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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 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.