The yawn that was Mobile World Congress 2010

Peter JarichI have a Mobile World Congress tradition that pre-dates the GSMA's decision to rename the confab and move it to Barcelona, Spain. On the last day of the show, after most of my colleagues and other analysts have fled the country, I spend some time in the afternoon with one of our better customers. Over beers or coffee (depending on the weather) we look back at the news of the week. What operators said. What vendors said. What they did not say. What was on display in the booths. What I spent time tweeting about. Which booths were nearly impossible to get into--even if you weren't part of a competitor's "business intelligence" team. (Yes, I'm talking to you Huawei.)

This year, when trying to identify the major "news" or "exciting themes" on the network front, we all came to the same conclusion: not much.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the show was boring. In the device world, the Android ecosystem marched on, Windows Phone 7 became more than a rumor, and Intel joined with Nokia to combine two strange sounding "m" words into an even sillier one (Maemo + Moblin = MeeGo, really?). In the application world, new strategies for opening up operator network assets emerged, the GSMA settled on a Voice over LTE solution, the Wholesale Applications Community launched, and the NGMN recommended a voice solution (circuit switched fallback) to deal with all those laggards that won't move so rapidly on the GSMA's prescription. The professional services space saw HP and IBM tripping over one another to tap the "monetization," and "policy" aspects of wireless--not bad for a usually quiet corner of the market.

And, in the network? Compared with last year when LTE strategies were still in their infancy, HSPA+ was still a novel concept, and femtocell applications were still exciting, 2010 was decidedly boring. On a more granular basis, the assertion carries over to four key areas we saw as theme-worthy.

LTE. The big LTE news at Mobile World Congress actually took place before the show--AT&T's announcement of its LTE radio access network vendors (Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson). At the show, then, we were treated to demonstrations each aimed at pushing LTE further: Huawei's 600 Mbps demo, Ericsson's 1 Gbps demo, and Alcatel-Lucent's 80 Gbps TD-LTE. How do I call this boring? None of this involved new products, new platforms of even new technologies, just an extension of what we've seen in the past with more MIMO and additional carriers (for the most part). Surprisingly, sometimes-overlooked vendors NEC and Kyocera had some of the most exciting stories to tell with a focus on non-femto small cells and NEC's centralized SON (thanks to Actix) and 3D SON modeling. On a similar note, Samsung finally launched its LTE network kit but, as usual, did little to get it any visibility.

HSPA / HSPA+. Given the newness of LTE with its new air interface, new network architectures, and new products, I'm thankful that 3G technologies have remained a focus at MWC. This year, we were treated to, "world record" HSPA+ demonstrations ranging from 84 Mbps (two RF carriers) to 112 Mbps (four RF carriers) and a reminder that even if your base stations are ready to support HSPA+, you're out of luck until you can upgrade your backhaul network (thanks T-Mobile). No different than the LTE demonstrations, none of this was news. It's great to know that vendors are working to help operators get the most out of 3G, but we all know what more carriers and more antennas can deliver... and we all know that demos and super-sexy peak rates don't necessarily equate to a better user experience...Continued

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