Jarich's Mid-Year Musings: Watches and small cells and consumer IoT and 4G+ (oh my!)

Current Analysis Peter Jarich

     Peter Jarich

In case you hadn't noticed, we're rapidly approaching the start of summer…and summer holidays. For many, this means a time to slow down, benefitting from the mandated 50 weeks of annual vacation you have coming. In America, it's a time to look at our European colleagues with a jealous, despising eye.

On a more positive note, it's also a time to look forward to the next six months of 2015, and maybe back at what's happened so far this year. I've been doing all of the above lately and can tell you that it's no simple task to wrap up my thoughts on 2015 into one single theme. Rather than look for a common thread, then, I'll take the easy way out and touch on a number of individual, semi-disparate topics which should be a part of the broader 2015 telecom discussion--all touched off by recent discussion, travel, customer engagements and topic-of-mind research.

Luxury smartwatches - balancing "investment" versus obsolescence: You might recall that back in April I mocked the concept of luxury smartwatches as part of an April Fools column. The reference to a giant block of cheese at the Basel World launch of Tag Heuer's entry into the space was real, but the rest was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. An issue I hinted at was the notion of buying something that should maintain its value versus a consumer electronics product which would become obsolete over time. Earlier this month, then, I had a chance to dig into the topic a little deeper with a visit to JCK Las Vegas, the largest jewelry trade show in the US. While its technology section was focused more on solutions for running a jewelry business, the watch section (Clockworks) was the right place to witness the intersection of high-end horology and wrist-mounted wearables.  One takeaway: the keepsake vs. obsolescence tension may get solved by modular watch upgrades. With high-end watch servicing easily running $100 or more, it always seemed like there should be an opportunity for smartwatches to get upgraded (new processors, new screens) over time. More importantly, it looks like this is exactly the plan for companies like Alpina, Frederique Constant and Mondaine, who promise processor upgrades on their Motion-X based watches for about $100. It's almost enough to make me cotton to the concept of luxury smart watches.

Luxury smartwatches - fashion and function: Remember when I said "almost" about liking the concept of luxury smartwatches? You know, in the last bullet? Well, two conversations at the watch show I mentioned (you know, in the last bullet) helped me put this sort of wearable into perspective. Conversation No. 1 ended in a simple question: What watch do you want to wear on your wedding day? An Apple Watch? Conversation No. 2 revolved around the concept of execs who don't mind having the same phone as everyone else, but would seriously regret wearing the same suit or watch as their colleagues. It doesn't take a genius to know that if you're paying more than $1,000 for a watch (more than $500, maybe), it's more than a tool for telling time. It's a fashion statement. It might even be a keepsake or memento. It's probably nothing you want to see all of your friends and colleagues (rivals?) sporting--even if you all have slightly different bands. 

Small cells circa 2015: I didn't make it the Small Cells World event in London last week. I was, however, lucky enough to be one of the judges of Small Cell Forum's industry awards. When I say "lucky" I really mean it. Reading through all of the entries and debating their merits with the other judges is an incredible educational opportunity. It's one of the best ways to understand the state of the industry and the state of small cell technology. So, what insights can be gained from this year's awards? First, I'd recommend looking at the shortlist versus the eventual winners since the margin between No. 1 and No. 2 in any category can be pretty slim, and the shortlists give a broader view into market. Then, I'd suggest a few key takeaways that stand out. Femtocells don't get no respect: If there were more excitement around the residential small cell space, the "residential deployment" category (and shortlist) would have included more than two entries versus 10-plus in some of the other categories. Whole lot of enabling going on: Where the "technology and deployment enablers" awards category shortlist included so many disparate types of innovations (timing, site support, edge applications), it's clear that there's no consensus on what's most important to make the business work. Small cells versus big vendors: The shortlist contains both small and large vendors, but is tipped in favor of the small guys--suggesting where innovation is taking place and that more M&A should be on the way.

Consumer IoT: Back in April I attended "Monetising the Internet of Things," a conference in Germany focused on…well, the name really says it all. I ran a panel on consumer IoT and was recently reminded of the discussion when reading a Cisco blog post titled, "10 Predictions for the Future of the Internet of Things." The third prediction called out the value of IoT to businesses as compared to the hype surrounding consumer-focused IoT. It's a sentiment that we've expressed in the past and the reason why, before IoT was all the buzz, M2M was making people money. Ultimately, however, the notion of consumer versus business applications somewhat misses the point of IoT. If, as Cisco notes, "the currency of IoT will be 'data,'" then that's going to apply to all sorts of IoT. Some of that consumer data will be consumed by the consumers themselves. Some will fuel non-consumer use cases. My go-to example is Fitbark, the fitness tracker for dogs that could someday fuel a breed-specific database of canine activity profiles and support clinical drug trials (Be honest, you laughed when you read "fitness tracker for dogs," didn't you?) The implication is that almost all IoT could be business (rather than consumer) IoT. ] I have to agree that a focus on things like wearables may mislead from the ultimate IoT value, but ignoring the business implications of consumer IoT is just as dangerous.

> 4G+ use cases and technologies: Do you know what else I did in April? I wrote a column on pre-5G technologies. Do you know what I was doing a year earlier? I penned a column on the difficulties of putting together a meaningful survey around telecom trends and technologies. Do you know what you get when you put this all together? That's right: An attempt to square this circle and use a survey to learn a little about 4.5G by surveying 100-plus telecom execs from around the world. I can't say we'll go into 2016 with definitive answers on the technologies that operators will continue to invest in. I am sure, however, that we'll end up with some solid insights that should provide valuable R&D and marketing guidance. Have a question you're specifically interested in? Leverage the comments or send me a note.  Interested in seeing the survey results when they come out?  Forget the comments and just hit me up on e-mail. --Peter

Peter Jarich is the VP of Consumer and Infrastructure at Current Analysis. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.