In today’s tech speak, the terms “mobile cloud” and “cloud computing” seem to be used interchangeably. As a result, the meanings are often confused, and their actual functionality jumbled. What does the mobile cloud have to do with cloud computing? Are they the same thing, just worded differently? Is mobile just one piece of the puzzle? It’s time to shed some light on this subject and help clear the air.

What makes Cloud Computing and the Mobile Cloud – Clouds?
Today, the term “Cloud” is tossed about as a catchall to describe any service being offered over a network where something is hosted. Nearly everyone has a “Cloud” service these days. Simply put – cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers to deliver hosted services via the Internet (public or private), rather than delivering the services from a local onsite server. Cloud services are used today to store, manage, and process a wide variety of data applications. Cloud computing has taken the industry by storm because it enables greater accessibility, mobility, subscription based pricing, and real-time access to information—all without requiring investment in infrastructure.

So where does mobile cloud come in? As cloud computing offers enterprises the freedom to access hosted services that are traditionally delivered through a wired connection, the mobile cloud focuses on services available through mobile network operators (MNOs like Verizon and AT&T). Think about those applications we constantly use on our smart devices – apps that include elements of location, mobile messaging, mobile shopping, or even gaming. What happens when the bulk of their functionality isn’t tied to our physical mobile device, but hosted in the mobile cloud and delivered across MNOs? How can the providers of those services keep things uniform and access the same information across multiple operators? How do they effectively manage opt in and privacy? The answer is, of course, the Mobile Cloud.

The Yankee Group defines the mobile cloud as, “a federated point of entry enabling access to the full range of capabilities inherent in the mobile network platform.” A white paper written by this industry firm outlines how the mobile cloud provides a “virtual meeting point bringing brands, enterprises, mobile marketers, content and application owners, and developers together with an aggregation of several mobile networks”. The problem, as the Yankee Group points out, is changing the way MNOs and consumers view their mobile network connectivity.

Neustar regards the mobile cloud as an enabler of intelligent mobile communication. The mobile cloud is less about virtual hosting, and more about intelligent connectivity. The mobile ecosystem is incredibly complex; application developers, brands, mobile marketers and content owners are all trying to deliver their services to subscribers ubiquitously, regardless of the user’s MNO. Rather than providing the individual, hosted services cloud computing typically offers, the mobile cloud allows developers to offer an array of services from MNOs. The mobile cloud blends the features of location, messaging, subscriber information, etc. from each operator. The benefit to developers is enormous. Not only are they able to maintain that trusted relationship with their MNO, but they are also able to access multiple services and operators through one provider.

What’s next?
Despite the overuse of the phrase “the cloud” – the shift in the delivery of services via the Internet model provides endless possibilities. In the realm of mega-trends, the cloud offers enhanced options for services that many of us have come to expect – real-time data, personalization, mobility, and trusted connectivity. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the potential for “cloud services.”

At Neustar, we believe it is the personalized experiences and advanced services that technology provides that make our lives extraordinary. The mobile cloud does just that; mobile intelligence brought to a higher level. For those of us in the industry that get excited by mobile innovation, we know the sky’s the limit.