Mobile reformation: Piecing together Mobile World Congress – page 2

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Fan = ear: The smart network governor that can listen and adapt to changing conditions and customer needs by cooling traffic flows. The end-to-end customer experience and charging accordingly is what matters. Mobile networks and carrier services are still not up to supporting the increasingly demanding applications and services with major growth in smartphone users. RIM's co-CEO Mike Lazaridis explained at length that BlackBerries are much less of a problem than other devices, such as iPhone, particularly with regard to network signalling demands. I presume that is why I can still have my international all-you-can-eat flat rate data plan on my AT&T BlackBerry. Previous generation networks were not conceived for current usage models and traffic flows. Deep packet inspection enables traffic shaping to smooth-out peaks if the network neutrality police will allow it. Operator support systems are being rationalized and integrated with service oriented architectures including policy controls, subscriber data management, service delivery and more. Vendors are diving in to provide the most holistic solutions with an optimal mix of IT and telecom technologies. Those, such as HP, with a strong heritage in both domains are well positioned for this while classic network equipment vendors emphasize 3GPP standards such as IMS.

Rope = tail: Relatively thin network tails in terms of bandwidth for wireless in comparison to fiber, but the former swoosh everywhere. Among the many forecasts, Ericsson's vision for 50 billion connected devices by 2020 seemed to catch most attention. While I remain sceptical that such a number can be reached so soon, we are definitely heading that way. New devices abound at these shows. Products other than phones were of particular interest this year with much excitement about all the possibilities between smartphones and notebooks including tablets, netbooks and other formfactors. I was shown several smartbook reference designs by chip vendors. These orphans were waiting for adoption by vendors with brand and distribution. I wonder if they came.

Wall = body: The plethora of application platforms and operating systems, applications stores, developers and applications on display. For example, App Planet in Hall 7 was dedicated to this blossoming ecosystem, Ericsson promoted its hosted eStore for white label supply to operators and operators untied around their hastily conceived, the night before announcement, Wholesale Applications Initiative. It was also the queues first thing each morning at the main entrance that made the unwary late for their 9 am meetings, crowds at the Microsoft stand following its Windows Mobile 7 announcement and the hordes gawping at the CBOSS girls nearby.

So how should one describe the entirety of the Barcelona beast? Whereas the GSMA owns the show, it neither owns the industry nor controls the overall impression it leaves with MWC attendees. Notwithstanding GSMA's blessing of WAI and VoLTE, the organization and its members are losing their grip on mobile's expanding ecosystem.

The 2010 show revealed an industry undergoing disruption across the board with something of a renaissance resulting from valuable learning and developments in the IT and Internet sectors. The industry is also in the throes of reformation with an expanding ecosystem and a new power structure. For example, handset market leader Nokia is being de-throned (in terms of gross profits and cool factor, if not by sales volumes) by a mobile newcomer that has succeeded despite spurning the mobile industry's Mecca and other institutions. Google, Facebook, Skype and others in the Web 2.0 community also face enormous growth opportunities as mobiles become the world's primary computing and Internet access devices for most of the world's population. Just as with the original renaissance starting in the 14th Centaury, mobile industry change is not an orderly or controlled process. It also has many winners and losers. The nature and extent of change is only fully recognized long after it has occurred.

Mobile operators are suffering from an identity crisis. While seeking expanded roles for themselves, they are somewhat constrained by their individual geographic scope and cannot afford to ignore opportunities beyond what is ordained by or in the purview of the GSMA. Mobile has been massively successful in voice and text with its global diffusion unsurpassed by any other product or service. Development of 3G was lacklustre until a couple of years ago. The iPhone and the unbridled data demand growth that followed have shown a way forward. But this is still just the new beginning.

Keith Mallinson is a leading industry expert, analyst and consultant. Solving business problems in wireless and mobile communications, he founded consulting firm WiseHarbor in 2007.

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