I have just returned from a very interesting and jammed-packed week at Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona. More than 75,000 people were estimated to have attended this year’s MWC, and its fabulous new conference facilities proved a great place to celebrate the industry’s accomplishments and catch a glimpse of its potential future. Much has changed in the industry over the last year since I reported my observations of MWC 2013. However, what is most remarkable is how the boundaries of mobility continue to expand and morph – everything now seems to be mobile?
The following are my personal observations and extrapolations from the show, based on my conversations with operators, customer meetings, analysts, and colleagues, as well as from simply walking the show floor:
- Awaiting the Next New Technology—Like last year, there was no big “buzz” technology pervading the show. At previous shows everyone was talking about LTE (Long Term Evolution) as the latest mobile network technology. This year it was virtually impossible to see those letters anywhere, and they didn’t seem to be on the tip of anyone’s tongue. Though many countries in the world still lack 4G coverage and many others are just beginning to deploy LTE, the industry seems to have moved on but doesn’t yet know what the next new, shiny network technology will be.
- Next Generation Mobile Monetization — Mark Zukerberg’s keynote address and Facebook’s $19 B acquisition of WhatsAp made clear what MNOs already know – their business model is changing rapidly. The decline in voice traffic, loss of messaging and competition to their data business from over the top providers and alternative access networks such as Wi-Fi, means that they desperately need to find new ways to make money. Hence, there was a big focus on what that next wave of monetization looks like with everything from mobile cloud, network enhanced services and new solutions and services on display.
- Building the New Mobile – With the near ubiquity of Wi-Fi enabled devices, Wi-Fi access in homes and offices and the growth of public Wi-Fi, non-traditional mobile operators are exploring how they can create a “Wi-Fi Max-Mobile Min” mobile service. Cable companies and other fixed line providers are asking if they can extend their voice and video offerings outside of the home and office, by anchoring the Internet connectivity with Wi-Fi access. To avoid costly network builds and spectrum purchases, they would fill the 10-20% of the time that the user cannot access Wi-Fi by purchasing mobile connectivity from a MNO.
- Small Cells 2.0, From Legitimacy to Money Maker — Wi-Fi is now accepted as an integral part of the mobile network architecture. Beyond delivering in-building coverage and offload relief, Wi-Fi is beginning to deliver alternative monetization opportunities. For example, sophisticated location-based, Wi-Fi-enabled solutions that enhance the users experience and deliver benefits to the company’s bottom-line. Operators are now seeking the same advanced monetization opportunities from licensed small cells.
- Virtualize Everything — Virtualization and the cloud have finally hit the core mobile network elements. A number of vendors, including Cisco, announced that they have virtualized many of the EPC (Evolved Packet Core) components. Not only will this make it less expensive for operators to build networks, but will provide them with much greater flexibility and responsiveness and allow the mobile network to extend well beyond the boundaries of the traditional mobile network.
- SPs Manning the Booths, Turning the Tables — At one time, service providers were the kings of the show, being courted by vendors and other companies looking to sell them their mobile products and services. The tables seemed to have turned somewhat. I was surprised by the number of prominent service providers from around the world who had their own large and prominent booths. Now, it seems that SPs are keen to show off and sell their latest applications, cloud services, gaming and other innovative mobile offerings. These services are seen as new revenue-generating opportunities that will hopefully deliver the next wave of monetization opportunities
- Bigger and Better — Not so long ago mobile devices kept striving to keep getting smaller and more compact, whereas their TV cousins were all about getting bigger and brighter. As the smartphone market starts to mature, device manufacturers are trying to bring the TV to our hand by creating larger devices. The tablet and phone are merging to create the “phablet” -- devices with a 6 to 7 inch screen that were on display at every manufactures’ booth. Equally, the smartphone is getting bigger with Samsung launching the 5.1 inch S5 and LG’s 5.2 inch G2, almost a full inch larger than the original models.
- From M2M to the Internet of Everything — Pervasive, fast, mobile connectivity is finally creating a real market, not just for machine-to-machine but for everything that can be connected wirelessly. As at the Consumer Electronics Show, connected devices such as wearables, appliances, home automation and cars were everywhere. With the prevalence of things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, sensors and big data it seems like we are finally at the dawn of a new world where all animated and inanimate objects are connected.
- Making Cities Smarter — When the Internet of Things, mobility and cities all collide good things begin to happen. Barcelona is actually one of the best places to see the future of cities. Its smart city initiatives not only greatly reduce costs and improve efficiencies, but improve the quality of life for its citizens. I personally spent considerable time touring the city with customers to show how Barcelona is deploying such things as smart bus stops, parking, garbage collection, lighting, and providing municipal information to create the world’s leading smart city.
- Enterprise Mobility, the Next Phase— Most companies are beginning to embrace bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies to allow employees to use their own mobile devices for business. Many vendors are helping this trend along through better device management, security, and dual-persona solutions. A number of innovative companies, consultancies and service providers are now developing unique solutions to take enterprise mobility to the next phase—beginning to truly transform businesses and industries using mobility.
- Security — While security has always been paramount in mobility, it seems like a couple of three letter acronyms (IoT and NSA) are escalating its importance. For the Internet of Things to really take off people have to be certain that their car’s operating system, home sensors or information collected about their personal health is absolutely secure. One of the most interesting devices launched at MWC, the Blackphone, is designed to protect users from unauthorized surveillance. Presumably, in response to government spying controversies.
- Mobile Money, Again, Again, and Again—The last point that I always seem to make on these reviews of MWC is on mobile payments. Once again, mobile payment solutions from banks, credit-card companies, MNOs and other providers were all competing to create a wallet-less world. But, once again, that still seems to be some distant future world. While there were lots of interesting technologies and solutions on display and evidence ofsome consumer adoption, I think that we still have a long way to go and I suspect that I will be reporting on the future promise of mobile payments yet again next year.