We started doing Mobile Breakfast Series in Seattle back in 2009 and after hosting10 straight events, it was time to expand the wings and explore other cities. The first stop in this journey was Atlanta and we worked closely with our partners at “Wireless Technology Forum” to make it a successful event last friday. I also had the good fortune of participating in WTF’s event the night before. Both events focused on Connected Devices and their impact on the consumer, the ecosystem and the value-chains thus making it a “connected week” in Atlanta.
As I mentioned, the night before the event, I had the opportunity to present and moderate a panel on Connected Devices with Glenn Lurie, President of Emerging Enterprises at AT&T and Jeff Smith, CTO at Numerex. Both are movers and shakers in the space and it was such a pleasure meeting with many WTF members and interacting with the top-notch panelists. The event was recorded and is available on WTF’s Youtube Channel.
We hosted the Atlanta Mobile Breakfast Series Event in Atlanta at the Commerce Club of Atlanta which has beautiful views of the Atlanta area.
There is an old Chinese saying, “When the wind of change blows, some build walls others build windmills.” Our industry is going through tremendous change; it won’t be an exaggeration if I say that the tectonic plates are moving and moving fast. The motion is being forced both by the economic conditions but also the technology and business progress. I have been around the industry long enough but it still amazes me – the stuff that’s in the pipeline and how quickly consumers absorb it.
The topic of our discussion was Connected Devices, the Cloud, and the Consumer. With connected devices, I am referring to the broad availability of devices that are connected to data networks – so they include smartphones, tablets, connected auto but also wellness devices like fitbit, energy meters, dog collars, medical devices, etc. as of last year, the subscription penetration was at 6B, next year, we will have more connections than people on this planet. In another 5-7 years, we might touch 20 Billion sensors on the planet. So you can see the growth is going to be astronomical.
Another phenomenon is that of cloud. If a startup mentions Cloud in their presentation to a VC, the valuation doubles, you say mobile, and it quadruples. I don’t know how many of you are a fan of Mark Weisier, the Xerox Parc researcher who pioneered what became “always on, always connected” tagline of pervasive computing. It was more than 20 years ago, we finally are seeing that with the help of broadband networks, amazing devices, and open business models, information is truly available at the fingertips.
The third leg of our discussion was the consumer – their appetite for new and the latest is creating this tremendous opportunity that is shaping their behavior and expectations.
We had an awesome panel to discuss things in detail. First I discussed the topic with David Christopher, Chief Marketing Officer at AT&T Mobility. As most of you might be aware, AT&T is leading not only the US but the globe in their efforts to bring connected solutions to the market. I work around the world with top operators, and I can tell you there is no exciting place in mobile right now than right here in the US of A. US is leading in innovation, technology, and business model. We had lost touch after 1G and US truly teaching rest of the world how to do 4G right. David has a terrific background – a product and operationally driven CMO at one of the world’s biggest mobile operator and it was a delight to have him on the panel.
I have known both Biju Nair and Louis Gump for sometime – several decades of mobile expertise. Louis is with CNN, has been running their mobile efforts which are top-notch. He is a recognized leader in the mobile advertising space and given that CNN’s properties span across multiple screens, he has really great insights as to how consumers behave across n-screens.
Biju is a hard core technologist, has been working at solutions that make Louis’ stuff work across networks and devices. Many of you might not know but Synchronoss where Biju is the Chief Strategy Officer and Products EVP, powers online activation at AT&T. If you bought the iPhone over the last few years at AT&T, there is a good chance your order was processed by Synchronoss.
Highlights from the discussion below:
- Many in the industry expected AT&T to take a hit after the iPhone exclusivity ended but AT&T continued to perform better than Verizon and others with devices. David has been the person leading the charge to ensure AT&T maintains its competitiveness. AT&T did that by a) conveying the overall value proposition of an iPhone on the AT&T network b) build out the Android portfolio and c) conveying crisply the benefits of being an iPhone on the AT&T network (talk and text at the same time, etc.)
- Consumers understand that 4G is faster than 3G but necessarily understand (beyond the techie crowd) the benefits of LTE.
- AT&T is a big supporter of Windows ecosystem. It is good to have more choice for the consumers. While the initial version of Surface is WiFi only, the hope are high for Windows 8. Having a viable third ecosystem for mobile is important for the mobile industry.
- Microsoft has done a good job with the design of the OS but have been poor on the opening up of the API front. Developers find the closed ecosystem to be stifling. Unless Microsoft remedies that, interest in the platform might be limited.
- It is RIM’s battle to lose. They have good software, loyal users, security framework, email is the best but have been asleep on the wheel for a while. They can turn things around though the probability of that happening are fairly low at this point.
- AT&T is studying data share plans and how consumers might react to them. It is a new paradigm in the evolution of mobile data plans and services.
- CNN has been doing mobile for a long time but was surprised by the pick up of the tablets. The reach is highest on the browser for them but the engagement is much higher on apps.
- Cloud is essentially Client-Server from the years past but applied to new use cases that brings together user experience new and different ways. The trifecta of devices, broadband networks, and content is enabling new services.
- Privacy and Security of cloud services is of paramount importance. There is a view that the industry needs to self-regulate and come up with some better solutions quickly.
- HTML5 is an important step for the industry but it is clearly not a panacea. It will have a role in the ecosystem but won’t obliterate the need for apps. The holy wars to continue.
- There is some conflict between the cloud data usage and data tier plans but WiFi (US consumers have access to WiFi 80% of the time) and smarter configuration to manage data have helped.
- Mobile advertising only 1% of the overall mix but mobile has 10% usage so a tremendous growth opportunity (yep, we said that back in 2007).
- APIs are open but monetization is still challenging. The first task is to get developers understand the benefits and find ways to enhance the user experience.
- Toll free data plans is not a new concept. Remember Sugar Mama from Virgin Mobile from years ago? Still experimental. Content providers like CNN are willing to engage if there is some value exchange that yields to revenue which can be shared. Some interesting opportunities with prepaid.
- To some extent there is more ARPU innovation in the developing countries like India which are borne out of necessity – like the Kissan program in India.
- In terms of what’s next, virtually every industry is going to be disrupted. Tremendous change on the horizon however a lot will depend on the battery innovation in the coming days and months.
The team at Chetan Sharma Consulting really enjoyed taking the Breakfast Series to Atlanta. My thanks to the terrific team at WTF for their support and to the Atlanta Mobile Community for making the event so successful. Finally, the event wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our series partner – Synchronoss.
As you might be aware, our fall mobile executive summit – Mobile Future Forward is going to be on Sept 10th. Registration is open. We are likely to sell out so grab your tickets early.
Next Stop – London for our first venture across the pond. On June 29th, we host the discussion on Operator/OTT – The way forward with Telefonica, Orange, Rebtel, and Horizons Ventures. Read Frank Meehan’s pre-event interview about the topic here.
Operators and OTT - The Way Forward - London
Operator traditional revenue streams are under threat esp. voice and messaging. Access margins will continue to stay under pressure. OTT players are coming in fast and furious and it is not just the big ones like Google but also players like Whatsapp, Voxer, Viber and others. How do operators play in the new landscape – lessen the decline of their traditional revenues while investing in new areas that improve their overall margins and revenues. Do they play the role of an enabler, a utility player, or become the OTT player themselves? In a software-driven world, how do they stay nimble? On the flip side, what are some things that operators can provide to the OTT players that make them successful, take them to the market quickly and maintain a long-term healthy and mutually-beneficial partnership? Operators still generate 70% of the global mobile industry revenues, so they are an important part of the chain but how do they ensure they have an equally relevant share in the profits. The panel will discuss how operators and OTT players think about the challenges and the opportunities, the competition and the coopetition.