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The Mobile Web in 2008

January 7, 2008 - 1 Comment

The Internet and Mobility have been the two biggest trends in the communications industry over the last several decades and both are now on a clear collision course. Companies are also starting to collide as the legacy mobile handset world has to deal with the likes of Apple and Google. It will be interesting to see how this plays out being that these two industries have so little in common. — The Mobile world tends to be fairly closed: operators are in control, voice is the primary app, there is limited innovation, and end users are controlled through subsidized phones and early termination agreements. The mobile industry also seems to be hitting saturation in much of the developed world. — The Internet world is very open, end users are in control, there are many different types of applications, lots of innovation, and customers stay because they like what they get. How will these two industries come together? Here is my top 10 list for the mobile Web in 2008:1) Everything starts with the device. With the arrival of the iPhone, we have the world’s first truly useful mobile computer with a modified MAC OS X operating system, a Safari Web browser, and a very innovative UI. Compelling new devices from other vendors are certain to follow and will allow the world to finally embrace a truly useful mobile Web experience. In time, most Internet access will be via mobile devices (not the PC). Look for a tremendous amount of innovation in the mobile device space in 2008. 2) The mobile Web will need apps-.and lots of them. Developing apps for the mobile world is more challenging then in the wired world as there are more OS options. In 2007, we saw Apple and Google join a list that includes Windows Mobile, RIM, Symbian, Linux, and Palm. The Google Android option promises to be the most open of all. The big question here is just how much traction they will get in the market? 3) Need bandwidth… and lots of it. In the voice world, the average user consumes about 12 kbps. As we move to a mobile Web experience, consumption will increase by between one and two orders of magnitude. Where will that bandwidth come from? New modulation technologies (like OFDM) and antenna technologies (like MIMO) will help. Auctioning off analog TV bands is another possibility. However, to really increase the bps per square kilometer we will need smaller cells… much smaller cells. Options here include femtocells and WiFi.4) FMC = femtocells or WiFi. Femtocells offer a very compelling solution to the challenge of delivering a lot more bandwidth without a lot more cost. It accomplishes this by creating a very small UMTS cell that covers an area about the size of the average home. The home unit would cost around $100, connect to the mobile network via broadband links (DSL or Cable) and the Internet, and support all standard UMTS mobile devices. The subscriber would get a vastly enhanced user experience and the operator doesn’t have to pay for power or backhaul. Everyone wins! Look for this technology to rollout in 2008. WiFi also has great potential in enabling the mobile Web. This technology has struggled in the mobile world as operators have never cared for WiFi. But things are starting to change. As operators have become more positive about WiFi, it has started to appear on more devices. WiFi is the world’s most popular indoor RF technology and has a great future in mobile devices. 5) MIMO and OFDM offer great promise in increasing the airlink efficiency. These technologies will be implemented first in Wimax networks. Success here will play a crucial role in pushing the 3G world more rapidly toward OFDM and MIMO in the guise of LTE. The future will see UMTS/LTE as the dominant licensed RF technology for paired spectrum and Wimax will hold the same position for unpaired spectrum. Wimax should start to gain a solid foothold in 2008 with such high profile deployments as Sprint-Nextel Xohm network which is set to rollout in selected US cities.6) Lots of gateway capacity required. Today, most mobile traffic is circuit switched voice. That will change as networks begin the migration to all IP end-to-end. EVERYTHING will then go through the IP network, which implies much bigger packet gateways (GGSNs, PDSNs, and ASN GWs). Next-gen packet gateways need to have at least two to three orders of magnitude more capacity and be even more reliable. Look for larger and more robust mobile GWs in 2008. 7) Mobile networks need to “open up” in order to enable the mobile Web. Closed architectures worked in the voice world where there was really only one application that mattered. Such a closed approach will NOT work in the mobile Web where we will see thousands of companies developing all sorts of new applications. We can trust that the Web 2.0 community will try EVERYTHING and the market will decide what works and what doesn’t. The “open” Internet business model has always been a bit unsettling to mobile operators as it is difficult to monetize. Tim O’Reilly, in a recent Op Ed piece in the NY Times, made the case that open systems engender a “winner takes all” environment. History would seem to back that up. His argument implies that whichever operator can master the new world of the mobile Web can win…. and win really BIG. VzW is starting to move in this direction. We will see the mobile operators struggle with this transition in 2008.8) The enterprise will be a key constituent in the mobile world. RIM’s early lead is now being challenged by Microsoft with their recent Mobile Device Manager release. Device management is crucial to a successful enterprise deployment and the vendors that get this right will do very well in the market. Today, most of these systems are optimized for a specific OS. A great opportunity going forward is to develop a multi-OS mobile device manager. A variety of different vendors are chasing this opportunity. 9) The emergence of mobile Web will create all sorts of backhaul challenges. As all traffic moves to IP, look for technologies like metro Ethernet to become the primary mechanism for cost effectively backhauling the huge amount of traffic that these networks will generate. 10) IPv6’s time may finally have come. The emergence of mobile Web and the huge number of people worldwide that will be introduced to the Web via a mobile device should finally overwhelm IPv4’s much more limited address space. IPv6 offers all sorts of added capabilities that make it very compelling in a mobile environment, including the potential to separate a user’s location from their identity (one of the big limitations of IPv4 in a mobile environment). Look for lots of IPv6 related activity in 2008.

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  1. I think RIM will have more success in 2008 that anyone other.