Barcelona hosted its 10th edition of MWC last week. The beautiful weather in a lovely city provided the perfect setup to pontificate about the future direction of the mobile industry. This note presents the summary of the discussions and the observations from the show.
- Facebook and internet.org
For a second year in a row, Mark Zuckerberg was the highlight of the show. The crowd and the buzz for his panel was probably more than for rest of the keynotes combined. Last year, Mark introduced the project, this year it was about the progress report. The operators look at Internet players with deep suspicion. The goal of getting more folks online is a shared objective in the industry but there is tension around the business model and the mechanics. Executives from Telenor, Bharti Airtel, and Millicom shared their experience (mostly positive) and the impact it has had on their data growth and revenues. All were cautiously optimistic.
One thing that will help the operators is to look at Internet players a bit differently and it requires a mental shift. Just like operators work with and compete against other service providers, they can find common grounds for collaboration in some areas and in other segments they will of course compete but having a one-track mind will detrimental to their progress. On the flip side, Internet players should appreciate the competitive dynamics in the market, the financial metrics that drives the business and the work to deliver a more customized partnership – something the Internet players are not that accustomed to. The Internet segment does a better job of managing coopetition than the telecom sector.
- Google MVNO and broadband connectivity
Probably the second most watched keynote was from Sundar Pichai. Rumors of a Google MVNO have been around for many months. The plans to launch the “nexus of networks” were discussed. Additionally, Sundar discussed how project Loon and project Titan could be used to provide the Internet backbone. The connectivity projects are nice science experiments at this stage but the MVNO project could have some implications depending on how far Google wants to take it. Will it be the Rokr project for Google or something more? Only time will tell.
- Apple – the invisible participant in the show
Just like it has been for many years, Apple was at the center of many discussions at the show. In carefully orchestrated leaks, there was a steady flow of the news on Apple Watch. It will set the competitive bar for the segment and help everyone figure out their place in the market. Folks were deeply divided on the likelihood of success. Battery life might end up being the key-determining factor. There was also a lot of discussion around the news reports on Apple Pay fraud issues.
For the first 3 generations, technical guys were in charge of the wireless technology Gs. With 4G, the marketing department took over and it looks like they are not ready to relinquish their position anytime soon. The hype around 5G was at its highest at the show. In the last 3 months, every major entity has had something to say about what 5G should be and what will it enable. There is also a tussle for who gets to lead the industry on 5G.
Europe is anxious to regain the mantle it lost after GSM. But there is a big problem. The 4G penetration in Europe won’t even get past 50% until 2020, the investment wouldn’t have been recovered by then. Someone bring out the econ 101 book, please! It seems like 5G is going to revolve around mmWave spectrum and technologies (very few see a new interface coming) but this has massive capex and opex implications in addition to the practical implications of millions of nodes to deliver the desired throughput. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t continue to work on pushing the boundaries and take leadership position in developing the standards and use cases. However, from a deployment point of view, we need a filter of reality.
Also, the industry is getting ahead of itself. Keep the marketing guys in the barn, settle on the definition, the how, the use cases, and then figure out the technical and marketing roadmap. (there was plenty of talk about pre-5G as well). Of course, one can achieve 10 Gbps today but mostly under impractical configurations. What’s also troubling is that the Internet players are not part of the standards process. Matt Grob, CTO of Qualcomm responding to a question about the timeline for getting 5M 5G subs suggested we might get there by 2022. As a reference, 4G reached the 5M mark in 2010. KT CEO gave a delightful presentation of 5G optimism. A number of position papers were released – fun reading for geeks if you are into these long reads. We will be releasing our own thoughts on 5G later this month expanding on piece we explored earlier this year.
- Net Neutrality
All eyes were on FCC Chairman Wheeler after the landmark ruling last month. There was no new news per say but the topic was hotly discussed and debated in public and private forums. While the journey is just starting, the world is looking to see how things will end-up. As I mentioned to the WSJ, no country wants to be viewed backwards and whatever happens in the US market will have implications worldwide over the next decade and beyond. I also get the sense that we don’t quite understand the impact of unintended consequences. For e.g. there are several use cases like transportation, medical, financial, etc. where prioritization is required. Voice has been prioritized for ages and will be in the future. 5G will have different prioritization schemes depending on the radio, the applications, and the requirements. Ideally, you want the application to request a prioritization level. It is hard to justify that a moisture sensor in a sprinkler should get the same prioritization as the x-ray going over the wires. Prioritization exists in all forms of access and embedded in the way of life for good reasons. It is not quite clear what will be allowed and what will be dealt on a case-by-case basis. Maybe all this is taken care of in the ruling. Hopefully, the 300+ page tome will answer some of these questions.
- Samsung S6 launch
The best phone launch belonged to Samsung. Learning from past mistakes, it was a no-nonsense presentation. The S6 edge looks sleek and beautiful, the camera is remarkable. However, for the purists the lack of the SD card and the removable battery is troubling. The price point for the highest end might go past $1K. It is unlikely that S6 will steal share away from i6 but it will probably take it away from other Android OEMs and will see a nice revenue bump in the 2nd half of the year. It might help stabilize the severe decline in profits from 2014. Samsung Pay puts Android on the mobile payments map as well. There were device launches from Nokia, HTC, and others but nothing captured the attention of the show. Orange/Mozilla came out with a unique offering of a 35 Euro package that includes a decent smartphone, 6 month of 500MB/mo, unlimited voice and messaging. It will be launched in the African markets to get more people transition over to smartphones and data services.
- Industrial IoT
The current money in IoT is clearly in the industrial projects. IoT is a great enabler to re-architect business processes, revenue streams, business models, companies, and industries. While industrial IoT didn’t make a splash, in conversations with folks, there are all sorts of projects being done around the globe and there is serious money being spent. One project can sometimes account for the entire consumer IoT revenue stream. Accenture/Intel had some cool demonstrations to tell the story. Lot of work is going into IoT driven factories, buildings, and the supply-chain.
- Lack of consumer IoT
Consumer IoT didn’t make a big splash like it did at CES in January. There were no drones, robots, or humanoids running around. A number of OEMs came out with watches and sensor bands – nothing that will take the industry by storm. Huawei probably gets the vote for the best watch launch at MWC. In general, for the current stream of connected watches, the technical specs have triumphed the fashion specs. Can Apple change the equation this year?
- Operator Landscape
In case, it wasn’t clear to some – AT&T is undergoing a significant transformation into becoming an international solutions provider – it was apparent from the show. In the European show, AT&T had the best presence amongst its peers. European operator landscape is dominated by the quad-play moves and consolidation. As usual, the Koreans and the Japanese impress with their quirky art of storytelling. Using a robot to emphasize low 5G latency by SK Telecom was my favorite. AT&T has been signing up the most number of connected car contracts and the numbers are starting to impact the financials in a material way. A select group of the operators are showing meaningful revenues from the 4th wave.
- VR as a sales tool
VR helps tell a good story. Several companies used VR headsets (mostly Oculus and Samsung) to have attendees experience their product, services or vision. Ericsson had a cool setup to remotely controlled excavator thousands of miles away. Will VR enter the boardrooms? Quite likely.
After a slow start, LTE-U is gaining quite a bit of traction. Qualcomm’s efforts are bearing fruit and we should be seeing some deployments in 2016. The Wi-Fi ecosystem has expressed concerns but nothing that can’t be overcome. Most of tier-1 operators in the western markets have some form of SDN/NFV initiatives in place. AT&T’s Donovan announced that they have already 5% coverage and are on track to reach 75% by 2020.
- Security and Privacy
Security and privacy continue to be hot topic in the post-snowden era especially in Europe. Regulations are also tightening up. EU wants much stronger privacy regulations. European operators want harmonization of privacy regulation between operators and the Internet players. IoT multiplies the attack nodes and it has serious implications for both enterprise and consumer domains.
- M&A news
Few M&A transactions during the week got the attention of the industry. The biggest one was from Freescale and NXP who announced a mammoth $40B merger. Then Mavenir got acquired by Mitel for $560M. HP acquired Aruba to boost the Wi-Fi business and paid a premium at $3B.
Other items of interest were 3D biometric fingerprints (Qualcomm), autonomous cars in 2016 (Nissan), zero rating (Wikipedia), B2B $1B revenues (Ooredoo), sub-$50 devices (Android, Mozilla), Windows 10 (Microsoft), 100M mobile money users (GSMA), 5G Holograms (KT), Smart Home Air Service (Conway), Lighting as a Service (Philips), Resiliency and Fault-Tolerant SDN/NFV layer (Stratus), 6G (DoCoMo), Runcible (Monohm), Selfie’d Journalists (they were everywhere), Wireless charging furniture (Ikea), MoDe Electric Bike (Ford), Connected carry-on (Bluesmart), and more
Best launch – Samsung S6. Well executed. Generated lot of interest from media and partners.
Best booth – Ericsson. They have really mastered the art of storytelling through physical and digital assets.
Best parties – Siris Capital and Qualcomm
Your feedback is always welcome.
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.
Author: Chetan Sharma