GSMA's Anne Bouverot discusses the OTT challenge, the integration of WAC and more

with Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA

Nearly one year ago Anne Bouverot took the helm of the GSMA and became the first woman to head this global association that represents more than 800 mobile operators worldwide.  In a phone interview with FierceWireless Editor in Chief Sue Marek, Bouverot talked about some of the changes she implemented during her first year on the job and discussed some of the challenges of getting her members to work together quickly on such important issues as standards implementations.

FierceWireless: It has been almost a year since you became director general of the GSMA. What have you learned in this first year and secondly, what has been your greatest challenge?

Bouverot: It's been almost a year. It was announced in August and I started in September. One of the first things I did when I joined was to go meet with our board members of the GSMA and the executives at the operators all over the world. We have about 800 mobile operator members and 24 or 25 who are represented on our board.  I spoke with each of the board members and a few more and asked them what they wanted from the GSMA and what they wanted the organization to do--beyond what it already does.

The types of things I heard were very consistent. They had very high expectations and the desire for us to help across industry in business development opportunities. They want us to find the next big areas for growth---things like mobile payments, NFC, M2M, digital home and mobile identity. Where are the next big areas for network operators and carriers?

Another big thing was more regional focus and support so that we could be closer to the various markets. Since then we have opened offices in Brazil, India and a regional office in Hong Kong. We strengthened our office in Brussels. We are trying to be closer to the various markets for advocacy purposes with government and regulators and for better understanding of the markets.

We also heard that they want more speed of action across industry projects. You think of speed in standards. What can we do to make it quicker but also ensuring that as a membership organization that we are transparent? We want to be quick but at the same time we need to let everyone know what we are proposing and have sufficient by-in from the industry.

FierceWireless: I would think that would be a challenge. How do you get technology standards determined quickly?

Bouverot: But when we try to move things faster, it's tempting for one or two operators to want to take more time to decide on something because they don't agree. We are trying to gently help them see that and get them to understand that it's important to move ahead with things.

FierceWireless: What is the biggest challenge with your role at the GSMA?

Bouverot: I think challenge is more for operators and carriers. We are trying to help them.  This industry requires a lot of investment in the network and in the past few years we have been living on the 3G investments. Those networks are deployed and everyone is using mobile broadband. But now we are moving to LTE. For those that have not moved to LTE yet, for a huge increase in mobile data traffic, you need more spectrum. That's a big challenge for operators and carriers. Getting the spectrum--it is often expensive. And deploying the networks and the backhaul and making sure it works. 

FierceWireless: At the February Mobile World Congress, one big theme was the over-the-top players and how to balance them and also keep your business intact. Is the GSMA doing anything to help operators figure this out?

Bouverot: Yes, we have quite a number of initiatives and a number of angles. Over-the-top players and content providers have been providing services that customers and consumers are keen to use and mobile networks are what today enable people to have access to these services, which started on PCs but are now it's really on smartphones even in countries where you have  a lot of PC penetration.

In the developing world it is on mobile phones and smartphones to start with. Part of it is operators need to make sure that they are innovative themselves. We are trying to make sure they are aware of opportunities around next-generation messaging, around connected living—I know you have seen our Connected Home display at Mobile World Congress--and services like mobile identity, which I think will be important particularly in developing countries. One part of what we are doing is helping operators use mobile networks for the next stage in mobile innovation.

These new services, particularly video, puts an additional strain on the network, so that's where you get into making sure that the industry is healthy enough to pay for the investment in the networks.

The U.S. perspective may be different in that regard.  I've just seen the Q2 results for Verizon and AT&T and they are quite forward results.  In terms of ARPU for carriers in the U.S. is amongst the highest in the world and they are able to have increases. If you speak to operators anywhere else in the world, they are shocked that you can increase ARPU. Everywhere else it is going down and their CapEx is going up and their profitability is going down. How can I manage that?  

The sentiment is more about how we can make sure there are better incentives for investment in this industry.

And maybe a third angle to look at the over the top players is mobile applications. There are developers and their view of their end customers is someone with a PC and a broadband connection but in practice millions of users will be looking at applications from smartphones and feature phones and the screen will be different and it will be on the mobile network.  So we run into some problems with signaling and network usage. To the point that it has caused some network failures in some countries, for example South Korea.

We are looking at ways to help developers understand that they are writing applications now for people that will be viewing them on mobile devices. We are developing smartphone challenges and awards that we give at Mobile World Congress. We are putting together developer guidelines and for carriers on how to optimize networks and adapt to a world that is changing.

FierceWireless: You recently announced that you are integrating the Wholesale Application Community into the GSMA. Why did you decide to do that?

Bouverot:  The Wholesale Application Community was created about two years ago. I was a board member for the GSMA at the time and we thought maybe the GSMA wasn't ready to take it on so we set it up as a separate entity.  I think the organization has developed the confidence of the board members and the operators...They felt it would be more consistent to have operator projects run by one organization.

If you look at what WAC was doing in terms of APIs and network APIs, and what you can do with them on an industry basis it makes sense. In addition, the GSMA already had a similar project called OneAPI that can be combined.  We had to make sure we brought them together. There are not that many experts on APIs within the operator community and the same people were being asked to work on both. We felt like we should put them on the same team and that's why we are doing it through the GSMA.

We are structuring this in two projects both are fast track projects. One project is on network APIs under the sponsorship of John Donovan of AT&T and another one on Web runtime, which is more of a focus of Asian operators and that will be run by KT Telecom.

FierceWireless: I believe you are the first woman to lead the GSMA. Do you have any advice for women in this field? There seems to be very few operators with women in C-level positions.

Bouverot:  It's very true there aren't a lot of women at the executive level. I found that to be true at the GSMA. The organization is about 50 percent male and female but not among the executive team. I made a change there. Our new chief strategy officer is a woman.

I believe showing that it's possible to be at the executive level helps. When I went to meet with all the members of the board of the GSMA, I found that the person who was on the team that was preparing for my visit and my meeting would say, right before we would meet, "Oh and we have a senior woman on our team as well and you should meet with her."  It was a bit like, "We have one of you here, so you should meet." But it was great. We should put women together in senior positions. 

One thing we want to try to do with that is at Mobile World Congress, where we have a high standard in terms of keynote speakers, we are looking to increase the number of women speakers at the conference this year. We are hoping that we can show that there are women in this industry and hopefully that will encourage more women to take positions within the industry.