The 4G vision keeps evolving


The 4G vision keeps evolving

As I mentioned on Monday, 4G was a hot topic at the Mobile World Congress. Nearly every discussion I had with operators and vendors at the show was peppered with the terms LTE and WiMAX.

What is becoming crystal clear is that 4G is not just a discussion about a network technology where consumers will have a bigger and faster pipe. 4G is a technology, business model and ecosystem overhaul in which operators will no longer be selling airtime packages and handsets but instead offer consumers an all-IP network experience for many types of consumer devices. I have heard this vision touted before but I think I'm finally starting to understand all the implications. Not only will this mean a different pricing structure and provisioning system for the devices and services, it also means an overhaul of the current retail model.

No longer will consumers just walk into carrier and agent retail stores to buy their devices and sign up for a network contract. Instead, all big-box retailers will sell 4G-capable devices that will likely have self-provisioning mobile broadband features similar to how you buy a computer today, turn it on and have the ability to immediately get access to the Internet. Accenture partner Ragnar-Miquel Myhrer told me that many of the operators are looking at ways to expand their current retail presence. One way of doing that may be through partnerships with big-box retailers such as Best Buy and others. Big-box retailers have already become valuable distribution players for handsets but Myhrer expects their relationship with the operator to become even more important in the coming years.

Another key relationship for operators will be that with consumer electronics device makers. If the vision of 4G is to have LTE or WiMAX incorporated into all types of devices--not just handsets and laptops--operators will have to become more tightly integrated with the companies that make digital cameras, gaming devices, etc. Right now, those relationships don't exist but that is changing.

Here are some other tidbits I picked up at Barcelona:

--One (anonymous) analyst's description of the news earlier in the week that Nortel and Motorola may combine their networking units. "Two losers don't make a winner."

--"Those are just rumors and we don't comment on rumors."  Motorola Inc. senior vice president and general manager North America wireless products Fred Wright on the possible combination of Motorola and Nortel's networking units.

--"Big box retailers are looking at a joint venture for the 700 MHz," Accenture partner Ragnar-Miguel Myhrer.

--Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs response to other panelists on the "Ubiquitous Networks" keynote assessment that LTE is the next world standard: "We will continue to drive multiple technologies to assure innovation. But we will support what operators are interested in providing." -Sue

P.S. FierceWireless will not be publishing on Monday due to the holiday. We will see you back here on Tuesday.