Monday, March 7, 2011

Observations from 2011 Mobile World Congress

I attended the 2011 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The following are my observations from the show based on my conversations with operators, customer meetings, colleagues and walking the floor.

1. Optimism – Based on people’s feedback, the number of attendees and the general buzz, I would say that a general sense of optimism about the economic situation and the industry has returned from the previous years.
2. Devices – The days of seeing different and innovative handsets is over. They all look like iPhones now. In fact, you have to look closely to make sure that it not. There may be differences in the processer, the operating system, etc. but everything has converged to the same form factor. And everyone seems to have them. Including Huawei and other companies that you have never heard of. I did get to play with LG’s 3D device which can take pictures in 3D and run apps like games, all without the use of special glasses.
3. Femtos Are Out and WiFi Offload is In – Once the evil, most carriers now see WiFi as a blessing to help with offloading their network traffic. And every vendor, from the big guys to the obscure company with the small booth in the corner is there to help. I say very few Femto cell vendors and most people seem to think that they are now relegated to niche solutions.
4. There’s An App For That – Apps are everywhere. Google had a huge booth with various Android app providers. (The lime green everywhere was a little overpowering. And they had a slide that you could go down and have your picture taken. Neither one of which are good things after late nights in Barcelona). The majority of the floorspace of the vendor/device manufacturers (e.g., RIM, Samsung) was taken up by applications for their devices.
5. China - It is just amazing the presence that the big Chinese vendors have (e.g., Huawei, ZTE) not just in terms of floorspace but also advertising and things like a fleet of cars to chauffer their major customers around. Plus I heard that they threw a number of extravagant parties. It reminds me of the earlier days when the Koreans were just starting to build up an international presence. Samsung went from the back corner of these shows to being the number 1 exhibitor in a matter of a few years. That is where the Chinese are now. I am also astounded at Huawei. Every time I visit them at one of these shows I see something new that I never knew that they did before. This time they were demonstrating telepresence and Connected Home, not to mention a string of tablets, handsets, STBs, and dongles. What will they add next to the portfolio?
6. LTE – No surprise but LTE was the talk of the show and all of the vendors were parading their solutions and capabilities in LTE. Verizon Wireless (an operator which never showed up at these things) had a big displaying showcasing LTE.
7. Everyone’s Got a Tablet – Seems as if you’re a nobody unless you have a tablet. Again companies who I never would have imagined had their own tablets in their booths. And like the handsets they all look relatively indistinguishable with the same form factors. With the exception of Blackberry the majority of them are running Android.
8. Spectrum – Getting more spectrum from new sources was on everyone’s mind. Always an issue for mobile operators, but with the advent of 4G and exponential increases in demand this is becoming a particularly acute problem. And they are looking for ways to make more effective use of the spectrum that they have. Plus making their networks more efficient through such things as tower sharing and software defined antennae
9. Collaboration Between MNOs and OTTs - Something that we have been talking about for some time, I feel is finally becoming a reality in the minds of the network operators. I get the sense that they have resolved that they are first and foremost in the network business and that becoming another Apple or Facebook is not in their corporate DNA, and that it is better to cooperate than fight. My prediction is that 2011 will be the watershed year where MNOs retract back to their core business and selectively look for opportunities to collaborate with OTTs.
10. Mobile Payments May Finally Be Here - We have been talking about leaving your wallet home and letting your phone do the paying for years. But it may finally be there. The GSMA launched a Near Field Communications (NFC) initiative, the SIM manufactures were demonstrating SIM-based NFC solutions, lots of mobile payment type apps, and of course Apple and Google indicating that they are building NFC and payments into their OS. 2011 may be the year where wallets finally start to collect dust on the dresser?

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