Jarich: Q1 2015 - 3 months that changed telecom forever

Current Analysis Peter Jarich

     Peter Jarich

(Editor's Note: Please read this with a grain of salt, and happy April Fool's Day!)

Congratulations everyone, it's April.  That means we've all made it (more or less) safely through the first three months of 2015.  It also means that we've made it through the 2015 editions of CES and Mobile World Congress (MWC), not to mention Baselworld 2015, the Apple Watch launch, a monumental FCC vote and yet another Uncarrier move out of T-Mobile (honestly, I'm losing count). 

It's been a busy year, that's for sure.  Would it be fair to say that the events of 2015 have set the tone for the rest of the year?  Sure.  Would it be fair to say that these were the three most import months in telecom and technology in the last decade?  Probably not, that just seems foolish.  That doesn't mean there aren't, at least, a handful of things Q1 2015 can teach us going forward and some predictions we can make.

·        American 6G. By now it should be clear that the industry has got 5G pretty much figured out.  The use cases have been well-elaborated, along with the roadmap for rolling it out.  We've had the NGMN weigh in with a white paper and conference, and the EC position 5G as something that "will create a single digital economy and put Europe back in the driving seat."  We've had leading Asian operators (DoCoMo, China Mobile, and KT) agree to technical collaborations while simultaneously talking up their Olympic-sized demo and rollout plans.  What, then, are we to make of FCC Chairman Wheeler, during an MWC keynote, equating 5G to a Picasso painting that everyone interprets in their own special way?  Is he prepping for a career in stand-up?  Is there really no concerted plan for the US to compete with Asian and European 5G R&D strategies?  Or, is this all just about the long game?  I'm voting for the long game.  Where US operators kicked off some of the earlier "4G" marketing, why would we want to jump into the current, crowded 5G fray?  5G is done, over, already figured out.  Getting a head start on what's next is what American innovation is all about.

·        Net Neutrality and the End of the Universe. Speaking of Chairman Wheeler's MWC keynote, let's talk Net Neutrality; it is, after all, what Wheeler spent most of his keynote discussing.  Now that the votes have been cast, the details released, and Wheeler's proven that he's not a dingo, what can we say?  Well, we can't say that everyone's come to some sort of common understanding.  There was no "kumbaya moment" at the end.  And, while months ago, each side argued that the Internet would implode if they didn't get their way, I can still get my e-mail and cat videos with no problems.  The world goes on.  Personally, I've got no interest in debating the merits of blocking, tackling, throttling, or other forms of armed assault.  I am comfortable with the notion that the way Net Neutrality has moved forward in the US points to a system that "works."  An informed public--well versed in the technical details of how the Internet works--made their voices heard.  Measured debate ensued.  Now, we have clear guidelines that carriers can use to guide their innovation efforts, at least on a case-by-case basis.  What's not to like?

·        Heirloom Smartwatches.  At this year's Baselworld (the "premier event for the watch and jewellery industry"), LVMH Watch Division head Jean-Claude Biver described a tie-up between Tag Heuer, Intel and Google as his, "biggest announcement ever."  EVER!  If that last sentence includes lots of names you're not used to seeing together, here's the shorthand.  At an event bigger than MWC, Tag Heuer announced it was developing an Android Wear smartwatch together with Intel.  To seal the deal, they cut a giant block of cheese.  It all made perfect sense.  Tag Heuer is Swiss and the people who can afford its watches are the same people who can afford to buy giant blocks of artisan cheese.  And where they've traditionally been the sort of folk likely to obsess over the movement powering their watch (vintage Valjoux, Calibre V, Calibre S, Calibre 360, etc.) you know that they'll care about the chipset inside their smartwatch.  If nothing else, the vintage of the processor will be important to a crowd who expects their watch investments to maintain (or grow) their value.  That's the key here.  The watch-obsessed might argue over what defines a "luxury" timepiece, but one measure is an ability to hold value over time.  If value is defined by long-term utility, smartwatches will only get more valuable over time as new apps and use cases evolve.  Combined with superior fit and finish, you can guess that investing thousands of dollars in a smartwatch (Apple Watch, Tag Heuer, etc.) is something that will fund your kid's college education down the road. 

·        The End of Price Wars. If the experiences of Europe have taught us anything, it's that mobile service price wars are truly a win-win-win situation.  Consumers get a great deal.  Carriers get forced into innovating.  Vendors get to sell more kit as traffic on mobile networks skyrockets.  It's good news all around.  Alas, the good times can't last forever.  Just think about prepaid here in the US.  Based on the first few months of the year, we would actually be on track to see more prepaid plan changes from US carriers than we did last year--which, generally, bested 2013.  That would just be silly!

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If you made it this far, haven't quite figured things out, and are fuming at the insanity above, let me just wish you a "Happy April Fools."  Sure, there are nuggets of truth in everything above as well as things that were intentionally glossed over, but please take it all in the spirit of the day.  Oh, and if you think everything above makes complete sense, please don't punch me for mocking your worldview. 

Peter Jarich is the VP of Consumer and Infrastructure at Current Analysis. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.

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