60,000 people, hundreds of exhibiting companies, heads of government and film stars. They were all in Barcelona for Valentine's day in February. And so were we. So what happened, and what did we learn? Here is our review of Mobile World Congress 2008
LTE and WiMax – Questions that occurred before the show included: will WiMax's time to market advantage be enough to make it the flat-IP, mega-broadband infrastructure of choice? Will the market for LTE actually be worth a huge amount in any case? And if it is, who will benefit from that – the existing 3G+ vendors, those looking for a re-entry, or even the new players, notably Huawei? And what impact will it have on the device side – with consumer electronics devices becoming more and more connected? These are all still questions that are largely left unanswered, or only part answered.
One notable message from the GSMA was that it seemed, probably at the behest of its members, not get into another bout of standards headbutting. GSMA chairman Craig Ehrlich said, "We need to be agnostic about the precise technologies being used – or not used – at the radio access layer. For some operators, for example, WiMAX may be a threat. For others it may be an opportunity."
Arun Sarin went even further, mooting the merger of the two standards, with WiMax perhaps operating as a TDD variant of LTE.
Not that the feeling was reciprocated over at the WiMax Forum, which is a bit sniffy about being seen as an adjunct to LTE. Asked to compare the two technologies the Forum's Dr. Mo Shakouri, Vice President Marketing said, "You can't compare them because one is an established standard with products, services and a growing and large ecosystem, and the other is just a theory."
As far as he was concerned, there is a significant time to market advantage there for operators that are willing to go now.
Qualcomm's, executive vice president and group presiden tLen Lauer was equally forthright on the downside of WiMax. Far from praising its large and growing ecosystem, Qualcomm doesn't back it because it doesn't think it's got any scale, he told Mobile Europe. Of course he would say that, said the WiMax Forum's Shakouri, because Qualcomm doesn't have any investment in WiMax. Still, they were interesting comments coming from Lauer, an ex-Sprint COO, of course.
There of course are plenty of vendors with a foot in the primordial slime of both ecosystems, not least Motorola and Alcatel Lucent, both vendors hoping for a boost from investment decisions made in either standard. Motorola's head of LTE pointed out that there is at least an 80% similarity between the two standards at a radio level, so there is no need to have a huge battle. Mainly the decision to deploy will be made around frequencies, whether operators have paired or unpaired spectrum, and in which bands.
One interesting nugget to keep an eye on all of this is that 4G is going to put mobile operators into the broadband world in a way that will make them principal suppliers of connectivity, perhaps to up to 20 connected devices per subscription.
VERDICT: Game changing technology brings new players. Look to the subs bench for some likely candidates.
Advertising – Advertising was the new "must have" at Mobile World Congress. Everyone has an ad platform, everyone says that its particular part of the mobile chain holds the key info that marketers need to unlock mobile advertising. Both the GSMA and Nokia made major announcements centred around tying marketing brands together with mobile properties. Five of the GSMA's largest operator members – Vodafone Group, Telefonica O2 Europe, T-Mobile International, FT-Orange Group and 3 – formed a working group aimed at defining common metrics and measurement processes for mobile advertising as part of the GSMA's Mobile Advertising Programme. The UK is the target region for the group's first feasibility study, which will explore the aggregation of appropriate information on an audited basis to deliver cross-operator metrics to the media and advertising communities. Does the GSMA know similar work is going on within the Mobile Marketing Association? It should do, as at least one of the operators named is involved. But the announcement hit a key point about mobile advertising – accountability and reporting.
Nokia, as you might expect, wants a piece too, and announced the launch of its Nokia Media Network, a network including over 70 leading publishers and operators, based on technology form its October 2007 acquisition, Enpocket. Nokia will enable advertisers to place ads on publisher and operator mobile Web pages, as well as Nokia propertiesand its mobile marketing team will create mobile campaigns as well.
Another example in this area was Openwave, which put the browser at the centre of the advertising universe – essentially using information from browsing habits to segment users, and then deliver targeted advertising based on browsing habits. Finally there was a credit-stretching pitch from Russian company Gigafone, which seemed to be saying it has the answer to everything. Gigafone has a client-server solution that basically displays banner adverts to signed in users every time they receive a call or message – using the caller id screen to display adverts. Sounds intrusive but Gigafone said the combination of signing in, plus entering user profile information, with rewards for use, means it has had great success with Vimpelcom in Russia, with more than 600,000 users said to have signed-up for Gigafone's mobile advertising proposition since it launched in Russia in 2005.
VERDICT: Still in the hype stage. Get the metrics sorted, work out the inventory.
TV – last year's big 3GSM (as it was then) topic, so where has it got to? Well, the bad news is that spectrum awards have not exactly gone the way mobile operators were hoping. In Europe, Germany's went to a broadcaster, mobilkom lost out in Austria, Spain is still up for grabs, UK spectrum awards are miles off, and the build out of mobile broadcast networks in Europe now looks problematic. The spectrum situation prompted Qualcomm's EMEA president, and now VP of Internet Services division as well, Andrew Gilbert, to describe things as "miserable". Asked what he thought was the most likely route for MediaFlo into European markets, he couldn't really answer.
Operators will be essential, of course, but there are those beginning to truly question the value they will get from any mobile broadcast TV service. It's a nice extra distribution channel for the broadcasters, goes the theory, but any upside in shared revenues for mobile operators, won't meet the cost of rollout. And as a customer acquistion tool the service look flat too, with operators unlikely to be able to differentiate much when it comes to broadcast content.
The upside is that if unicast video really takes off, then, from a performance point of view, operators may be forced into broadcast delivery for the most popular content, as they will simply not have the network capacity to meet demand. But how to do this? It's still an argument, despite DVB-H's apparent advantage in Europe, although the re-emergence of TDTV is interesting. Many (if not all) operators have the spectrum, after all, and perhaps 20 odd channels will be enough for mobile broadcast. NextWave, which now houses TD-CDMA player IP Wireless, certainly hopes so, and was emboldened by the announcement of a new trial from
And MediaFlo? Well we can't shake off the hunch that there's more to come for this technology in Europe. Perhaps a sale of the wholesale broadcast service arm in the US might presage the development of a similar European model?
VERDICT: It's getting interesting. Don't write off Flo, and TDTV has a chance, but with the EC pushing, DVB-H is still favourite.
Once you have the networks, the advertising to fund them, and even the content owners on side, the next thing you need to be able to do is launch, control, and manage thousands, perhaps millions, of services. HP, Microsoft, Oracle were all at the Congress to show how operators could do this in a scaleable and affordable way. Well, at least Oracle and HP were, Microsoft seemed to have shifted slightly away from its strategy of selling in its Connected Services Framework to that of providing hosted services in revenue share deals with operators. Michael O'Hara, general manager, Communications Sector at Microsoft, insisted that had always been the plan, and that he was relaxed about sales to operators within its service delivery platform architecture. "Our play is we want elements exposed to the applications world. Web Services is the tool to reach up and do that, but what they [networks] look like beyond that is not that important. IMS so much and didn't deliver anything in particular – there's nothing really there."
Leonard Sheahan, senior director, product marketing, Oracle Communications, said that IMS was becoming less important, as operators realised it would take five to six years to perform an innovative service network transformation, and by then they would have lost the game. He cited Vodafone as one operator that, a year and a half ago, was very keen on IMS but has since moved to operating within a hybrid environment. For Sheahan, current SDP strategies are more about working out how to deliver services to a customer in real time, integrated with traditional billing and CRM AND BSS information. They're also about being able to do so without a high level of cost and risk.
Peter Dragunas, HP's director of network and service providers business, said that operators now need high levels of information management that allows them to control subscriber information in a centralized way, across all the services relevant to that subscriber. That means third party management, OSS adapters, identity management and the brokerage of profiles and subscriber identities between different services, call and session control servers, testing and QoS tools to provider class of service, Dragunas said.
Mobile World Congress 2009 – What (probably) won't happen:
The post-CEO Forum press conference breaks out into a fist fight when Viviene Reding challenges Rob Conway to a "square go, on the steps outside, anytime". Although Reding has already mandated 1 eurocent per month data roaming worldwide, and a 20% of revenue dividend from all T1 operators to be paid into a bank account of her choosing, she's apparently upset because Conway beat her to the last complimentary mint at the round table debate. "I will be imposing a 150% tax on all GSMA exec perks, up to and including free boiled mint sweets, at projected 2031 retail prices, backdated to 1998, effectively immediately," she tells journalists, whilst making "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough" gestures at Conway across the room.
"Monday was warmest February day on record" – Front page headline of GSMA Show Daily.
Nathan McCool, mo-blogging on a retainer for a global PR company under an assumed name, spends a whole morning furiously updating his status and micro-blogging in real time about the puny efforts of other PR-sponsored mo-bloggers, instead of "edgily" posting about the global PR company's clients, and slagging off their rivals. Nathan is sacked (via blog post) but re-employs himself on the spot by starting "Micro-Mo-Blog News" (www.mimo-blows.com), a micro mobile blogging site dedicated to monitoring other mobile micro bloggers. Readership is limited to the eight registered mo-bloggers on the site – six of which are Nathan's multiple identities.
GSMA Awards Night goes well until the award for the "best mobile use of mobile technology in a mobile advert for mobile technology" is left unawarded as none of the judges could understand the judging criteria. The award is instead given to Robert Redford's Hair in recognition of outstanding service to the mobile industry.
Google/ Yahoo/ Microsoft/ News Corp announce all four companies are to merge and offer unlimited ad-funded free mobiles and mobile services to the entire world. Operators quickly respond with a call for more standards interoperability on national interconnect, mediation and clearing services.
Telecom TV turn the entire front side of Hall 8 into the biggest outdoor widescreen ever seen. Airline passengers in the holding pattern for Barcelona airport are easily able to lip read Michael O'Hara's pre-recorded comments about Telecom 2.0 Services from 3,000 feet – trebling viewer figures.
Nokia announces it has been awarded all unused 3G licences across Europe, and has baggsied first go on all spectrum as yet left traded, untraded and on the table. "This in no way conflicts with our relationships with the operators who remain our natural partners, and most likely targets for acquisition," says poker-faced Nokia ceo-elect Nikklas Savander. "We remain dedicated to ensuring delivery of endless user experiences for all connected global citizens," he adds.
Motorola's stationery department is rumoured to be ripe for a merger with Lockheed Martin's bought ledger, according to the Washington Post. "All that's left of Moto is a few gross of headed paper and some government defence contracts, so it seemed an obvious synergistic saving," said Moto ceo Ed Zander. Moto contacts at the MWC refuse to comment on the deal, pointing out instead the really cool video game on demo at the Moto booth.
Google buys www.mimo-blows.com for an undisclosed sum, impressed by its "mobile centric platform for open application development". Nathan makes enough money to keep him in black v-neck cashmere sweaters for a decade.
MWC 2008 IN NUMBERS
12 – National Pavilions serving imported "local" delicacy during 4pm "cocktail" reception exclusively to… homesick visitors from the host country sniffing around for a new job opportunity.
26 – People permanently lost within Hall 4, an Esher drawing brought to life
180 – People still trying to find Hall 3, an invisible Hall, a masterstroke of Catalonian surrealism
334,342 – Pre-prepared, flaccid Jamon y Queso sandwiches mournfully eaten on the walk back to the stand, after a 30 minute queue – a gustatory experience that could not instill the unhappy eater with a deeper sense of regret, lack of self worth and longing for escape.
??? – Revenue from the show that flows into GSMA