It was the first time in 15 years I did not make the annual pilgrimage to MWC (Mobile World Congress). Some of the reasons being:
- The BS and detachment from market reality of the GSMA which impacts MWC;
- The ridiculously large event which means I’m spending more time racing between meetings than in meetings;
- The dominant vendor BS on a range of topics while industry revenues potentially enter terminal decline; and
- The dwindling of telco involvement, wasn’t the event supposed to be for them in the first place.
From the outside-looking-in it was a different experience. Being home was nice, as I find a full day of just talking telecoms tough, from breakfast at 7AM through to the end of dinner at 11PM, and repeat that 5 times (Sunday-Thursday). This time I was able to dip in and out of the twitter stream and summaries being generated. But the big thing I missed was all the small company innovations, the little things that get lost in the misdirected BS that pumps out of MWC. These are only discovered through chance introductions and talking with other small innovative companies, none of which make it into the stage-managed messages coming out of the show.
Jim Machi from Dialogic summed up the main themes of MWC well: 5G (next generation of mobile broadband to begin deployment in 2018-2020), VoLTE (Voice over LTE), Connected Home, Digital Life, and IoT (Internet of Things).
I didn’t see anything really new in devices, wearables received attention but Fitbit was announced in 2008 (6 years ago) and were I live many Jersey Moms have them, its gone mass market already. Telcos have a limited role, if any, as its a peripheral like the Bluetooth headset. This is the problem with MWC’s view on devices its from a mobile network angle, which ignores the broader market where I’d argue CES makes more sense to view the breadth of devices available.
The only thing that got my interest in devices was the water resistance of the new Samsung S5, which after my drenching at the splash park in Singapore Zoo over Christmas certainly is attractive. My soaked Samsung Note 2 was touch and go for a couple of hours, but it survived with all the precious videos of the kids feeding giraffes and elephants intact. So it’s a belated welcome to water resistance for the device that is taken everywhere and should be water resistant like most watches.
What was clear from the outside-looking-in is the carefully stage-managed misdirection: we heard again and again on these topics: 5G, IoT, Digital Life, Wearables, NFV/SDN/Cloud, IoT, Connected Home… But rarely did we here about WebRTC, where is RCS its 2014 already, peak voice and SMS revenue, aggressive internet ‘partner’ competition, the delay in AT&T’s VoLTE roll-out, cost increases facing many telcos, the fundamental services gap facing the industry, the need for new people and processes to meet the new competitive reality, and most wearables and IoT don’t use MBB (mobile broadband) they use Bluetooth and WiFi. The graphic below, summarizes the event in my opinion.
Facebook’s Mark Zukerberg’s presentation and Q&A did not impress, with some scathing follow-up analysis.
If a telco just wants to be an ISP (Internet Service Provider), then partner with FB/Whatsapp. If you want to be a service provider then they are competition. Building a network is expensive, and needs both the ISP and services revenues. The logic is that simple. Once customers realize they need internet access, not just a select few applications, the bundling and zero rating we see in emerging markets is no longer needed. Offering free access to services that are reducing your revenues sounds like stupidity to me. All I can assume is many telcos are happy to become ISPs, and the drastic downsizing (likely 80%) that will be required. An ISP is NOT a utility, at home I have 3 fixed pipes (DSL, Fiber, Cable) and 5 Mobile Broadband pipes (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, MetroPCS (just)) – while only 1 line each for gas, water and electricity. This is a hard problem, and is not getting addressed.
WebRTC was mentioned buy some of the vendors, e.g. Solaiemes, Quobis, Dialogic, and Oracle; but did not raise its head as a theme for the industry. Likely the GSMA mandarins haven’t got their head around what it means, perhaps in next year once NFV/SDN/Cloud enter the trough of despair and its clear 5G is years away so there’s no story there.
How much longer do we have to wait for RCS? Yes there are RFPs being issued, every bloody year there are RCS RFPs issued, where is the customer adoption? At least Orange Libon, as discussed in this article from last year, is moving the story forward. Action is desperately required in IP Communications.
Peak voice and SMS revenue was discussed several years ago and the predictions look correct. Yet the industry dances around like its the good old days of “build it and they will come.” Bringing the industry together means the best minds of the industry can discuss, generate insight, and perhaps even promote action on the hard problems we face. But the problems are being skipped over to focus on slideware or yet another rectangular computer or peripheral.
Telcos’ costs keep increasing and revenue is getting tighter. This remains a challenge for most CFOs I talk to: advertising costs keep increasing, the equipment savings Huawei’s disruption brought to the market have subsided, telecom software doesn’t get any cheaper, data center costs keep increasing as charging moves to storage not servers as software gets written more efficiently, wages / electricity / taxes just keep on rising. Telco CFOs at the moment are not happy people in my experience.
There is a massive services gap that the wishful thinking in IoT and connect home are not going to fill. FB, Google, Amazon are focused on offering their users and customers more and more services. Yet it remains virtually impossible to get telcos to launch new services, the effort is far too high. This is a fundamental problem. For me the most critical we face, yet not one mention at MWC. This is why I’m trying to help build the telecom application development community from the grassroot through TADHack and TADSummit – this is an important part of our future.
Though it received little coverage at MWC there were some significant announcements both at MWC and outside on the telecom application developer ecosystem:
- AT&T invests $300M in its solution providers effort, drives more API development
- Ubuntu had a rash of announcement on the Ubuntu phone at MWC, they’re creating an amazing platform and is one to watch. They will have more exciting announcements coming up on TADHack with the other sponsors.
- MWC is crazy expensive for vendors, generally sucking up half their marketing budgets, its simply too expensive for innovators. Though Telestax did not have a booth, they were supporting their partners such as Applicata at MWC.
- Tropo – had announcements with Globe, Huawei and China Telecom showing the broader adoption of Telecom APIs around the world.
- Solaiemes – continue to lead the industry’s thinking on WebRTC, RCS, and Telecom APIs. They had a busy time at on the Spain stand.
- Nexmo – after raising $18m have an all-star management team, and with a similar revenue to Twilio is one to watch through 2014 in Telecom APIs.
I did miss attending MWC. I’ll likely go in 2015. But the telco board of the GSMA has to force the GSMA to address the fundamental problems the industry faces. The misdirection has to stop.