CTIA and Mobile Entertainment Summit Roundup

CTIA and Mobile Entertainment Summit Roundup

My week started with a presentation on “US Wireless Market: Trends, Technologies, and Opportunities” to the CTIA-bound Japanese delegation that included very knowledgeable executives from NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Kyocera, Mitsubishi, Base, MCPC, Vodafone, and Willcom. During networking, had some interesting conversations with our Japanese friends regarding content business, UMA, WiMax, 4G, and new business models.

Spent next three days attending Mobile Entertainment Summit (April 4th; Chetan Sharma Consulting was research partner for the event) and CTIA (April 5-7th), talking to companies, looking at demos, visiting with colleagues and friends, and just absorbing the atmosphere and distilling things down to “what does this mean?” Below is the summary of key observations, thoughts, and digressions.

General atmosphere – As expected, the show grew bigger in terms of attendees (over 40K) and exhibitors marked by return of double story booths, glitz, and million dollar marketing budgets. Samsung and LG clearly were dueling it out for the most recognized brand out there trying to out-do each other in invoking a subliminal conversation with the customers. There was tremendous excitement at the opportunities, fear of missing it out, and yearning for figuring things out to ride the wave.

Booth of the show award is a tie between LG and Motorola with Samsung close behind. Honorable mentions: Philips, Lucent, and Siemens.

Typically, the main CTIA show focuses a lot on infrastructure, middleware, network, and handsets. This time, it was also about applications. There are readjustments going on in the value chain and with the looming consolidation wave, the rubric cubes will be rearranged in several sub segments. Wireless email had already starting shifting that way even though we are below 10% penetration.

Convergence was a big theme of the show. Consulting firms Deloitte and PwC released their reports on the subject and every major infrastructure player was talking about the impact of Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC). Convergence across PSTN, Cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth, Cordless Telephony Profile (CTP), Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) were all discussed in some detail. From a consumer point of view, it comes down to how fast the network is upgraded to provide the functionality and the number of devices in the market to take advantage of the feature-set at reasonable prices. Until then, it is just talk.

Positioning – Several companies are coming around to what DoCoMo taught us about i-mode. It was all about – improving the life experiences of customers. Nokia’s tag line changed from “voice goes mobile” to “life goes mobile” and “work goes mobile”. MTV expresses itself as a “content experience” company. Microsoft is all about “Discover, Innovate, Deliver” while Motorola wants to produce “must do” experiences.

Mobile TV is another area that is priming up for some consolidation as various components are commoditized (esp. for Unicast). It is not that, we are done with the innovation in this segment, in fact, we are only getting started, however, the drive will come from how the video content is packaged with other pieces of content and applications and made more interactive with humans and machines. The number of companies in the space almost doubled since last show (Ortiva, VectorMax, Snell & Wilcox, NMS, Nexage, Vimio). Everyone agrees that MobiTV has a huge advantage. It is a good case study of “first mover advantage”. It will be interesting to see if they can build on their success and compete effectively against broadcast solutions. Broadcast is the future of MobileTV. Mediaflo rocks. Key questions are: can the carriers get the business model right at launch that promotes usage and will the political and regulatory climate foster Mediaflo growth in light of DVB-H (Modeo in US) and DMB. Japan, Korea, and US are fertile ground for this battle. Qualcomm is working on Mediaflo as well as DVB-H chipsets. Slingbox was also showing their place-shift mobile video solution. It will be interesting to see how carriers block-and-tackle this one.

AORTA and 3G revisited – Since the article “3G – Hitting the Mass Market”, the tipping point assessment has been validated by several other analysts. In US and Europe, 3G deployments will start hitting critical mass in the first half of 2007 and we are getting closer to the vision of Always-On Real-Time Access (AORTA).

Mobile Search – During last couple of CTIA shows, mobile search has been an upcoming thing. During the last six months, 3 of the top 5 carriers have launched mobile search solutions with some incredible returns and actual impact on the bottom-line. Some branded solutions have also been launched and various business models are being tested. One can feel the tension between carrier-branded search and solutions from the likes of Google, and Yahoo. Who can build a better mouse-trap? Will carriers cede control and help non-carrier solutions with carrier-resident data? Feature-set is straightforward. Question is what customer data can one use to enhance the user-experience. If carriers are smart about it, they will work with white-label vendors such as Infospace (also Medio, Jumptap, etc.) to develop some really neat analytics that feeds back into user experience. Voice search solutions are also becoming more prominent. In the last 6 months, Voicebox, Voicesignal, Promptu, and V-enable have announced voice search solutions.

User Interface is getting better – Players in the value chain are paying more and more attention to the user-experience. As predicted, MVNOs are having an impact on how device manufacturers and carriers think about customization. Amp’D, ESPN, Disney, and Helio all have custom clients. Rather than relegating the user experience on device browser and archaic transcoding solutions, these MVNOs want to provide a controlled and immersive user experience. With 2nd tier device guys eager to do what-ever-it-takes to make the user experience attractive, mainstream device manufacturers and carriers will need to get their acts together in a hurry. Verizon’s announcement (about using Flash) is recognition of this trend. Also, there were some apps with really cool UIs from startups such as DSI.

Community and User-generated content – There was tremendous activity in the mobile community and user-generated content space, from blogs and SMS to video and music content around community networks. Indeed, it is all about communities and user-generated content plays an incredibly important role in it. Though we have seen significant amount of growth in ringtones, graphics market, this will explode when UGC (including music, video) is put into the mix. This has been validated by multiple data points, the newest one being from 3 in Europe through seemetv service. How quickly will carriers embrace this so that the poor schmuck with 10 goofy videos with no technical capability gets to put their content for sharing, for barter, or for sale. Companies such as Intercasting, Juicewireless, AirG, SMS.ac, Bango, Blogstar, Helio (Myspace) are coming at the opportunity from different angles.

MVNO launches Since last CTIA, ESPN Mobile and Amp’D have launched. This CTIA marked the launch of Disney Mobile and the concept resonated with most attendees esp. folks who have kids. They also got their handset strategy right by pricing it for mass consumption. Service will become available in June. Helio is supposed to launch around the same time. In the meantime, Vegas started taking bets on which MVNO will be the first to fold. As I have discussed in prior articles, MVNOs have clearly raised the bar on user experience and will continue to push the envelope. The willingness of Asian manufacturers to customize at a frantically rapid pace is going to put pressure on the big boys and is already having an impact on their strategy and roadmaps.

Enterprise – Though there were a couple of Enterprise pavilions, the substance was pretty light. Revenue potential of enterprise solutions is equally big if not bigger than the consumer segment, yet it fails to get attention beyond mobile email which itself is becoming a commodity play. It should be noted that there were a couple of vendors that are trying out new approaches to the consumer email such as using MMS for email (Memova).

Mobile Diagnostics and Performance measurement – With the advent of 3G and numerous data apps, the impact on network storage and performance is enormous but is often not talked about. The amount of bytes generated in 3G networks is many times more than 2G and 2.5G networks. As such, the networks need to be planned and monitored appropriately. Testing and simulation of applications, services, and handsets also become more important. Companies such as Vallent, EMC, Keynote, Schema, and Argogroup are looking at the problem from different angles.

4G – Though no body in the industry agrees what it is, some semblance of “Beyond 3G” solutions started showing up at the show from IMT-Advanced solutions from DoCoMo (1Gbps) to WiMax pavilion. Samsung had the WiBro gear at the show – handsets and infrastructure – very cool to see things end-to-end. WiBro trials are ongoing in Korea and we are likely to learn a lot from the results that will help decision makers in the WiMax segment. However, we are still a long ways away (2008) before we see any meaningful mass market penetration for mobile WiMax (There are a number of trials going on around the world from DoCoMo, Willcom, Softbank, KDDI, Sprint, SKT, and KT). It should be noted that US spectrum auction is slated to start June 29th, 2006. It will be interesting to see who ends up with what esp. Clearwire and if any of the non-traditional players such as Google, Disney, DirecTV, and Microsoft make a run for it.

Near Field Communications (NFC) – DoCoMo has had success with FeliCa (Sony’s technology) launch in Japan. Things are increasingly looking bright for NFC-based solutions (mobile wallet, venue check-in, authentication, etc). Mastercard is running some trials on East coast. Cingular has been running some trials in Atlanta area using Nokia phones with Philips NFC technology. In addition to contactless payment capability, NFC-equipped phone can also read data from compatible tags, opening new content discovery avenues. The biggest challenge is of course getting the required infrastructure in place and endorsement or participation by at least one or two major retailers such as Starbucks or McDonalds. Many companies from Philips to smaller players such as MobilyT had neat NFC prototypes. Paypal also launched its mobile payment solution. Many companies are looking to bypass carrier billing so they have more control – it will be an interesting battle to watch.

M2M – With most major western markets reaching saturation, focus has been shifting to M2M applications and device-to-device networking. In addition to the big players such as Siemens, Motorola, and Phillips, newer players such as Esmertec were discussing the potential and applications.

Chinese presence – In the CTIA roundup one year back, I noted “Chinese are coming”. If there was any doubt, it was pretty clear from this show that Chinese wireless players are going to be significant force to reckon with. They are already making an impact in markets outside China, such as in India, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Booths and showcases from ZTE, UTStarcom, and Huawei rivaled their western counterparts. Noticeably, several software and SI Indian firms also had presence at the show.

Handset business will continue to be brutal. Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Nokia all had a good line up of new handsets. Chinese manufacturers such as Techfaith wireless and Amoi also had some sleek handsets on display (Amoi even had knock-offs of Razr and iPod phone)

Mobile Advertising – Not much substantive progress since last time, except for more talk, and more companies popping up. The concepts and business models are starting to get more serious discussions from carriers, content providers, aggregators, and advertisers. Some interesting ad performance tools are also coming up (Integrated Media Measurement Inc.). It comes down to who has the relationship with the customer, what’s the depth of consumer profile information, and the trust-level established with the customers. ActionEngine’s MSNBC launch, new startups Rhythm NewMedia and VibesMedia, and Free DA (supported by Ads) were among the highlights in this area.

Location Based Services – I remember working on LBS solutions back in 97-98 timeframe and the technology was going to change the world (in the US). Largely due to FCC’s inability to enforce its own rulings, we didn’t see much progress for a number of years. Though Nextel has been providing LBS in the enterprise sector, it was only recently with Sprint opening up its APIs for selected developers that we are seeing some LBS based apps for the consumer sector e.g. FindIt. Disney Mobile is also making location a key feature of its offering for kid-tracker types of apps.

Microsoft dominance starts – It has taken a number of years, but shift is noticeable now. With smart phones penetration increasing, Microsoft is starting to dominate the high-end market. A good percentage of new smart phones are running MS software though Linux is also making some inroads in this market (DoCoMo, China). If the battery power issues can be resolved and the OS moves into the sub-$200 market, it will accelerate MS’s dominance of handsets. There was also talk about Opensource OS for mobile devices.

Open gardens – Pretty soon, being “open” will be considered a competitive advantage. At the two extremes are T-Mobile International (which gave up and opened up its greenhouse to the likes of Google) and Verizon (which might be one of the last ones to open up its nursery). Then we have carriers such as Cingular who are slowly but surely opening up access and getting closer to the i-mode model (e.g. recent Myspace announcement)

Misc.Impatica was showing their solution of running PowerPoint from blackberry. Pretty slick and easy. Another interesting app I learned about was that of using SIM as a token generator for authentication. This can be really handy for corporate security.

Later this week, I am leaving for Korea to meet with some really smart guys in the wireless industry and experience the wireless broadband capital of the world first hand.

Your comments are always welcome.

Copyright, 2006 Chetan Sharma Consulting. All Rights Reserved