Jarich: 4G marketing, LTE roaming and incenting developers - just another day (or so) in the mobile ecosystem

Peter Jarich

Peter Jarich

It's the start of the fourth quarter and that means one thing: in the coming weeks, we'll begin seeing all sorts of articles and analyses wrapping up the year and making predictions for 2012. I'm sure we'll produce a few of them over here at Current Analysis. Yet, as much as we all like to reminisce over the big news and themes of the past year (don't we all fondly remember when we first heard about the Microsoft-Nokia tie-up, or when we learned of AT&T Mobility's LTE launch?), there's just as much insight to be found in events that aren't quite headline-worthy.

Over the past few weeks, I was reminded of this truism by a handful of announcements that didn't capture everyone's attention in the way that the Kindle Fire or latest webOS rumors did... but still held some important insights about where the mobile ecosystem is headed.

YouTube's New Android Application/SoftBank's TD-LTE Roaming Suggestion. At Huawei's Mobile Broadband Forum back in September, the operators in attendance (and, well, everyone else there) got treated to some early insights into new Android application development from YouTube. Amongst other things, the YouTube people promised in-built pacing - aka, just in time delivery. Why is this important? Pacing is one of the features most mobile video optimization vendors include in their solutions. It's also, reportedly, one of most useful in cutting down the impact of mobile video on network traffic loads. Not surprisingly, many people close videos before watching until completion; if the video's completely buffered, that's a lot of wasted bandwidth. Where YouTube drives a lot of mobile video traffic, anything it does in terms of optimization clearly eats into the value proposition of optimization vendors and points to the potential for device and application "smarts" to replace, or complement, network capabilities. News had been slowly leaking out about SoftBank's LTE launch for several weeks, culminating in an official announcement on Sept. 29. A week before the announcement, the carrier spent some time at Huawei's Mobile Broadband Forum in Berlin talking up various aspects of its LTE thinking and rationale: its spectrum assets, the way that its PHS site infrastructure supports a high-density deployment model, the fact that 90 percent of the mobile traffic in Tokyo is concentrated in a very small part of the city. Most interestingly, however, was the notion that TD-LTE could serve as a roaming solution for a fragmented global LTE spectrum landscape. With fewer TD-LTE favorable bands than FDD LTE bands, the notion that LTE devices could include TD-LTE as a global roaming option is logical. With operators still in the midst of their initial LTE rollouts and HSPA representing a solid roaming option, the near-term demand for this type of option is negligible.

T-Mobile's New 42 Mbps HSPA+ Devices. Last week, T-Mobile USA leveraged Mobilize 2011 to announce their first 42 Mbps HSPA+ smartphones, the HTC Amaze 4G and the Samsung Galaxy S II. With a multicarrier HSPA+ network, it only made sense for the carrier to launch HSPA+ 42 devices that go beyond data devices, dongles or Wi-Fi pucks. It's especially important for competing with the LTE networks being rolled out by other U.S. operators. The fact that we're still leveraging the "HSPA+ 42" as part of the marketing, however, is an interesting foil against LTE marketing. Sure, we all know that you won't get 42 Mbps to the device, and T-Mobile's messaging explicitly called out average download speeds in the 8 Mbps range (20 Mbps peak). Still, pointing to the theoretical capacity of the technology stands in contrast to what we see with LTE launches. Class 2 LTE devices can support 50 Mbps on the downlink. Class 3 tops out at 100 Mbps. Have you seen those figures quoted in service or device marketing or device? To be sure, variables in terms of how LTE networks are rolled out play a factor. Still, iIt's always possible to quote the theoretical capabilities of a network or technology, suggesting LTE launches have brought marketing that's more meaningful to your average end user.

New MMS Twittering Options. Do you want to send Twitter updates via MMS? No? Me neither--the various Twitter applications for various smartphone platforms work just fine. If you're still rocking a feature phone, however, it's a logical solution for posting multimedia content. And, if you're a customer of about ten operators worldwide, you're in luck as of last month. The point here isn't the value of a new micro-blogging method. It is about how the method is being marketing and developed. On the marketing front, Twitter took to its blog to call proclaim that, "you can share photos on Twitter by including a photo in your text message." The problem is, while this implies SMS, they're really talking about MMS. For most of us, this is no big difference if the two types of messages are priced the same. Beyond the fact that the notion of including pictures in a text messages belies the definition of "text message," it ignores the fact that SMS and MMS are priced differently in many markets. Separately, Telefónica's BlueVia application exposure initiative took to its blog to talk up the new capabilities. They got the SMS vs. MMS dynamic right. Yet, where BlueVia's successes have come thanks to actually compensating API usage, the MMS-Twitter support from an array of other operators questions how critical this model really is. The idea of paying developers as a means to differentiated application functionality is straightforward. If the "brand names" will do it anyway, does this leave the long-tail as the focus?

Is there a big picture message here beyond the a somewhat generic, "the market is steadily evolving?" I'm not so sure. I'm also not too sure that there needs to be. 

By now, it should be obvious to everyone that the mobile ecosystem is about more than just the Apples, Ericssons and SoftBanks of the world.  It's about Amazon and ZTE and everything in between--and if you're not looking at the "in between" or only paying attention to the headlines, you're missing a lot.

Peter Jarich is the Service Director leading Current Analysis telecom infrastructure practice. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.