials and the Gen X’ers ahead of them, Generation Z is and will continue to shape how older generations use technology. That is…until Generation Alpha gets old enough to latch onto the newest technology!

[1] Photophone, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photophone & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless
[2] Photophone, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photophone & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless
[3] Generation Z, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Z
[4] Generation Z, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Z, “Lookout,” www.lookout.com, 12/1/15
[5] Generation Z, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Z
[6] “8 Key Differences between Gen Z and Millennials”, by George Beall, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-beall/8-key-differences-between_b_12814200.html, Huffington Post, 11/5/16
[7] “Teen Generation Z is being called ‘millennials on steroids,’ and that could be terrifying for retailers”, by Mallory Scholssberg, http://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-vs-gen-z-2016-2/#millennials-are-more-tolerant-than-teens-10, Business Insider, 2/11/16
[8] Gen-Z: Connectivity and Technology, a study by CommScope and Praxis-Research Partners, September 2017
[9] “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”, by Jean M. Twenge, https://www-theatlantic-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/534198/, The Atlantic, 8/3/17
[10] Statista graph, World population of selected age groups of world population in 2017, by region, https://www.statista.com/statistics/265759/world-population-by-age-and-region/
[11] Wikipedia.org, Demographics of Africa, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Africa
[12] “Africa’s telecoms sector comes of age”, by Neil Ford, http://africanbusinessmagazine.com/sectors/technology/africas-telecoms-sector-comes-age/, African Business, 11/15/16
[13] “Sub-Saharan Africa to lead subs growth through 2020”, by Steve Costello, https://www.mobileworldlive.com/m360-africa-2017-article/sub-saharan-africa-to-lead-subs-growth-through-2020/?ID=00Qw0000016UE18EAG&BU=, Mobile World Live, 7/11/17
[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GSMA
[15] iDate DigiWorld Whitepaper, “Impact of online communication services on the telecommunications market in Africa”, July 2017. pg. 23
[16] “Africa’s Tech Revolution: Beyond the hype”, by Taku Dzimwasha, http://africanbusinessmagazine.com/sectors/technology/africas-tech-revolution-beyond-hype/, African Business, 6/21/17
[17] For Generation Z, Email Has Become a Rite of Passage, by Christopher Mims, 4/11/16, Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/for-generation-z-email-has-become-a-rite-of-passage-1460347264
[18] TEDx Talk: “What do we know about the Generation after Millennials?” by Jason Dorsey, http://jasondorsey.com/tedx-talk-igen-gen-z/
[19] Gen-Z: Connectivity and Technology, a study by CommScope and Praxis-Research Partners, September 2017
[20] Gen-Z: Connectivity and Technology, a study by CommScope and Praxis-Research Partners, September 2017

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