Mobile World Congress 2016 Observations

Mobile World Congress 2016 Observations

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.