Mobile World Congress 2011 Summary

MWC 2011 was packed, they need two walking lanes in each direction, else allow the use of cattle prods to move people along who insist on doing the “smartphone prayer” (standing still, head bowed, staring at a screen) in the middle of doorways and walkways; it’s becoming a social problem.  There was no one theme at the show, rather anything and everything was up for grabs: tablets, Android, cool user interfaces, mHealth, emerging market innovations, LTE, NFC, IMS, apps, enterprise, femto, WAC, IMS, mini-basestations, RCS, and almost any other acronym you can think of.  Some of the press were behaving as the trade press should and asked hard questions, as we saw in the Nokia and WAC press sessions.  The marketing BS was thankfully curtained, it was more B2B style marketing than hypey B2C.  This renewed realism, a partially critical press (there’s still too much sycophantic reporting with little analysis), and the gates being left open for all possible innovations are all necessary pre-conditions to enable the industry to transform.  I left MWC thinking the industry could potentially adapt to the changes in customer expectations and business environment.

As with entry into Barcelona in 2010 it was a pleasure with smooth sailing through the airport, no queues at immigration or for the taxis, if only my entry into every country could be like that.  However, personal security remains a significant problem in Barcelona with three dodgy characters in a failed mugging attempt as I walked from the taxi to the hotel with my luggage.  And then at lunch on Sunday I discovered Jennifer from Ink communications had a nasty mugging attempt, and Teresa from WIP (Wireless Industry Partnership) had her laptop stolen.  Then through the week the reports of thefts and assaults kept rolling in.  Unfortunately delegate satisfaction does not impact the GSMA’s profits for the event, the sponsors for this event e.g. Ericsson, Huawei, Google, etc. all need to work together in demanding immediate change else do their own event through Informa or Terrapin.

I think by the end of MWC Elop (Nokia’s current ex-Microsoft CEO) will have realized the mistake made in an exclusive deal with Microsoft, Nokia will make Windows Phone OS finally achieve its potential so it’s definitely in Micosoft’s best interest. But the exclusive deal is certainly not in Nokia’s customers’ nor shareholders’ interest.  Nokia is currently the largest handset manufacturer in the world, it should focus on its customers’ needs: some customers like Android, some like Microsoft, some like iOS.  Who knows what Apple and Nokia could have done together, I know the chances of such a deal are slim, about the same as Nokia doing an exclusive deal with Microsoft (without an ex-Microsoft CEO).  Nokia is in the CE (Consumer Electronics) business, not the enterprise software business, and Elop has shown he’s an enterprise software guy.  Balmer (Microsoft’s CEO) positioned WP7 as the choice for operators, but that grossly misses the point, it’s the customer who decides and they have, and it’s not Windows Phone.

Eric Schmidt gave a weaker presentation this year, the example of walking down the street and just picking up a pair of pants at a big discount could only have been created by a male geek.  And before the Googlephants correct me that I forgot the phone, sorry Google, has all your bodily dimensions; made-to-measure requires fitting, and people in the real world need to try on their clothes.  Generally when there’s an offer on a product it’s because the product’s not shifted.  People need to wake up to the fact that the coupons are not for products you would normally buy, they’re to off-load the products you wouldn’t normally buy, this isn’t being cynical, its cold retail facts.  Also Eric called time out on the PC which is a little silly, we use multiple mechanisms for the same purpose all the time in our daily lives: I walk, run, drive, cycle, ride on a train or plane or taxi – I don’t just drive everywhere.

It’s taken WAC one year to argue over board seats and repackage existing specs with optional statements.  JIL (Joint Innovation Labs) started in 2008, and WAC adopted JIL’s specs,  WAC is really 3 years only not 1 year, so the lack of progress is an embarrassment for the industry.  WAC had a rough reception at the show, they’ve not managed PR well, generally through behaving like they have some government-granted monopoly, which unfortunately isn’t the case.  They’re 4+ years behind the competition and need a much more humble approach in asking forgiveness for the sins of the past against developers and sharing the love.  WAC need to talk with developers and BlueVia on how to work with developers.  The WAC operator panel was a little embarrassing, with no real discussion on the actual business model and processes.  Previous weblog articles have discussed that JIL/WAC’s widget obsession makes monetization tough, it’s hard to monetize bookmarks.  The lack of progress on processes, business models and templates should not be acceptable to the sponsoring organizations – change is required immediately in both the leadership team and approach of WAC.

Consensus opinion of many at the conference is that in developed markets operators have lost the consumer business and will become ISPs.  In developing markets that is not the case, there’s still lots of opportunity.  hSenid Mobile was demonstrating their USSD App Store deployed with Etisalat, discussed in this article, the numbers quoted on initial use of the service and current developer engagement were impressive.  They share 70% of the usage revenues with developers.  They’ve created an active developer community, with some cute applications that demonstrate the power of keeping it simple and motivating the ecosystem to innovate.  It’s a template for all emerging markets.

In the core of the network there were several impressive far-reaching solutions coming out of Juniper and Acme Packet.  I think we’re going to see an inflection point reached very soon where the traditional voice core disappears, and a new architecture enabling a range of both operator, national and global service platforms to be used, some of which will include IMS (or a simplified version), as well as an innovative service platform for traditional services as mentioned by Netdev at the conference.  IMS was one of the themes, but I’m seeing some interesting challenges appear in IMS implementations as they grow beyond voice, I’ll be discussing this at the IMS World Forum in April.  There was a joint operator announcement on RCS (Rich Communications Suite), but RCS’s requirement of IMS and lack of interoperabiltiy with the web world means RCS is dead on arrival.

There were so many innovations on show, the Android area in Hall 8, Teleca’s device software innovations, the list goes on.  I pick out a few only because they or what they represent should be on the agenda of most operators today:

  • Wadaro: enabling operators to understand what their customers experience as network performance.  I strongly recommend AT&T take a look at their technology so they can see which network equipment and which handsets are degrading their customer’s experience and why.
  • Sycamore: IQStream presented interesting stats on what is happening to the data going over mobile networks, we’re seeing more video objects of larger size (higher resolution) and much greater concentration of popular content.  So their technology has a significant  impact on lowering backha
    ul congestion and improving customer experience (higher quality and less interrupted play-out).  Definitely something Level 3 should checkout to reduce its peering charges.
  • Android demonstrated the power of taking an ecosystem approach, operators please take note as this is what APIs enable you to do with your business.  The user interfaces, application and device innovations were impressive.  Apple is going to find itself playing catch-up.  I’m just sad that because I’m not prepared to allow Google to take my personal data and have it used against me in delivering the advertisers message that this ecosystem is not open to me.  Google really should create an option where all my data remains my data not theirs.  This brings me onto my next rant about the need for private Internets, take FaceBook as an example, I do want an easy way to share family pictures with the rest of my extended family, without the rest of the internet looking on, but I’ll save that for another article.
  • Alcatel Lucent had a great innovation called lightRadio (will marketeers please stop with the random capitalization, 7 year olds go through it after they’ve learn to write, you’re not 7) it’s essential a highly integrated base station about the size of a WiFi modem that can fit in lamp post etc.  It enables 3G or 4G to be deployed in close proximity to the user, removing the need for femto-cells in people’s homes, and allowing quite impressive through-puts in dense urban cells.

Intelligent, smart and cloud appear to be the popular prefixes this year, rather than next generation.  Marketing budgets have obviously been cut as much of the marketing was humorous for all the wrong reasons, with messaging such as mobile cloud, which is a bit like saying the everywhere everywhere or hypey hype.  There was one banner that used the acronym PST, so I had to ask, “Do you sell Microsoft Outlook email files?”  They did not.

NFC (Near Field Communications) was mentioned frequently, with DoCoMo being cited as the proof point for action.  As mentioned previously with some of the weakly thought through investment bank analysis, if someone uses DoCoMo as the reason you should buy product X, immediately kick them out of the room as they do not understand your market, unless of course your market is Japan and you are DoCoMo.

LTE was the focus of the NEPs (Network Equipment Provider), however as wireless intelligence reported only 4% of connections would be LTE by 2015?  So a valid question is should most operators wait for 4G, especially given Ericsson showed us HSPA+ can achieve 168 Mbps, and most customers remain 2G connected.

Enterprise is a renewed focus for operators, one operator shared with me they’ve managed to raise SME (Small medium Enterprise) ARPUs by up to 50% simply through training their customers on all the features they buy.  Its shocking what money operators are leaving on the table.

There were many non-mobile innovations being demonstrated at the show including Telecom Italia’s CuboVision (which uses MeeGo) and Amdocs jNetx connected home demonstration.  It reminded me of the Broadband World Forum from October last year where the discussion encompassed mobile broadband.  It’s simply a reflection of convergence.  Olivier Baujard, Group CTO, Deutsche Telekom made the point at the Broadband World Forum last year that: customers consider separate
fixed and mobile broadband as irrelevant its just broadband.

In reading the GSM Daily newspaper at the show it looks like Munich is being lined up to be the next venue, though nothing will be announced for a few more months.

On the overlapping conferences and trade organizations: the GSMA and CTIA organizations should be combined as CDMA is no more, we only need one mobile trade association.  MWC should be the infrastructure show, CTIA spring dropped, CTIA autumn the app and enterprise show, and CES the device show.  It was sad to see Telecom TV replaced by GSMA TV at MWC, if it had been another equivalent agency the quality may have been OK, but GSMA TV has a significant learning curve.  The sponsors of the above organizations and shows: Ericsson, Huawei, Google, Alcatel Lucent etc. must work together and use their marketing budgets to bang heads together and get the trade organizations and conferences to better meet the needs of the industry and not the pockets of a few individuals.

In summary, I left MWC thinking the industry could potentially adapt to the changes in customer expectations and business environment.  And an ecosystem is an extremely powerful entity for innovation, as demonstrated by Android at the show.