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Year of LTE deployments vs. existing HSPA networks: There are currently 17 commercial LTE deployments around the world, including Verizon and MetroPCS in the U.S., Vodafone in Germany, TeliaSonera in Sweden, Elisa in Finland and DoCoMo in Japan. However, there are more than 180 LTE trials around the globe, with 128 firm commitments to deploy across 52 countries; GSMA is predicting that there will be 64 LTE networks commercially available by end of 2012.
Wireless Intelligence, a research firm, is a bit more aggressive, predicting that there will be 55 commercially available LTE networks by end of 2011, with 4 Million subs on them. Also, Telstra (Australia) announced at MWC, that they will be firstoperator launching LTE at 1800 MHz, by year-end. Additional news was the major operators strong support for the convergence of TD and FDD versions of LTE, thus enabling economies of scale to help with the deployments.
LTE is definitely creating a lot of new excitement among the wireless players, as new major CAPEX spending always opens up new business opportunities for everyone. However, HSPA+ with 20+ Mbps speeds is more than sufficient for most of the apps that we can imagine today. In fact, Ericsson had showed that speeds up to 168 Mbps are possible with HSPA+ (multi-carrier, 64QAM and MIMO). There are over 300 networks around the world offering HSPA services today, and there are over 400 Million HSPA subscribers, growing 17 Million new connections every month; thus, in the light of this, the consumer needs for LTE services may need to be better articulated.
Semiconductors: Dual-core and quad-core CPUs were one of the hot chip topics at MWC 2011. It looks like two companies Qualcomm and NVIDIA are competing for the core of your Smartphone or tablet. NVIDIA, who seems to have the technology lead, has its Tegra 2 dual-core CPU in at least 3 Smartphone and 10 tablets being released this year.
NVIDIA also announced at MWC a quad-core Tegra chip which should arrive in tablets starting this summer and in Smartphones by year-end. With quad-core, tablets will display 1440p video, at full Blu-Ray quality. Qualcomm announced 2.5 GHz Snapdragon CPUs, with single-core and dual-core version, promising that future tablets can have quad-core starting in 2012. The chips support LTE, NFC and 3D video, and the quad-core version will support cameras up to 20 Megapixels! These fast evolving processors will enable much faster apps on the devices; however, it will be the software bottlenecks to watch out! Intel had a rather poor or low-key show this year. I wonder whether that was due to the abandonment by Nokia at the MeeGo front!
I also spent time with smaller semiconductor players such as NewPort Media who is quickly expanding from digital TV / mobile TV chips to adjacent markets such as LTE chips, Altair Semi who is offering ultra-low power LTE chips, and the LTE stack providers such as 4M Wireless and SySDSoft who are delivering LTE software stacks to device and equipment manufacturers. Exciting times at the chip level!
App Stores and WAC: Last year, at MWC 2010, 24 global carriers and 4 device manufacturers had announced a global app store named Wholesale Application Community (MWC). Such announcement was received skeptically, and I was one of those skeptics. During this MWC, 8 of those mobile operators made a new announcement that they are now connected to WAC, with 12,000 apps in it, targeting both SmartPhones and feature phones. The WAC 2.0 specifications unveiled at MWC last week are based on HTML 5, so will allow rich media web allocations. WAC 2.0 also offers stronger security and support for various useful apps. 8 additional operators may join later this year. Opera Software announced widget runtime solution for Android phones to reach WAC based app stores. Also Huawei announced first WAC store with Philippines
However, app development and app distribution ecosystem are in a fast-moving space. Even though mobile operators think they are moving fast on the implementation of WAC, in reality they are very slow, compared to the iOS and Android communities. Most importantly, the developers are very skeptical of WAC, and they may consider it waste of time. It is probably too early to call WAC as a waste of time, but the operators need to speed up and catch up; otherwise they will miss the train, if they have not already done so.
Cloud: The use of the cloud has become so pervasive that we now have, not just cloud based services from operators, but also cloud based services from device manufacturers and even cloud based wireless access networks from infrastructure players. China Mobile and Alcatel-Lucent are exploring a centralized, collaborative, cloud-based RAN (CRAN) in order to set new standards for cost-effectiveness, network intelligence and energy efficiency. ZTE announced 40% TCO savings with its C-RAN. It looks like all infrastructure players and operators are evolving their network management and IT architectures to cloud computing. ZTE also offers a cloud-based iMarket, an app store for global operators. HTC invests in cloud based gaming service OnLive. Asus is also planning mystery cloud computing enabled personal devices, probably based on their Eee Pad tablet later this year. NEC has introduced a first Cloud in your Pocket service, that allows you to access your services whether you are connected to a network or not. Finally, mobile ad optimization company, Smaato is now positioning itself as Mobile Ad Cloud. It looks like we are all in the clouds now!
Social Networking: There were lots of activity around Twitter and Skype; it seems that 40% of all tweets originate from a mobile device; no wonder Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, was at the MWC signing operator agreements. Given the recent twitter and Facebook triggered protests in some Middle Eastern countries, it was interesting to note that Qatar based Qtel and Kuwait based Wataniya were signing agreements with Twitter. Qtel also signed a major deal with Skype. Twitter also announced crowd-sourced translation, initially for Turkish, Russian, Indonesian, and Portuguese, which will further enhance international social networking around the globe. It is also available in English, French, German, Italia, Japanese, Korean and Spanish, but not in a centralized manner. Gemalto unveiled Facebook for SIM that allows operators to embed the Facebook app on SIM cards, and let users access the social network via SMS. Myriad also introduced the Xumii platform allowing operators offer social networking via SMS and USSD. Picture and video sharing companies like Exclaim Mobility are offering social networking solutions with user generated content (UGC) across multiple platforms.
Location Based Services: I believe 2010 was the year when the Location Based Services (LBS) started to become widespread. Some analysts predict that 2015 global market for LBS could be as big as $21 Billion. One important announcement at MWC was deCarta launching a next generation, free, white-label mapping APIs as alternative to Google Maps APIs, with a revenue share model, thus making it more cost-effective to offer maps in conjunction with wide range of apps. Several companies offer location-based social networking, including Facebook Places, foursquare, but also smaller companies such as Telenity which offers a combination of messaging, location-based social networking and service delivery platforms. In fact, we are seeing integration of LBS as a horizontal embedded layer with smart location services, or services that take advantage of the location naturally, like social networking.
Mobile Money: Several companies made NFC (Near Field Communication) announcements during MWC. RIM indicated there will be several Blackberry devices with NFC support later this year. Samsung announced similar support on their Bada based Wave Smartphones. In the UK, O2 plans to offer mobile phones with a built-in wallet. Also, Everything Everywhere (T-Mobile and Orange) is working with MasterCard to roll out a commercial NFC service by the second quarter. London Olympics 2012 is a target for some of the contactless payment service offerings. Orange is very aggressive and plans to launch NFC based service in France and Spain later this year, and expects to have half of their Smartphones by year-end to be NFC enabled.
However, it is going to take several years before NFC is widely available on mass-market phones, not just the high-end Smartphones. Also, the m-payment and mobile wallet services are far more complicated than just having the NFC technology on the handsets. In the mean time, there are other existing technologies offering viable solutions around the world, especially in emerging markets. Passive RFID based stickers on the phones is one simple solution. South Africa based Fundamo offers leading mobile wallet services, especially positioned for Mobile Money for the Unbanked in emerging markets. A French company, TagAttitude provides a simple but intriguing technology, available for all mobile phones, offering services like micro-banking in emerging markets.
Messaging & RCS: Despite all the excitement about Facebook and Twitter, survey after survey shows that text messaging is the simplest and most common messaging, for social networking, for mobile marketing and for developed & developing markets alike. However there were several IP messaging solution announcements at MWC 2011, among them one from Airwide for SIP and XMPP based IP messaging, and another from Mavenir, providing LTE based MMS and SMS messaging services, starting with MetroPCS, in Dallas.
As part of the IP messaging, there was renewed interest in RCS (Rich Communications Suite), with a joint announcement by several major operators, including Deutsche Telecom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, and Vodafone. These operators endorsed an enhanced version of RCS, called RCS-e that includes instant messaging, live video sharing and file transfers across any device and any network operator. They plan to launch RCS-e services starting late 2011 and other operators such as Bharti, SK Telecom, Orascom, Telenor and Wataniya are expected to join in 2012. The RCS specifications are designed to be based on IMS and interoperable between all operators and devices, and giving customers a greater choice on how to communicate.
Also, there were new GSMA awards specific to RCS suppliers and the winners were Jibe Mobile from USA, Movial Applications from Finland and Solaiemes from Spain. Movial, for example, launched LTE-ready adaptive video calling app, Movial Communicator, that detects each video callers bandwidth, CPU, camera & screen resolution in order to optimize the picture and sound quality.
m-Health: There seems to be a significant progress in m-Health, offering creative solutions to deal with aging population m-Health: There seems to be a significant progress in m-Health, offering creative solutions to deal with aging population in developed markets and enabling various health services in emerging markets. There were very interesting sessions in the conference dealing with remote monitoring, self-diagnosis, and business models for m-Health. Mobile Health Pavilion hosted several key players, including mHealth Alliance and Continua. One very interesting display was GSMA Embedded Mobile House, which showcased latest embedded mobile technologies from various manufacturers such as Ericsson, IBM, Qualcomm as well as service providers AT&T, Vodafone and KT. It showed how these technologies are already improving peoples lives, including healthcare. Analysts predict that embedded mobile will save $175-$200 billion annually by using remote monitoring to manage chronic diseases alone. Also, it is clear that mobile Health will allow many more patients to lead independent lives through services that monitor their conditions remotely.
Network Optimizations: Almost everybody we talked to had some complaints or concerns about performance of the networks. As more and more rich media such as video is loaded onto the networks, there is an urgent need to provide wide range of bandwidth optimization, especially for data and video. Technologies discussed and provided include video compression, deep packet inspection, backhaul and network optimizations. However, it was not clear how aggressively the mobile operators are taking advantage of these technologies, and/or whether these technologies are sufficient to resolve all the bandwidth problems they are facing. Probably the answer is no, meaning that we may need a lot more innovation in this space.
Recognition: Some of the major awards given during MWC 2011 are
- Best Mobile Application: Rovio / Angry Birds
- Best Mobile Device: Apple iPhone 4
- Device Manufacturer of the Year: HTC
- Best Customer Care / CRM: Airtel Africa and Tango Telecom
- Best m-Health Innovation: Mobilesante Inc for MobiUS
Next Year: Mobile World Congress 2012 will be held in Barcelona; however, for the 2013-2017 period, GSMA is expected to make a decision in the coming months. They have originally reviewed 30 cities, and reduced that to 4 final candidates, Barcelona, Milan, Munich and Paris. I heard some rumors that Munich might be preferred, but we have to wait and see.