a week in wireless


The third man

AWIW523

When the Informer switched on his PC this morning and fired up his web browser he was greeted by the message “We’re sorry but this application has crashed. Would you like to restart?” No amount of clicking would achieve the desired result so he tried an alternative browser. Same deal. Perhaps the computer felt like many of the MWC attendees after four days of pounding the floors of the Fira Gran Via: crashed – unable to restart.

Fortunately a third browser worked, allowing this week’s edition of AWIW to make it to your inbox. It’s often important to have a third option as backup and the mobile industry’s no different.

What became a bit of a running joke this week is the question: how many third ecosystems does it take to bust a duopoly?

The chief executives of Telecom Italia, Telenor, Telefónica, America Movil and Deutsche Telekom were all on hand at a Mozilla press conference on Sunday evening to voice their enthusiasm for the Firefox browser developer’s HTML5-based smartphone OS. The strongest words came from Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs who warned that “the internet should not be controlled by any one or two companies.”

Alcatel One Touch, ZTE, Huawei and LG are onboard as device vendors for the new OS, with ZTE likely to be the first to bring a device to market. At the event the companies “unleashed the Fox” – the ambassador for the OS, which the Informer thought looked very familiar. Indeed, on the train through France out to Spain, there was a man dressed in a fox outfit who caused a commotion among the police dogs when he disembarked at Paris Gare du Nord. Was this the new Firefox brand ambassador en route to the show? Or was it Ronan Dunne being pursued by the Countryside Alliance after the Informer ticked off the country folk last week?

“The Fox, like Firefox OS, is fun and friendly, supportive and protective, and fast and powerful,” the company claims, in an exclamation the Informer suspects would be met by calls of “pest” and “vermin” from certain quarters. “Blazingly fast, the Fox doesn’t play by the rules.” Do these men look like they don’t play by the rules?

There’s something a bit cringe inducing about telco executives trying to be ‘hip’. Sure, every year at MWC there are more jacket n’ jeans combos and a few less ties, but even Ericsson, which has successfully built a cool brand and clearly ‘gets it’ offered up a bit of a moment when Hans Vestberg shared the stage with crowd sourcing DJ Avicii.

The Swedish kit vendor had a lot going on in its sizeable stand, not least of which was the amazing buffet which provided welcome relief from another potato omelette sandwich. Aside from introducing technology that can help operators identify which handset apps are misbehaving and killing the network, there were also a couple of LTE deals in the bag in the shape of Telstra Australia and O2 UK.

O2 parent Telefónica was buddying up with Japan’s NEC to collaborate in the development of network virtualisation based on SDN (Software-Defined Networking) and NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation) technologies.

The pair will work on the virtualisation of current IP edge network elements, which by minimising the dependence on hardware, is expected to bring considerable benefits both to the management of the network and to the end customer. SDN is certainly the hot ticket at the moment and the Informer had plenty of conversations about the newest three letter acronym to hit the market.

Sean Cai, VP wireless at Chinese firm ZTE likened the shift to SDN to the transition from IPv4 to IPv6. While he acknowledges that it solves the issue of how operators can ‘reprogram’ the network traffic, ZTE has is probably the most reserved roadmap on the technology in that it doesn’t expect SDN-enablement to reach any kind of scale anytime soon.

Rival player Nokia Siemens Networks was also sharpening the edges this week and CTO Hossein Moiin was telling the Informer all about Liquid Applications and its partnerships with IBM and SK Telecom.

The idea behind Liquid Applications is to move intelligence out to the base station by sticking a blade with processing power into the basestation architecture. According to Moiin, this improves the user experience by improving latency, and also allows the operator to insert additional vale directly into an application close to the user.

Emeka Obiodu, telco strategy analyst at Ovum, said of the move: “Research consistently shows that consumers use their mobile phones predominantly when at home or in the office. Therefore, it is logical to map user preferences and provide local intelligence at the base station. This extension of intelligence from the core to the base station is thus something to watch in the next few years.”

As a result of growing interest in LTE-A, the Informer also got Moiin’s thoughts about spectrum aggregation, which seems to be one of the most sought after features for frequency challenged mobile ops. Alongside Sierra Wireless and Ericsson, Qualcomm demonstrated LTE carrier aggregation at the show, enabling LTE Category 4 downlink throughput speeds of up to 150Mbps for operators without 20MHz of continuous spectrum.

With Deutsche Telekom, Qualcomm also announced an Internet of Everything (IoE) development platform, to be made available by Deutsche Telekom to application developers in Europe and worldwide. With support for Oracle Java ME Embedded the IoE development platform is intended to target developers looking to create M2M applications for various verticals.

On the subject of M2M, Optus Business and Jasper Wireless partnered in Australia to connect up verticals including telematics, consumer electronics and m-health. Meanwhile, car manufacturer Ford was streaming music on the move in its EcoSport SUV for Europe through a global partnership with Spotify to integrate its services with Ford’s SYNC AppLink voice-control platform.

Having Spotify on board will undoubtedly boost Ford’s in-car profile, but another company that had a massive profile at the show in a manner which confused the Informer was ST-Ericsson – recently passed between its parents like a hot potato and currently resting in Ericsson’s hands.

In other passing-the-grenade news, South Korean electronics giant LG acquired the source code, documentation, engineers, and websites of the Palm-developed webOS from HP. LG says that it plans to use the technology in future smart TV devices rather than the smartphones and tablets for which webOS was originally designed.

Back to ST-Ericsson, which was one of the many companies making lots of noise about VoLTE, successfully demonstrating a dual mode high definition VoLTE connection between LTE FDD and LTE TDD with China Mobile.

Elsewhere, Chinese firm ZTE conducted a High Definition (HD) VoLTE call using enhanced Single Radio Voice Call Continuity (eSRVCC) with Hong Kong mobile operator CSL, showing a VoLTE call hand-off to 3G with eSRVCC based pre-commercial network.

ZTE also partnered with multimedia processor firm Imagination Technologies to embed the HelloSoft VoLTE client on commercial ZTE VoLTE-enabled handsets used on the MetroPCS LTE network.

Customers in emerging markets were not left out of the VoLTE action though. Indian carrier Bharti Airtel will soon launch voice services for its TD-LTE customers in Pune through its existing GSM network. The operator has selected NSN to deploy its Circuit Switched FallBack (CSFB) voice solution in the operator’s live TD-LTE network in the city.

Are premium or richer services able to drive operator revenues though? Well, a report from Tecnotree and MobileSquared this week reckons consumer awareness of LTE could drive 59 per cent of loyal subscribers to competitor networks.

However, there is a significant disconnect between what drives loyalty among mobile consumers and what mobile operators believe drives loyalty as well as churn. The research suggests that consumers in general will focus on a single aspect of their mobile service – such as device, tariff, or coverage – whereas operators tend to believe that a collection of issues drive positives and negatives in churn and loyalty.

The study found that 90 per cent of consumers believe they are loyal to their mobile operator. But over one fifth of these have changed carrier in the last six months, with a similar number planning to do so in the coming months.

This implies that at any one time there is only a settled subscriber base of around 50 per cent. Yet the study also found that the longer a customer stays with the same operator, the more likely they are to spend on non-communication services.

But there are those, like Amit Modi, CTO of Movius, who believe that the GSMA-led Rich Communications Suite (RCS) alone will not be enough to reclaim revenues lost to OTT players.

“RCS is a step in the right direction but is too focused on the network and needs to be more about the user. Operators must act now to combat a loss of control. Essential to operators regaining control is to enable the consumer to seamlessly connect all of the IP-based networks together on one user interface,” he said.

The operators were playing the usual record however, demanding a more equitable share of the spoils in order to unlock capital investments into the industry. Cesar Alierta of Telefonica warned that telcos pay for spectrum, pay tax, and then build the network. Yet they are pummelled by authorities. Ovum analyst Emeka Obiodu reckons it was clear that he feels that OTT players are freeloading and wants to encourage more open standards, which helps to explain the operator push for Firefox. He also held up the low prices paid at the UK LTE auction as evidence that the industry won’t always accept its position.

Meanwhile, Vittorio Colao of Vodafone, disclosed how the threat from OTT players encouraged Vodafone to create the Vodafone red tariff, which offers unlimited voice minutes and eliminates price arbitrage. He also wants regulators to cease regulation of retail and wholesale mobile traffic and stop favouring new entrants that cannot stand on their own. It is a theme he began last year, but now his view is gaining support.

Mobile money is clearly gaining lots of support if the findings of the GSMA are anything to go by. Research shows the number of active mobile money users grew impressively with more than 30 million people performing 224.2 million transactions totalling $4.6bn during the month of June 2012 alone. This exceeds the 196.3 million transactions performed by Paypal customers on average each month during Q3 2012.

There are now 150 live mobile money services for the unbanked, 41 of which were launched in 2012 and 40 markets have been identified as having at least two different mobile money services available.

At the show, MasterCard introduced MasterPass, which claims to brings together all of the ways people pay for things, from traditional plastic cards to digital wallets, and give consumers the ability to make a payment from wherever they are with one simple experience. Russian carrier VimpelCom has signed up to offer services.

Visa had a deal of its own, signing up with Samsung to accelerate NFC payments by sticking the Visa payWave application on devices. It’s a similar set up to other announcements which saw Monitise power the launch of the first mobile payments service for BlackBerry Messenger, while China Unicom selected Gemalto to run China’s first NFC payment service.

Samsung was also working on the BYOD scene, with Knox, a secure Android offering that provides security hardening from the hardware through to the application layer using Security Enhanced (SE) Android, which was developed by NSA (National Security Agency).

Using a software container on the device, Knox offers a variety of enterprise applications in a secure environment, including email, browser, contacts, calendars, file sharing, collaboration, CRM and business intelligence applications. The Informer got to see a very similar offering in action from AT&T, highlighting the fact that this will almost certainly be another space to watch, given the difference in approach from the handset vendor and the operator.

AT&T is very keen to keep control of the whole ecosystem here, because that’s how it sees itself controlling the experience. This is an argument we’ve heard a lot, so while the venue may have changed, the content has stayed the same.

That about wraps up MWC for another year, and hopefully many of you are already home. The Informer pities anyone who works for Yahoo however, having just heard that head honcho Marissa Mayer has enforced a blanket ban on working from home in order to get everyone in the office drinking the company Kool Aid.

Until next week,

The Informer

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