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Mobile World Congress 2016 Observations February 29, 2016

Posted by chetan in : 4th Wave,5G,ARPU,Chetan Sharma Consulting,Connected Devices,Connected Intelligence Era,Disruption,Enterprise Mobility,LTE,Mobile 2016,Mobile Breakfast Series,Mobile Future Forward,Mobile World Congress,MWC,NFV,SDN,Technology Cycles,The Golden Age of Mobile,US Wireless Market,Wireless Value Chain,Worldwide Wireless Market , add a comment

Mobile World Congress 2016 Observations

The second of grand slams of mobile events – Mobile World Congress has become the marquee events that helps get the pulse of the industry as to where things are headed for the year. With the attendance topping 100K for the first time, it is a massive undertaking and brings all major players in the ecosystem from all corners of the world. Vegas could learn a thing or two from Barcelona on how to host big events. Some of the major themes were predictable like 5G, IoT, and VR. Others were important but not widely talked about in public settings. This note presents the summary of our observations from the show.

5G – 5G entered industry’s consciousness last year and the activity around the globe has just caught fire since then. Each week there is a new trial announced. Last year, there were more questions about 5G than answers. Some of the questions are starting to get answered now and we are getting clarity on others. However, the specification timeline still stays around 2019 with full standard deployments not before 2020. Given the trial activity and the progress in the labs, there is a good possibility, that there might be some consensus on higher frequency use specifications especially around indoor and dense outdoor networks.

I had a chance to visit with a number of CTOs of major players and these guys are not the ones who give into hyperbole. As an engineer, I left the show quite optimistic about the solutions and technologies that will become part of the 5G portfolio.

Verizon was the first one to announce results from some early tests in the field – 10 Gbps for potential fixed wireless deployments. Nokia and DT both showed sub millisecond radio delay which is quite an achievement. Ericsson showed the power of beamforming to gain really high capacity at short distances. 25-30 Gbps was common in most of the lab setups. SDN/NFV will provide the key underpinning to the 5G architecture but it didn’t surface much in the discussions.

Fundamentally, 5G will be driven by economics not just technology. Europe’s quixotic approach to spectrum auction in 2000s led to a decade long stagnation that left Europe behind. To attain leadership in 5G and on the next wave of technology evolution of Connected Intelligence, policy, technology, and strategy have to work hand-in-hand in a country to gain an upper hand. Some of my thoughts mentioned in the Economist and WSJ.

We will be covering 5G and its implications in future papers and at Mobile Future Forward in Sept.

Gigabit Society – While 5G is still a ways off, work goes on the LTE front. Industry hit a major milestone of a 1B LTE subs. Lot of the 5G enhancements will also be available in 4G being termed as 4.5G, Xtreme LTE, pre5G, 5G ready, and really-really advanced LTE. Infact, many of the features talked about in 5G are going to be available in the 4G evolution path. Qualcomm showcased their X16 chipset capable of reaching 1Gbps by combining 10 100Mbps streams.

4th Wave – In 2011, we put forth the 4th wave theory and 5 years later, we are seeing the 4th wave in full effect. As I mentioned to the Economist and the WSJ, the value is moving to the applications and services layer. Operators who will invest to become “solutions providers” will be better positioned for the future vs. the ones who are purely “access providers.” We are seeing the theory play out in front of our eyes. In 2014, US became the first country where the 4th wave revenues were greater than the access revenues. We expect this to occur in every major market over the course of next few years. Operators such as AT&T, Verizon, Telefonica, DoCoMo, KDDI, and Orange are benefiting from becoming solution providers. The new found revenue speaks for itself (more on this next week in our US Market Update for 2015).

Ericsson – Amazon Cloud Deal – Ericsson and Amazon struck a clever cloud deal that helps mobile operators use the AWS framework while creating a framework to be in compliance with the safe harbor provisions of sovereign nations. Win-Win-Win for sure.

The Ad wars – Instead of innovating, the ad industry as a whole took shortcuts and the end result was the bombardment of useless ads with no frequency control. Consumers are responding by embracing ad-blockers. Operators view this trend as an opportunity to stall the OTTs. Some of it is genuine concern for the consumers who get slapped with ads which consume good portion of their data bucket and deteriorate the experience sometimes to a point of making the browsing completely unusable especially when network conditions are less than favorable. Operator 3 in Europe working with startup Shine is taking the stance to block out the ads inviting the scorn of the ad industry and a peek of curiosity from the regulators. It is unlikely to be an effective strategy. However, it clearly is an opportunity for the ad industry to step up and design new frameworks that are consumer friendly. When we wrote the first mobile advertising book at the dawn of the birth of the modern mobile advertising industry, we had proposed several ideas that use the data to enhance the consumer experience and ecosystem strength but we clearly have a lot of work to do.

Verizon XO investment – Verizon’s XO deal of $1.8B didn’t get much attention but it was a brilliant deal appreciated by the folks who really understand what is going on. Verizon gets a fiber network and more important wireless spectrum (28 and 39 GHz) suited for 5G.

Resurrection of RCS – RCS has been a poster child of inability of operators to work together on a global scale w.r.t applications. The growth of IP messaging is well documented. Not only did operators miss out but Google did as well. Now that messaging is emerging as a new potential commerce and engagement platform, this is an attempt by Google to take a shot at the messaging opportunity. A number of things have to go right for this program to work so the probability is stacked against it.

Facebook TIP – Having shaped the IT infrastructure, Facebook is focusing on influencing the telecom infrastructure stack. The focus is going to commoditize the stack and open source it. Some big names are joining the effort like Nokia, Intel, and DT.

Connecting the next billion takes a back seat – Last year, one of the big theme emerging out of MWC was the focus on connecting the next billion. The talk of 5G drowned out any discussion of connecting the unconnected. The show did discuss using balloons, drones, satellites unlicensed spectrum to lower the cost of access. The unintended consequence of FreeBasics ruling might be a dampening effect on experimenting with alternative business models to support low cost access in emerging markets in the short-term.

Net Neutrality – NN has become an emotionally charged debate. Regulators around the world are grappling with how to understand and regulate through the complex prism of the future. Regulators are rushing to issue their rulings based on the world they saw in the past not the society and how it is going to react to applications and services in the future. Participants are getting bolder in their approach and interpretation of Net Neutrality. T-Mobile’s Binge-On is being watched by operators worldwide and the regulators are trying to understand what it means in their local market.

Regulations for the new age – Some of the regulations in the communications space are over a 100-year-old. Communications itself has drastically changed though the principle of transferring the bits from point A to B remains the same. T-Mobile reported that 50% of its voice calls are are on VoLTE. IP messaging is many times the SMS global volume. Gradually, almost all voice and messaging will be on the IP layer – voice and messaging will just become apps on the data layer. So pretending and regulating these services as if it were 2000 doesn’t help. An ideal strategy for consideration should be that the IP layer gets regulated for fair pricing, competition, and consumer good while everything on the top of the IP layer gets regulated on a “same service, same rules” principle. The interconnection between apps to deliver services like connection to PSTN, E911, etc. can be addressed by fair market pricing principles. VR is going to become the next communication platform; IP messaging the next application development and commerce platform. To keep the regulatory regime simple and in with the times, by focusing on the access layer, one can guarantee that whatever takes place on the top has the opportunity to grow as the market desires. Similarly, data rules across all apps and services on top of the IP layer should be the same irrespective of the provider. This market shift is required to make the market more competitive and fair.

IoT – IoT use cases are becoming more crisp and clear. There is steady growth in how IoT is getting integrated into both industrial and consumer worlds. As expected there are efforts underway to streamline and unfragment the stack. Intel and Qualcomm got together for the larger good of the industry under the Open Connectivity Foundation. We will be taking a deep dive into the IoT world at our upcoming Mobile Breakfast Series event in Vancouver.

eSIM – eSIM is potentially one of the biggest disruptive force our industry has seen in some time. If you connect the dots into the future, it is becoming clear that there is significant tension along the fault lines. Regulators better get ahead of this wave in time.

VRthe next communication platform – The emerging world of VR/AR is quite exciting. The technology is getting there. One of the key 5G use cases is going to be VR as it will require high capacity delivery of bits to the headset. However, VR sales are not going to go through the roof anytime soon. Some of the same things that plagued Google glasses – price, performance, and dorkiness are going to impact the early days of VR (Google’s VR approach is actually more market friendly at this time) but it is exciting to see tech companies tackle a complex computing problem. I am looking forward to new experiences across different domains.

Security, Privacy, and the clash of the titans – Apple vs. FBI case was on the top of the mind of executives. It wasn’t being discussed openly for obvious reasons but it came up in discussions almost every day. It is a complex issue that has to be looked from the perspective of enforcement in international jurisdictions. Operators have been forced to comply with similar requests for years. It will be an interesting battle, something that every tech company, every govt. around the world is paying close attention to.

Handset launches – Samsung launched S7, LG showed G5, Xiaomi announced Mi5, Huawei had its MateBook which probably was the sleekest device at MWC this year. Overall, only incremental improvements while the industry awaits new ideas to surface.

Disruption from 3.5 GHz – When I talked to the White House last year about 5G, I focused on stressing that Bits/s/Hz/Km2/joule/$ will be a key 5G performance consideration. FCC has done well by making the 3.5 Ghz available to the industry. Given that 70-80% of data consumption is indoors, unlicensed WiFi+LTE can be used to provide a much better economics esp. for enterprise customers. Players of various stripes are taking a serious look at it – Ericsson, Lemko, Google, Nokia, and others. Expect more news to come during the first half of the year.

Sigfox/Lora vs. NB-LTE – Sigfox/Lora remind me of WiMax. WiMax is remembered for its role in accelerating LTE deployments. While Sigfox/Lora started the process of creating a network and business model suited for IoT, it forced the 3GPP members to come up with NB-LTE (in a hurry) and with the growing support of the ecosystem behind it, it is hard to see how in the long-run a non-standard approach can win out.

Wearables – It seemed like the hype around consumer wearables has died down at MWC this year. No new concepts. Industry has to get the basics right first. However, there is good progress on the enterprise front where the use cases and requirements are clear. There are a number of companies who are working to make wearables/VR/AR a reality in the enterprise space.

Misc – Selfie security (Mastercard), Gesture user interfaces, Stripe’s Atlas platform, Mobile Connect (2B enabled consumers), AT&T $10B investment to expand globally, Paypal loves NFC after all, Smart Cities, Mobile Commerce initiatives, Media and Telco convergence, Operator data monetization, Alternate connectivity solutions (drones, balloons, lasers, etc.), Digital divide, 1B LTE subs.

Booth of the year: Ericsson by a distance

Party of the year: Siris Capital, Qualcomm

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma

We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blog, twitter feeds, future research reports, articles, and our annual thought-leadership summit – Mobile Future Forward. The next US Wireless Data Market update will be released in March 2016.

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this update are our clients.

Mobile World Congress 2015 Recap March 9, 2015

Posted by chetan in : 4th Wave,5G,Connected Intelligence Era,Emerging Markets,Enterprise Mobility,European Wireless Market,Mobile World Congress,The Golden Age of Mobile,US Wireless Market,Wireless Value Chain,Worldwide Wireless Market , add a comment

Mobile World Congress 2015 Recap

Barcelona hosted its 10th edition of MWC last week. The beautiful weather in a lovely city provided the perfect setup to pontificate about the future direction of the mobile industry. This note presents the summary of the discussions and the observations from the show.

For a second year in a row, Mark Zuckerberg was the highlight of the show. The crowd and the buzz for his panel was probably more than for rest of the keynotes combined. Last year, Mark introduced the project, this year it was about the progress report. The operators look at Internet players with deep suspicion. The goal of getting more folks online is a shared objective in the industry but there is tension around the business model and the mechanics. Executives from Telenor, Bharti Airtel, and Millicom shared their experience (mostly positive) and the impact it has had on their data growth and revenues. All were cautiously optimistic.

One thing that will help the operators is to look at Internet players a bit differently and it requires a mental shift. Just like operators work with and compete against other service providers, they can find common grounds for collaboration in some areas and in other segments they will of course compete but having a one-track mind will detrimental to their progress. On the flip side, Internet players should appreciate the competitive dynamics in the market, the financial metrics that drives the business and the work to deliver a more customized partnership – something the Internet players are not that accustomed to. The Internet segment does a better job of managing coopetition than the telecom sector.

Probably the second most watched keynote was from Sundar Pichai. Rumors of a Google MVNO have been around for many months. The plans to launch the “nexus of networks” were discussed. Additionally, Sundar discussed how project Loon and project Titan could be used to provide the Internet backbone. The connectivity projects are nice science experiments at this stage but the MVNO project could have some implications depending on how far Google wants to take it. Will it be the Rokr project for Google or something more? Only time will tell.

Just like it has been for many years, Apple was at the center of many discussions at the show. In carefully orchestrated leaks, there was a steady flow of the news on Apple Watch. It will set the competitive bar for the segment and help everyone figure out their place in the market. Folks were deeply divided on the likelihood of success. Battery life might end up being the key-determining factor. There was also a lot of discussion around the news reports on Apple Pay fraud issues.

For the first 3 generations, technical guys were in charge of the wireless technology Gs. With 4G, the marketing department took over and it looks like they are not ready to relinquish their position anytime soon. The hype around 5G was at its highest at the show. In the last 3 months, every major entity has had something to say about what 5G should be and what will it enable. There is also a tussle for who gets to lead the industry on 5G.

Europe is anxious to regain the mantle it lost after GSM. But there is a big problem. The 4G penetration in Europe won’t even get past 50% until 2020, the investment wouldn’t have been recovered by then. Someone bring out the econ 101 book, please! It seems like 5G is going to revolve around mmWave spectrum and technologies (very few see a new interface coming) but this has massive capex and opex implications in addition to the practical implications of millions of nodes to deliver the desired throughput. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t continue to work on pushing the boundaries and take leadership position in developing the standards and use cases. However, from a deployment point of view, we need a filter of reality.

Also, the industry is getting ahead of itself. Keep the marketing guys in the barn, settle on the definition, the how, the use cases, and then figure out the technical and marketing roadmap. (there was plenty of talk about pre-5G as well). Of course, one can achieve 10 Gbps today but mostly under impractical configurations. What’s also troubling is that the Internet players are not part of the standards process. Matt Grob, CTO of Qualcomm responding to a question about the timeline for getting 5M 5G subs suggested we might get there by 2022. As a reference, 4G reached the 5M mark in 2010. KT CEO gave a delightful presentation of 5G optimism. A number of position papers were released – fun reading for geeks if you are into these long reads. We will be releasing our own thoughts on 5G later this month expanding on piece we explored earlier this year.

All eyes were on FCC Chairman Wheeler after the landmark ruling last month. There was no new news per say but the topic was hotly discussed and debated in public and private forums. While the journey is just starting, the world is looking to see how things will end-up. As I mentioned to the WSJ, no country wants to be viewed backwards and whatever happens in the US market will have implications worldwide over the next decade and beyond. I also get the sense that we don’t quite understand the impact of unintended consequences. For e.g. there are several use cases like transportation, medical, financial, etc. where prioritization is required. Voice has been prioritized for ages and will be in the future. 5G will have different prioritization schemes depending on the radio, the applications, and the requirements. Ideally, you want the application to request a prioritization level. It is hard to justify that a moisture sensor in a sprinkler should get the same prioritization as the x-ray going over the wires. Prioritization exists in all forms of access and embedded in the way of life for good reasons. It is not quite clear what will be allowed and what will be dealt on a case-by-case basis. Maybe all this is taken care of in the ruling. Hopefully, the 300+ page tome will answer some of these questions.

The best phone launch belonged to Samsung. Learning from past mistakes, it was a no-nonsense presentation. The S6 edge looks sleek and beautiful, the camera is remarkable. However, for the purists the lack of the SD card and the removable battery is troubling. The price point for the highest end might go past $1K. It is unlikely that S6 will steal share away from i6 but it will probably take it away from other Android OEMs and will see a nice revenue bump in the 2nd half of the year. It might help stabilize the severe decline in profits from 2014. Samsung Pay puts Android on the mobile payments map as well. There were device launches from Nokia, HTC, and others but nothing captured the attention of the show. Orange/Mozilla came out with a unique offering of a 35 Euro package that includes a decent smartphone, 6 month of 500MB/mo, unlimited voice and messaging. It will be launched in the African markets to get more people transition over to smartphones and data services.

The current money in IoT is clearly in the industrial projects. IoT is a great enabler to re-architect business processes, revenue streams, business models, companies, and industries. While industrial IoT didn’t make a splash, in conversations with folks, there are all sorts of projects being done around the globe and there is serious money being spent. One project can sometimes account for the entire consumer IoT revenue stream. Accenture/Intel had some cool demonstrations to tell the story. Lot of work is going into IoT driven factories, buildings, and the supply-chain.

Consumer IoT didn’t make a big splash like it did at CES in January. There were no drones, robots, or humanoids running around. A number of OEMs came out with watches and sensor bands – nothing that will take the industry by storm. Huawei probably gets the vote for the best watch launch at MWC. In general, for the current stream of connected watches, the technical specs have triumphed the fashion specs. Can Apple change the equation this year?

In case, it wasn’t clear to some – AT&T is undergoing a significant transformation into becoming an international solutions provider – it was apparent from the show. In the European show, AT&T had the best presence amongst its peers. European operator landscape is dominated by the quad-play moves and consolidation. As usual, the Koreans and the Japanese impress with their quirky art of storytelling. Using a robot to emphasize low 5G latency by SK Telecom was my favorite. AT&T has been signing up the most number of connected car contracts and the numbers are starting to impact the financials in a material way. A select group of the operators are showing meaningful revenues from the 4th wave.

VR helps tell a good story. Several companies used VR headsets (mostly Oculus and Samsung) to have attendees experience their product, services or vision. Ericsson had a cool setup to remotely controlled excavator thousands of miles away. Will VR enter the boardrooms? Quite likely.

After a slow start, LTE-U is gaining quite a bit of traction. Qualcomm’s efforts are bearing fruit and we should be seeing some deployments in 2016. The Wi-Fi ecosystem has expressed concerns but nothing that can’t be overcome. Most of tier-1 operators in the western markets have some form of SDN/NFV initiatives in place. AT&T’s Donovan announced that they have already 5% coverage and are on track to reach 75% by 2020.

Security and privacy continue to be hot topic in the post-snowden era especially in Europe. Regulations are also tightening up. EU wants much stronger privacy regulations. European operators want harmonization of privacy regulation between operators and the Internet players. IoT multiplies the attack nodes and it has serious implications for both enterprise and consumer domains.

Few M&A transactions during the week got the attention of the industry. The biggest one was from Freescale and NXP who announced a mammoth $40B merger. Then Mavenir got acquired by Mitel for $560M. HP acquired Aruba to boost the Wi-Fi business and paid a premium at $3B.

Other items of interest were 3D biometric fingerprints (Qualcomm), autonomous cars in 2016 (Nissan), zero rating (Wikipedia), B2B $1B revenues (Ooredoo), sub-$50 devices (Android, Mozilla), Windows 10 (Microsoft), 100M mobile money users (GSMA), 5G Holograms (KT), Smart Home Air Service (Conway), Lighting as a Service (Philips), Resiliency and Fault-Tolerant SDN/NFV layer (Stratus), 6G (DoCoMo), Runcible (Monohm), Selfie’d Journalists (they were everywhere), Wireless charging furniture (Ikea), MoDe Electric Bike (Ford), Connected carry-on (Bluesmart), and more

Best launch – Samsung S6. Well executed. Generated lot of interest from media and partners.

Best booth – Ericsson. They have really mastered the art of storytelling through physical and digital assets.

Best parties – Siris Capital and Qualcomm

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma

We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blog, twitter feeds, future research reports, articles, and our annual thought-leadership summit – Mobile Future Forward.

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this update are our clients.

2014 Mobile World Congress Observations March 3, 2014

Posted by chetan in : 4th Wave,Applications,Big Data,Hetnets,Internet of Things,IoE,IoT,LTE Broadcast,Mobile World Congress,NFV,SDN,Smart Cities,Smart Phones,US Wireless Market,Wearables,Wi-Fi,Wireless Value Chain,Worldwide Wireless Market , 3 comments

2014 Mobile World Congress Observations

Last week all mobile roads led to Barcelona for the annual industry get-together. Many of the discussions at MWC were through the lens of previous week’s blockbuster deal of Facebook/Whatsapp. The deal touches upon many of the technology and business trends up-and-down the mobile stack.

According to industry sources, the first 3GSM had a grand total of 72 attendees cobbled together by self-interest and coaxing. Fast-forward to 2014, and the show has become the most dominant show on the planet, reporting over 80K attendees from around the globe. Perhaps, it is an indication of the improving economy and the fact that we are firmly on the 4th wave impacting every industry vertical.

This note presents the summary of the observations and discussions from the show.

The deal everyone was talking about

The news that everyone was talking about and dissecting was the one that Facebook struck with Whatsapp in a blockbuster announcement few days ago. For folks who were looking primarily from the financial metrics couldn’t come to grips with the magnitude of the deal. However, as I mentioned on CNBC, the deal has to be understood from the point of view of strategic moat for Facebook. Additionally, when the street measures the company by the number of active users, at $130/user, the deal was a bargain. Having said that, there is whack-a-mole element to this strategy. It takes enormous courage to strike such a deal but if you look it from a strategic point of view, Facebook could have easily spent $25B to secure their future in the short-term. The cost of not acting is much higher.

Connecting the unconnected

Connecting the unconnected was by far the biggest theme of the show. From Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote to the launch of $25 devices from Mozilla, there was concerted discussion around how to increase the 3.5B consumers to 5-6B. The business models were hotly debated both in public and private meetings. How does this get funded? Clearly, cheaper devices, lower infrastructure costs, lower application delivery models are key, but how do you onboard these users is one the biggest challenges of the next 5 years.


The emergence of the 4th wave and the competitive dynamics in the markets has put tremendous pressure on the operating margins of the operators. In order to compete and make the organization more nimble and future-ready, one has to tackle the problem on multiple front – reduce the number of resources required to accomplish the tasks, get rid of the network architecture that is limiting and controlled by proprietary interfaces and vendors, drastically reduce the cost of operations, and enable the API layers for quick service creation and deployment. As a result of this pressure and desire to change, SDN and NFV took more prominence this year compared to the past and operators are urgently moving to cloud-based infrastructure. AT&T’s CTO John Donovan emphasized the need to work with startups and more nimble/innovative players than the incumbents to reduce cost and introduce new services quickly (this paper on the subject is worth the read).

5G – 5GPPP and NGMN

While 4G has been the fastest network technology in the history and we are seeing deployments around the world, industry has officially set its sight on defining 5G. A couple of prominent efforts were announced at MWC – 5GPPP led by the Europeans and NGMN – an operator led initiative. A couple of things will have to be worked out as industry bodies look to define 5G and its use cases. While there is politics and jostling to get an advantage, someone will have to harmonize the definitions and requirements. And more importantly, the discussions of 5G should involve the leading OTT players given that 5G will be applications-led network technology.

Ecosystem value shifts

There are significant value shifts that are taking place in the ecosystem. The value is shifting to the upper layers of the stack. This is what is defining the current turbulence, which is exciting to many and depressing for some. Regulators are caught in the middle unable to understand the OTT landscape and design policies that work for the overall growth of the industry that drive the investments, innovation, and GDP growth. We are likely to see the overall pie grow but the tremendous value creation and destruction within the confines of this growth.


MWC picked up where CES left off in wearables. There were many more players who launched watches with different flavors and price point. Industry is also getting conscious of the design elements is what is going to drive the industry. On a larger scale, the industry is waiting for Apple to release its version of wearables and watches, create awareness, and hope that the rising tide lifts all. Huawei, Motorola, Sony, and others announced watches to the market in 2014 without any information on pricing or availability dates. As we mentioned in our CES summary, the wearables market is likely to split into the commoditized layer and the fashion segment.

Galaxy S5

MWC was light on any major device launches except for S5 from Samsung who announced the device in a low-key press conference. There were some other interesting concepts introduced like Yotaphone with an e-ink interface on the back and the privacy-infused-Blackphone. The display is one area, which could bring in new form-factors and use cases as industry gets saturated with existing designs.


IoT is going through its hype cycle right now. IoE takes the notion even to a next level. Everyone wants to make things connected but how will this all pan out, what are “real” use cases? Who bears the cost of the additional BOM? What form of connectivity is required? How do you unify the underlying platform so IoT is exposed as an opportunity to the developers? There are still more questions than there are answers. The most ambitious practical initiative is from GE, which is looking ways to improve its operations using sensors in a significant way. Intel, Cisco, AT&T, Telefonica, Ericsson, Google, Facebook, and many others are all contributing to defining what this connected world will look like in a few years.

I moderated a couple of panels on the role of network APIs in the IoT world. There was significant interest in the developer community on how to tap into this emerging opportunity.

The connected universe will generate opportunities for many players especially the chip manufacturers. Qualcomm has had a dominant role in the chipset space for sometime and continues to operate from its high perch but market is seeing credible solutions and traction from Mediatek who is attacking the market at the bottom end and Intel, which is taking a more performance-centric strategy.

We will be conducting two in-depth sessions on IoT in the coming months. IoT Americas in Seattle (March 18th) with AT&T, Samsung, and adidas and IoT Europe in London (June 17th) with Telefonica and Intel.

Smart Cities

There was a lot of talk about Smart Cities and by extension Smart Nations. However, we haven’t settled on a set of operating models to fund such initiatives. Smaller nations have a better chance to execute on the vision. Countries that have the political breed, regulators, and the industry in sync will see quicker progress than the ones mired by constant election cycles and lackadaisical regulatory regimes. Japan, Korea, Australia, Israel, Spain are a the forefront of what a “Smart City” means and more importantly how will these initiatives will get funded.

Connected Cars

This year connected cars feel more real with imminent launches and data become a key selling point for the OEMs. The primary use cases are safety, diagnostics, and navigation. Next come entertainment and the larger developer ecosystem. Business models vacillate between the kindle model (of embedded connectivity) to shared data plans (attach your cars to the data plan you already have). We are likely to see much activity, deals, and progress in 2014 as the likes of Ford and GM have become regular fixtures at MWC.

Carrier-Aggregation and Hetnets

Carrier aggregation (CA) and Wi-Fi-cellular integration is not new. Vendors and operators have been talking about it for sometime. Most of the LTE operators are in the process of implementing CA to boost the bandwidth and gain more efficiency out of their spectrum assets. Integration with Wi-Fi also gives a boost though there are some enhancements needed to fully utilize Wi-Fi. KT perhaps had the most impressive demo with 3 CA demonstrating speeds of 400-600 Mbps. In a country where 100 Mbps is commonplace, it is no surprise that Korea is pushing the boundaries with LTE.

Network investments – $1.7 Trillion in the next five years

All the progress that has been on the mobile economy has been on the back of trillions of dollars of investment over the last couple of decades. With declining margins, how long do operators continue to invest and at what pace? What’s the margin profile they are willing to live with? What’s the role of government in building out the infrastructure when high-speed mobile networks are concerned? Japan, Korea, Israel have all based their competitiveness on connected broadband world. Can others follow? The impact of Whatsapp launching voice services and Netflix/Comcast deal were hotly debated in the hallways. It is one thing to put out national broadband plans and it is entirely another reality to have an execution path to deliver on the plan. The broadband investment has much far reaching implications than most people and governments realize.

Move towards data-only plans

As we have chronicled in our 4th wave series papers, the past revenue curves of voice and SMS though still generating significant revenues are on their way out. We will be transitioning slowly but surely to the “data-only” world where consumers pay for data packages and voice and SMS are just IP apps on the network being offered by the operator or other 3rd parties.

LTE broadcast

While the industry still has the Mediaflo hangover, LTE broadcast seems to be gaining more traction as more operators are committing to trials and experimentation. The business model (for generating new revenue) still stays elusive.

OTT regulations

The cacophony of OTT regulations is increasing. Faced with OTT impact on their core business, operators are asking regulators to take a broader look at how communications is regulated. Most of the regulators seem incapable or unwilling. There is an urgent need to overhaul the policy framework worldwide and more harmonization is needed so that the developers are not constantly looking at a moving target. However, it feels like the current tools are inadequate to keep with the times. Nations who get what it means to be “digitized” are investing and positioning their respective countries for greater competitive position for the next decade while others will be forced to fight the cycles of unemployment, sluggish growth, and widespread apathy.

Big data – data is the resource that feeds the economic engine and industry growth

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of talk about using data to fuel new industries and business models. While we are having pertinent debates about security and privacy, the opportunity to use data for greater efficiency and new revenue streams is no more academic. Companies who have gone through the investment of collecting and streamlining the data sources from not only their internal operations but also partners and the developer ecosystem are going to reap better rewards in the long-term. All this is to have an unfair competitive advantage in the “battle of context” which is going to get played out for the second half of this decade. However, big data is also raising big questions about security and privacy.

Security and Privacy

The requirement for tighter end-to-end security and regulators involvement in managing privacy is becoming very important especially in Europe. Given the pervasiveness of Android, it remains the favorite target of the hackers and the frequency of attacks has seen an enormous increase over the last 12 months. The Snowden effect is having tangible impact on US businesses in Europe and elsewhere and given that mobile is platform of choice, many governments are trying to figure out how to regulate security and privacy.

Nokia’s love affair with Android

The fact that Nokia announced more Android devices than those on the Windows OS pretty much sums up the conundrum Microsoft is in today. Nokia’s recognition that Android is a ticket to recognition proved that its Windows-only strategy had been flawed all along. Had it chosen a dual Android/Windows strategy at the outset, Nokia’s history could have been different and the company might have not seen such destruction in value. In any case, the Android device roadmap was prepared primarily to seal the Microsoft deal so we don’t expect any major Android handsets on Microsoft’s roadmap.

Best Booth – Ericsson

Best Party – Siris Capital

Your feedback is always welcome

Chetan Sharma

We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blog, twitter feeds, future research reports, articles, and our annual thought-leadership summit – Mobile Future Forward. The next US Wireless Data Market update will be released in March 2014. The next Global Wireless Data Market update will be issued in April 2014.

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this note are our clients.

Mobile World Congress 2013 Recap March 6, 2013

Posted by chetan in : 4G,AORTA,Chetan Sharma Consulting,European Wireless Market,LTE,Mobile World Congress,US Wireless Market,Wireless Value Chain,Worldwide Wireless Market , 6 comments

“Welcome to Spain, Thank you for your business,” remarked the immigration officer and thus started my yearly pilgrimage to the grand slam of mobile – The Mobile World Congress 2013. It is truly a global event with participants from virtually all countries looking to do business, learn a thing or two, and ponder over what the year will bring forth. The show moved to a new venue which made the logistics work much better for attendees and exhibitors but the venue lost its charm and character. We used this opportunity to feel the pulse of the industry and understand where things are headed. This note summarizes our observations from the show.

While there was no blockbuster announcements or products that will knock your socks off, several interesting trends emerged that will keep the industry exciting to watch in 2013.

The perennial search for the #3 ecosystem continues: Windows sales have disappointed thus far, Blackberry has launched new devices but hasn’t quite hit the mark. So, while consumers seem perfectly happy with iOS and Android, industry’s desire to have a third robust ecosystem is palpable. The biggest announcement in that regard was from Firefox OS and in a matter of 12 months, it has not only forged a strong alliance with operators, it is actually getting ready to ship phones. It is going to be targeting the low-end of the market which is a smart strategy but a lot depends on the range of price points of the devices and how quickly it can attract the developer ecosystem. Given that Android device price points are hovering around $50 and it is a mature ecosystem with great developer reach and support, it will be challenging to convince consumers to go the Firefox route. However, if the price points are attractive enough, with the distribution power of some key operators, we could see some early traction. Ubuntu, Jolla, and Tizen were also vying for attention.

LTE everywhere: LTE deployment is growing at a very fast pace. The US market is ahead of the curve with almost national footprint from Verizon followed by substantial coverage from the remaining three operators. Elsewhere, operators are gearing for deployment once some of the spectrum issues/auctions are sorted out.

The 4th Wave has arrived: Last year, we put forth a framework for future mobile industry revenues in our 4th wave paper. Since then, the framework has been embraced by many leading operators around the globe. It was good to hear operators talking more about services rather than data plans. Several areas were discussed by the leading tier 1 operators such as health, retail, education, cloud, M2M, automobile, enterprise, security, connected living, home security, commerce, identity and privacy, big data and analytics. Operators who are able to steer their giant organizations to focus on services will be able to survive the commoditization of access. We will have more say on the subject later this year.

Yo OTT, luego existo: which is Spanish for “I OTT, therefore I am” To be a player in the digital world, one has to be an OTT provider for communications and beyond. The interesting dichotomy of the communications OTT business is that very few will survive. The end state of a majority of them (if not all) is either an M&A with a telco or an Internet player or they run out of cash. The new breed of OTTs has forced the lumbering giants to think different about their customers and their markets.

Mobile Broadband, Cloud, and Apps: The troika of broadband network access, the cloud infrastructure and the applications are creating a sea change in the enterprise, especially the SMB segment. It is also changing how developers see the enterprise segment as the opportunity migrates from windows to iOS and Android. We conducted some in-depth research in the space and will have more to share later this year. Our Mobile Breakfast Series later this month will be dealing with the topic of Cloud and SDN in more detail.

Redefining Monopoly: The mobile and internet worlds have collided but the regulatory regimes haven’t changed. European operators seemed to indicate that it is time to reassess what a monopoly really means and the rules should apply to all layers of the ecosystem stack and that means devices and OSs as well.

Device Launches: All major OEMs are following the Apple playbook as far as the device announcements are concerned. To garner media attention, it is best to announce the “hero” devices away from major shows. Just like CES earlier this year, MWC lacked any big device announcements. Nokia announced mid-low tier devices to expand its portfolio that will help it in unit sales. ZTE, Huawei, LG, Asus, NEC, Sony, HTC, HP, Asus, Acer, Lenovo all had new devices to display but media’s eyes are set on Samsung’s Galaxy release later this month.

Local OEMs: Traditional OEMs are facing some healthy competition from new entrants in local markets. Players like Fly and Yotaphone in Russia are giving the veterans a run for their money. By both innovating with new features but also by customizing the devices for the local market (e.g. bigger battery that last 3 days), they are creating their own niche. After gaining good market share in Russia, Fly is expanding into other markets.

Connected Cars: When the biggest operator by revenue announces a deal with the biggest car manufacturer, people take notice. GM and AT&T announced LTE cars by 2015 which will pretty much force the entire auto industry to provide broadband connectivity in a hurry. However, the auto industry has misplaced expectations on apps and any incremental revenue they might be able to harness from them.

Samsung Knox, Blackberry – can you hear me now: Android is probably the most insecure mobile platform out there. Blackberry has long been the gold standard, iOS has improved, Windows has security features built in but security has always been a step-child of Android. Samsung’s Knox announcement elevates Samsung’s role in the mobile enterprise and to some extent takes over some of the development capability of Android that are squarely aimed at Blackberry. The container security feature set with MDM integration is well thought out and opens up the mobile enterprise market for Samsung especially in North America and Western Europe.

Spectrum and Regulations: While spectrum was a universal issue with the operators, more is better, European operators were particularly vocal about the state of the regulatory affairs on the continent. Regulators, they complained, are killing the industry by cutting of revenue opportunities, are fostering too much competition, too much taxation, and too involved in the operations of the operators. This is leading to declining revenues and turmoil at the operators. There might be some unintended consequences of weakening operators and regulators will have to grapple with some interesting questions that a free market economy will pose in the coming days.

TU Go – Take your phone number everywhere: In our opinion, Telefonica has done the best job of dealing with the digital world in putting forth an org structure that can crank out applications and services at Internet speed. TU Go is a new service (launched in UK) that allows users to take their phone number to any supported device and use it for calling and texting – number in the cloud at its best.

NFC is dead, Long Live NFC: Vodafone CEO’s frank admission that he doesn’t expect to make much money from NFC gave the audience a bit of a pause. Several NFC initiatives have floundered without clear goals or vision. Instead of working together, the industry has remained fragmented and thus the lack of scale has hampered progress. For too long, the industry has focused on payments but the opportunity lies in the engagement with the customer. For better or for worse, the financial industry has sequestered its commission for the foreseeable future. We saw some clever NFC implementations to drive consumer engagement and commerce in retail environments, primarily in Europe.

Consolidation looms: The question that is on everyone’s mind but was hardly discussed at the show was the coming onslaught of consolidation at virtually all layers of the ecosystem.

Developing Markets: Connecting the next billion was a recurring theme. The smartphone penetration in the developing world is in the single digits. More than that, introducing consumers to a computing platform for the first time is an exciting opportunity. Creating services that are tailored to the local environment remains an opportunity that can have a profound impact on society. Our own work with the UN/ITU has shown the transformative role of mobile in almost every walk of life. The device unit growth is coming from the developing markets and as they get connected, the world becomes flatter, and the competitive dynamics in a globalizing world will create for some interesting policy and political battles.

M2M and Internet of Things: As we wrote in our book “Wireless Data Services” back in 2004, the connectivity is becoming pervasive. The module costs are coming down fast and the desire to measure and track every number that is important in our lives is creating a massive opportunity. However, privacy, battery life, environment, security remain key issues that need to be tackled.

Identity as a business opportunity: In a digital world where access to information and resources depend on verification of your identity, the guards and keepers of the identity information have a big role to play. As such, “identity” management is emerging as an opportunity that can be monetized. In the online world, Facebook has become the dominant way to integrate apps and services. In the mobile world, operators can play a significant role in authentication and verification. Will the two worlds collide? Fasten your seat belts.

The Post PC world: As an experiment, for the MWC trip, I carried just the Nexus 7 tablet and an iPhone. I felt liberated. In the past, for day trips, I have relied just on iPad/iPhone for taking care of my computing needs. For this trip, I wanted something that I can carry in jacket pocket. Nexus was good enough for taking simple notes, email, browser and even some phone calls. I could easily switch back-and-forth between the tablet and the phone, and the combined battery life lasted the whole day.

The Miscellaneous:

· Google’s absence from the show puzzled many

· The enthusiasm for RCS/Joyn seems to have subsided as reality sets in

· Nokia is broadening the reach of its HERE platform to other operating systems

· AT&T/Ericsson showed WebRTC demo

· Facebook announced messaging partnerships with operators in developing countries

· Small cells remained a hot topic though seen more of a compliment for the macro network

· Signaling traffic continues to grow at a faster pace than the data traffic as more LTE devices come on the network

· Qualcomm launched RF360 solution to deal with frequency band fragmentation which is serious problem for LTE roaming

· Yotaphone with its dual screen (front and back) and NEC Medias with its stacked up screens had something fresh to offer in the devices space when 99% of the devices look the same

· Virtualization is the new black in mobile networks

Best booth: Ericsson’s networked world theme was well thought-out and provided a unique exploratory view of the opportunities and technology evolution. A close second – Connected City.

Best party: There won’t be an MWC without the bevy of parties every night. Qualcomm again stole the show with the jam-packed confluence of the mobile elite.

Mobile World Congress 2012 Recap March 6, 2012

Posted by chetan in : 3G,4G,AORTA,Applications,Connected Devices,LTE,Mobile Cloud Computing,Mobile Commerce,Mobile Content,Mobile Ecosystem,Mobile Future Forward,Mobile Payments,Mobile World Congress,MWC,US Wireless Market,WiMax,Wireless Value Chain,Worldwide Wireless Market , add a comment

Mobile World Congress 2012 Recap

The mobile industry had its biggest industry show last week in Barcelona. Going by the attendee numbers, the global economy seems to have rebounded though riots on the streets indicated tough time for Spain ahead. While there weren’t any blockbuster announcements, there was plenty to chew on. LTE, Connected Devices, Mobile Commerce, Privacy, WiFi offload, small cells, platform wars, mobile money, RCS, Connected Home, NFC, Cloud, and HTML5 had their share of debates and discussions. This note summarizes my observations from the show.

China passes the 1B mark – As we noted in our research piece last month “A Tale of Two Mobile Markets – China and India,” China crossed the 1B subscription mark this past weekend (Economist did a piece based on our research as well). In the last ten years, China has become the 2nd largest economy in the world behind the US while India which crossed the 900M mark last month is edging past Japan to be the #3. Given that mobile will have a central role in the ICT evolution of global markets and economies, what happens in the mobile markets of China and India will influence rest of the world.

Convergence of three screens – One of the fascinating trend is the convergence of the desktop, tablets, and smartphones at the OS/Apps layer with Apple, Microsoft, and Google being the three major pillars. Each has its strength in a given segment though Apple has the most mindshare across all three. Microsoft dominates the desktop world with over 90% share, Apple dominates the tablet world with over 60% share and runs a close second to Google on the smartphone segment. As I mentioned to the New York Times, this has significant implications on commerce, distribution, and life time value of the customer.

Operators vs. OTT – Round 2 – Mobile World Congress Keynotes started with two of the most prominent mobile operators proclaiming that the industry has significant challenges in the form of OTT providers commoditizing their revenue streams without any significant investment of their own into the network. Both Franco Bernabe, Chairman and CEO of Telecom Italia and Li Yue, President of China Mobile painted a gloomy picture and how operators need to focus on fundamentals if they were to survive the ever growing pressure on the margins. Some like KPN and SMART are seeing deterioration of their business fundamentals. However, there are some good case studies of success as discussed in my GigaOM column. I also discussed the subject in my paper released last month “Mobile Internet 3.0: How Operators can become service innovators and drive profitability” A number of operators announced their support for Joyn – the face of RCS services. The Operator/OTT story will be one of the most fascinating ones to watch in the coming months.

Mobile payments and commerce – There is significant activity in the mobile payments space but activity shouldn’t be confused for progress. Number of announcements with actual product offerings or roadmap is limited. There are some interesting case studies that are emerging however, like the one in Czech Republic where operators are collaborating with the banks to lower the commission and share the proceeds. That’s the primary way the operator model is going to work. Financial guys have protected their turf very well. And now retailers are forming their union. There has been too much focus on NFC payments rather than NFC as a platform for doing other things besides payments. As I said to the New York Times, “It will take a long time.”

Mobile Cloud – The discussion of Mobile Cloud has moved to Smart Cloud. From devices to the network to the apps, all elements of the chain are looking for the cloud to drive efficiencies in cost and performance.

Mobile Security – Mobile Security has emerged as one of the key opportunity areas for the ecosystem. Given that mobile devices are multiplying like gremlins, it is time to reign in the security. Both consumers and enterprise customers will benefit from a safety net that can protect customers from loss of data, viruses, targeted attacks, and malware. You can expect a number of offerings in this space over the course of this year.

Intel is serious about Mobile – Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel said at the launch event that they are introducing mobile technology at twice the pace of Moore’s law and is a clear statement that Intel is serious about mobile. Intel announced Orange, Lava, ZTE, and Visa as their new partners (in addition to previously announced Motorola and Lenovo) for their mobile chipset platform (smartphones and tablets). While the industry watchers are waiting for one of the big shoe to drop (the likes of Samsung, HTC, Nokia), Intel is making steady progress and the devices are blazing fast especially for 1080p video. Partners are all looking for mass-market devices (read sub-$50 after subsidy) within the next 2-4 months.

Managing Signaling traffic – While the data capacity issues get discussed a lot, signaling traffic and the problems they cause don’t get the same treatment. However, it is very clear that management of signaling traffic will remain quite important. Many of the applications are atrocious when it comes to signaling efficiency for e.g. I saw one of the mapping apps at Procera’s booth which requested connection for every single tile on the map, every time the map was rendered, so one map view could generate over a dozen signaling requests. So far, a lot of attention has been on policy management of data traffic, we better start paying attention to policy management of signaling traffic.

LTE/WiFi – Infrastructure providers and operators are looking to tighten the bond between LTE and WiFi such that the traffic can be policy managed at a granular level by application type so that based on the real-time traffic conditions, traffic can be optimized and routed accordingly.  Alcatel-Lucent with its LightRadio technology and SK Telecom were some of the players demoing the concept.

Traffic Onloading – Most vendors and operators talk about traffic offloading, but Wim Sweldens, President of Alcatel-Lucent Wireless division had much to say about traffic onloading. Even at the show, WiFi offload was being discussed along with LTE in the same sentence. With traffic, operators are also offloading the customer, he said – exposing the customer to potential security problems and perhaps loss of revenue opportunities during that session. With Light Radio WiFi®, operators will be able to more intelligently onboard the customer to their network and provide the same level of service and security as they do with their cellular network. Wim suggested that this is a good marriage between the radio and the IP world to give the best to customer while preserving the value for the operators. My discussion with Wim in this GigaOM column has more details. I will have more research coming out on the subject later in the year.

GAMAF moves – While Eric Schmidt will argue Microsoft isn’t in the mix; the platform world in mobile revolves around the furious five – GAMAF. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Amongst the five, Google had the biggest presence at the show while Apple and Amazon were just there to scout talent, deals, and competition. Amazon and Facebook lack an OS to go with their ambitions and are pinning their hopes on HTML5. Amazon has thus far used Google’s efforts to its advantage and done a better job in some areas. MWC12 was coming out party for Facebook Mobile. Microsoft is making steady progress with 8 and hoping that it will prove to be its lucky number.

Empire strikes back – Microsoft and Nokia have been making steady progress in their quest to regain market share that stands decimated by previous strategic errors. While it is going to take unforeseen amount of time to make up for the lost market value, Nokia’s product line looks good, operators seem to provide a helping hand in creating the third viable ecosystem. Microsoft has been scrambling to get Windows 8 ready for the market so it can launch tablets and tie the three screens together. Things finally are coming together. Though a number of things can still go wrong, the two work horses are moving in the right direction. However, the biggest question still is whether consumers will give them a chance or not?

Facebook – HTML5 R Us – Facebook has been a bit tentative in mobile over the last few years but is making a concerted effort in building its strategy around HTML5. It is also doing this by rallying partners from across the ecosystem. With its massive reach, it will be a significant player in mobile, commerce, and advertising.

Connected Home – One of my favorite MWC things to do is to visit the Connected Home to see how close we are getting to the reality of connected home. AT&T and other partners showcased some of their latest technologies in home automation and the remote monitoring and home automation platform is almost ready for prime time. AT&T expects the Digital Life platform to be available later this year.

Devices – There were a number of devices launched at the show. HTC got going first with HTC One. The most significant part of the announcement was the distribution deal with 140+ operators. They are going to have a good Q2. Sony, LG, ZTE, Huawei also announced their lineup. Nokia’s pureview stood out for me with its incredible new camera technology (even though it was built on Symbian). Apple, you can finish your Lytro acquisition now. Samsung feverishly pushed its Galaxy Note.

The Untouchables – With Apple launching its LTE iPad on March 7th, the non-Apple tablet market is pretty much frozen. While there were some new tablets launched at the show, an opportunity to change the game likely won’t occur until Microsoft comes out with 8 or Google springs in a surprise. Amazon will continue to sell Kindle Fire but it is hardly making a dent to Apple’s trajectory. Apple is so far ahead of its competitors in the top tier of this key emerging segment that you might as well classify the company as the untouchables.

HyperLocal on a Global Scale – Hyperlocal targeting has been around for some time, one can do polygon targeting meaning draw a polygon of the area where the advertiser wants to target the users. The advantage is that the ads are specific and more context-aware and hence the rate of engagement is higher. Advertisers get better leads and are quite useful for time sensitive campaigns. However, the capability is generally limited to certain regions or countries. Millennial Media extended their dev platform – mMedia allows developers and advertisers to do hyperlocal targeting on a global scale. 

Privacy – There was a lot of discussion on privacy. Everyone has an opinion but not necessarily a good solution. Everyone wants to be guardian of consumer data but don’t want to be held responsible for breaches. This pretty much means regulators are going to move in and it will be hard to predict the impact.

Retailers in mobile – Some of the retailers seem frozen in Mesozoic era and can’t seem to free themselves of their archaic strategies. They realize something is wrong but can’t bring them to change how they drive commerce. There is still a lot of focus on driving traffic to the stores rather than driving commerce to the stores.

Mobile Health and Wellness – Developed countries are driving mobile wellness and developing countries are driving mobile health.

2012 is going to be another fast-paced roller coaster for the mobile industry. Looking forward to a terrific year ahead.

Your feedback is always welcome.

Chetan Sharma

We will be keeping a close eye on the trends in the wireless data sector in our blog, twitter feeds, future research reports, and articles. The next US Wireless Data Market update will be released in Mar 2012. The next Global Wireless Data Market update will be issued in Apr 2012.

Disclaimer: Some of the companies mentioned in this paper are our clients.