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Editor's CornerSue Marek

Back to Barcelona: New name, more innovation

When I first started attending the Mobile World Congress (previously known as 3GSM World Congress) back in 2002 it was strictly a GSM technology event and much of the program was geared toward a European audience.

Today, 3GSM has been rebranded Mobile World Congress and while GSM still dominates the show, other technology options (such as WiMAX) will be on display and U.S. companies will be prevalent at the event as speakers, exhibitors and attendees.

The GSM Association, which hosts the event, expects this year's show to attract about 53,000 attendees (roughly the same as 2007). "This size and capacity is right for Barcelona. We aren't trying to grow the show. We want to keep it a business-to-business show," says GSMA spokesman David Pringle.

But that doesn't mean there won't be new additions to the conference. I'm particularly intrigued by the Mobile Innovation Marketplace--a two-day event in which 25 pre-selected startups are going to give brief demonstrations of their products to an audience of operators and venture capitalists. I know it's tough for small firms to get visibility with operators and this event gives them the perfect venue to make those contacts and get the necessary traction in the market.

Pringle expects LTE (long-term evolution) to be a big topic at the show with many vendors demonstrating their LTE technology. He also believes that there will be lots of discussion on spectrum, particularly the 700 MHz and 800 MHz frequencies and what this means for wireless broadband.

On the practical side, expect to find even more taxicabs at your disposal. Pringle says that taxi drivers have received permission to work on their day off, making more cabs available for Mobile World Congress attendees.

In addition, expect the Fira to feel even bigger. Pringle says that for the first time Mobile World Congress will be using the entire convention center so convention-goers and exhibitors will have more "room to breathe."

The Fierce editorial team will be bringing you all the news from the Mobile World Congress. I'll be in Barcelona along with my colleagues Brian Dolan and Jason Ankeny. If you see us slogging through the crowds of other attendees at the show, be sure to say hello. --Sue


Hot Topics

1. Ubiquitous networks and the path to 4G

Operators are still in the midst of upgrading their networks to 3G but vendors are already touting the benefits of LTE, WiMAX and other 4G-type technologies. In fact, a keynote session on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. will be devoted to "Ubiquitous Networks" and feature speakers such as Carl-Henric Svanberg, CEO of Ericsson and Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm.

Last year we heard a lot about WiMAX, which was surprising since this conference was once a GSM-dominated event. This year we expect to hear more on the business case for WiMAX and how the technology is fitting for underserved areas of the world. "There are plenty of parts of the world without broadband," says Scott Wickware, vice president of carrier networks, marketing and strategy at Nortel. "This is a cheaper way to offer broadband."

Of course, LTE will be making headlines. The LTE/SAE Trial initiative (which is made up of key vendors and operators such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia, Orange, Nortel, T-Mobile and Vodafone and others) announced Feb. 5 that it had completed its second round of LTE tests. Findings include field tests on prototype LTE systems show that devices can achieve download speeds exceeding 100 Mbps and high performance systems using 4x4 MIMO antennas can push this to beyond 300 Mbps. Look for vendors and operators to be expanding on the LTE/SAE findings.

Of course, as mobile broadband networks become more widely deployed, we can expect more focus on backhaul. In fact, Wickware says that one of the biggest concerns operators have when it comes to deploying 4G is how to backhaul the traffic. "Backhaul technologies haven't always kept up with the innovation on the radio side. Now many operators are looking at using fiber to their base stations," Wickware says.

Newcomer Exalt Communications announced this week the release of a native TDM and IP licensed backhaul product that company executives believe will be beneficial to operators because it allows them to provision according to what their traffic needs are. Exalt will be talking about their new line of backhaul products at the show.

There is even a session devoted to backhaul technologies. "Beating the Backhaul Challenge" will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 11:40 a.m. and features speakers from Nortel, Alcatel-Lucent, BelAir Networks, Harris Stratex Networks and more.--Sue

2. Competing with the iPhone

Unlike last year's show, which took place a few short weeks after Apple unveiled the iPhone, all is quiet on the handset front leading into the Mobile World Congress. While Motorola mulls whether it should spin off its beleaguered handset business, other phone makers wonder how they can begin to top last year's showstopper.

"One of the lessons of last year learned from iPhone is that there is a new bar for how loud you have to be to cut through the clutter," Compete's wireless research director Miro Kazakoff said. "If there were any likely hit phones coming out at the show this year, the industry would have heard something by now."

The only high-profile launch slated for the show is Nokia's S60 Touch UI, which the company will be demonstrating at its booth. Rumor has it that Nokia will be making use of accelerometers for the user interface--those are the same type of sensors that Apple uses in the iPhone to automatically adjust the screen display from normal to landscape mode. The S60 Touch UI is a testament to the growing number of touch sensitive phones on the market. The feature is close to becoming a requirement on high- end feature phones that look to compete with the iPhone.

Rumors of a Google-powered handset made by Dell have circulated recently, but many industry pundits have thrown cold water on the prospect of such a deal. Others, however, claim that Google will launch its Android operating system at the Mobile World Congress on a phone made by Dell.

Few phone launches have turned heads lately, but one exception was Garmin's GPS-based smart phone, the nuvifone, which the company unveiled last week. While the handset boasts an MP3 player, video functionality and other multimedia features, its core is GPS and location based services. Perhaps its most compelling feature is an application that lets users geo-tag photos to easily pass along directions to other nuvifone owners.

"As phones get more powerful and given the inherent nature of how hard it is to pack more functionality into one phone elegantly, we are going to see a lot more targeted devices and segmentation," Kazakoff noted. "It's not completely clear what form factors and functionality will go into each of these categories, but we are going to see a market where phones are built for and marketed to specific groups and various types of users." --Brian


3. Entertainment takes center stage at Mobile Backstage

The face of mobile content turns ruggedly handsome at Mobile World Congress--Academy Award winner and independent film pioneer Robert Redford will keynote Mobile Backstage, the one-day mobile entertainment conference produced by the GSM Association in collaboration with Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. The event takes place Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Redford is no stranger to mobile--in late 2006, his non-profit Sundance Institute launched the Sundance Film Festival: Global Short Film Project, an initiative spotlighting three-to-five minute short films made exclusively for screening on mobile handsets. The project was showcased at last year's event in Barcelona. Also, in January, Verizon Wireless added short-form programming from cable's Sundance Channel to its V Cast Video service.

Redford's Mobile Backstage keynote promises to focus on the potential of the mobile platform as a channel for independent filmmakers to reach a worldwide audience. Mobile Backstage will also spotlight acclaimed actress and director Isabella Rossellini, who will discuss her role in a new series of mobile shorts titled Green Porno--a name no doubt guaranteed to land untold copies of this preview issue in subscribers' spam folders--as well as Black Eyed Peas rapper will.i.am, who will explore the future of mobile music.

Mobile Backstage spins out of Billboard's Mobile Entertainment Live! conference, a staple at recent CTIA-sponsored industry events. It remains to be seen whether Mobile Backstage will generate the same level of attention as its predecessors given the enormous scale of the Barcelona show. "Is the buzz surrounding the event bigger than the actual event?" asks John Puterbaugh, founder and chief strategist with mobile media and service delivery platform provider Nellymoser. "[Mobile World Congress] is covering a lot of key mobile entertainment topics as part of its regular track. The speakers are a very eclectic group right now. I don't know if the headliners are enough to set [Mobile Backstage] apart."

Speaking of eclectic, don't expect any one dimension of the overall mobile data experience to dominate the discussion and headlines coming out of Barcelona--Puterbaugh forecasts social networking, advertising, discovery and mobile TV and video among the hot topics at Mobile World Congress, but he doesn't anticipate anything revolutionary on the immediate horizon. "We're in limbo right now--moving from 2.5G to 3G was not a game-changer, and there were no new services that really blew people away," Puterbaugh says. "Until 4G comes around, we're not going to have those kinds of innovative new applications and services." -Jason


4.Linux in the limelight

Linux enters Mobile World Congress 2008 with all the momentum in the world. First the open source platform reshaped the U.S. software market in late 2007 via web services giant Google's introduction of its Linux-based Android operating system. Next, in the waning days of January 2008, Nokia bid $153 million to acquire Norwegian Linux-based software provider Trolltech, a move the handset kingpin said will galvanize its cross-platform software strategy for mobile devices and desktop applications, enabling development of third-party apps optimized for the Internet, across its device portfolio and on PCs. Just days later, European semiconductor firm NXP and French mobile Linux components supplier Purple Labs announced their joint development of a 3G Linux feature phone boasting video telephony, music playback, high-speed Internet browsing and video streaming--the first of its kind with a price tag under $100. And finally, industry consortium The LiMo Foundation said it will release its first mobile Linux platform in March.

In other words: Watch out, Microsoft and Symbian. The most buzzworthy is the Trolltech deal, which makes Nokia the favorite to dominate mobile open source standards. "[The acquisition] gives the developer community the tools and culture to use [mobile Linux] in a wide range of designs," says Trolltech CTO Benoit Schillings. "For years Linux development has been fragmented, but now we are at a critical mass. Some very interesting pieces are combining here, and the growing adoption of Linux truly opens up the role of the developer." At the same time, Schillings says the excitement and speculation generated by Android in the U.S. market has so far failed to translate overseas: "There are still a number of question marks over what will come out of it, and I don't think there's been a clear answer," he says. "Everybody in this industry knows how long it takes to go from demo to device to a framework that you can build on for the future. It takes a long time for a platform to grow and go through the mistakes to become a safe choice." --Jason


5. Mobile banking reality check

If last year was the year of overblown expectations for mobile financial services, then 2008 will be a year of the inked deal but still little progress on consumer uptake, according to senior analyst Emmet Higdon of Forrester Research. Mobile banking and mobile payments are still technologies in search of a problem, which could be just what the industry players are looking to figure out at next week's Mobile World Congress. "People expected mobile banking to take off much more quickly than it has," Higdon said. "People are trying mobile banking services and discovering that it's kind of neat, but it's hard to read transactions on that little, tiny screen."

Carriers and financial institutions are still trying to figure out what consumers are interested in doing financially on their mobile phones. Forrester's polling suggests that customers, themselves, aren't really sure what they want to do with mobile banking. The problem could be a lack of imagination. Right now, U.S. banks are encouraging users to use the exact same services on their mobiles that they can already use online. "That's fine," Higdon cautions. "But it doesn't make it compelling enough to make a large percentage of their customers to try or adopt these mobile solutions. We are still waiting to see how that experience on the mobile could be different. We are still waiting on that killer app for mobile banking."

Of course, European carriers may have a head start when it comes to rolling out mobile financial services. The fragmented carrier market in the U.S. has so far made it near impossible for the financial institutions and carriers to agree on standards for mobile payments and near field communications technology, according to Higdon. Some carriers want to use SMS as the backbone of financial apps while others are pushing downloadable applications and still others WAP.

Technicalities aside: What is that yet undiscovered financial application that will be so compelling that it drives users to the mobile handset? Mitek CEO James DeBello thinks his company's remote deposit application could be just the ticket. Three years ago the U.S. government passed legislation that allows banks to accept an image of a check instead of the paper check itself to transact the payment or deposit. Mitek took that concept and ran with it: Mitek's software allows users to take pictures of checks with their camera phones (if they are 2 megapixels or higher) and send those images to the banks for deposit.

Look for Mitek's representatives and other financial application developers seeking to crack the mobile banking code at Mobile World Congress next week. -Brian


On the Hot Seat with Mike Short

FierceWirelesss editor Brian Dolan recently spoke with Mike Short, vice president of research and development for O2 Groups about the upcoming GSMA Innovation Awards, trends in the European mobile industry and how the industry has changed over the past decade. Short is responsible for trials of new technology. In addition, he keeps an eye out for innovative products for O2's carriers in Western Europe. Short is also the creator of the GSM Awards, which he started 11 years ago when he was chairman of the GSMA.

FierceWireless: As a judge in the upcoming GSMA Innovation Awards, what trends do you think will dictate which nominees will take home the awards?

Short: I try to look at these awards from a global perspective. I've been in mobile for 20 years so I always look for something new that will have a global impact. In the devices category, I mainly look for things that are going to change the shape of the market. In the applications category, I look for examples that are really going to develop the mobile business, like mobile marketing, ticketing, and barcode solutions. The show itself in Barcelona always attracts a lot of innovative companies, but when new companies take the trouble to enter the awards, they are beginning to answer the question: "How do I make a difference?" The award scheme helps.

FierceWireless: What specific trends are you seeing for devices?

Short: I see two trends for devices. One is a trend towards wearable devices. The other trend has to do with connectivity. One example on the wearable category is eyewear that helps you to sort through emails through special glasses or helps you to play games when you are perhaps relaxing on the beach. You know, wear 3-D glasses and have a bit of fun.

The other area, though, is this connectivity to and from the cell phones where we see the power of Bluetooth really come through. I remember ten years ago when Bluetooth first came into the headsets. People would walk down the street and get stared at with the headsets, but people don't really stare at headset users anymore. What they are going to do now is take Bluetooth to another level-like health telematics. You'll be able to measure blood pressure and sync that up to your phone via Bluetooth and then send the information onto the hospital.

FierceWireless: Some of these solutions don't seem like they would see market uptake any time soon. What timeframe do you have in mind when judging these awards?

Short: I tend to look at products and services up for these awards as having a timeframe of 18 months to two years before launching in the market, but I would expect them to have prototypes or trial services in the market this year in order to be eligible.

FierceWireless: Any other trends worth mentioning?

Short: Well, reducing the cost of transmission is certainly an important, if not exciting trend. The cost of all these base stations sending information back to switches is getting higher. We have a lot of data transmissions and that's a huge cost for backhaul. So there are a lot of innovative solutions in the transmission backhaul area which helps operators save money and in return reduce prices for end users. [Backhaul is] less exciting, perhaps, than applications, but a genuine infrastructure need.

FierceWireless: How have the awards changed over the years?

Short: Over the years the awards have really changed. In the past there was less emphasis on innovation and more emphasis on growth. We used to give awards for the fastest growing operator, for example, or the one with the highest penetration and things like that. In recent years the awards have widened to include things like best marketing campaign, best innovation in the base station category, best innovation in the IT and OSS categories.

In recent years we have discovered that innovation is coming from so many players-no long just the top six handset vendors or top six infrastructure vendors. In the last three or four years, we have had innovation categories that have helped to open up ideas in the content arena, the enterprise market arena or government or public sector area. So the innovation is often closer to the customer but can fly from many more companies. There are also close to 1,300 exhibitors at this year's Mobile World Congress and that just shows the global reach of the mobile industry.

FierceWireless: Do you see femtocells being a big trend?

Short: In the U.K., we have had competition for voice coverage for 23 years, so we have gotten pretty good at voice coverage. But 3G, being a relatively new network and intensive network, does have some difficulty when indoors. So the femtocells do have some use in that area, but they also play well into the combination of ADSL and the femtocell. So that's where the experimentation really is-with backhaul and indoor coverage. O2 has done some trials already and will do more in 2008. We see a real need for that.

Some enterprise customers will say "Alright, we'll buy a thousand cell phones from you, if you improve the coverage in our building." So along with selling the handsets and providing the connectivity, you have to improve the coverage as part of that.

FierceWireless: What else is in the innovation pipeline at O2?

Short: We have a major trial around near field communications (NFC) around the city of London. If you have been through London recently, you would have noticed we have something called the Oyster Card, which is a pay-as-you-go card for underground subway cars and buses. What we have done is put that Oyster Card inside a cell phone and said you have three wallets inside this cell phone: Cell phone account, Oyster Card travel account and your Visa or MasterCard account.

That trial is running through May. We will get the results for the trials from those customers after that timeframe. We want to understand the balance between simplicity or ease-of-use and security. As soon as you put more monetary value-more wallets-inside a phone, there are some security questions that need to be faced, including the balance of security and ease-of-use.

FierceWireless: What other m-commerce solutions does O2 offer?

Short: We are one of five major operators who support a $1 billion mobile content business in the U.K. If you look at mobile content paid for at a premium, it's about $1 billion a year market for transactional mobile content payments. We've certainly had banking alerts for mobiles for a number of year and expect that to grow. We have also run trials with bar codes that users download to phones and then use them in real life. We have had some interesting mobile advertising trials already, but the key barriers to mobile advertising have less to do with technology and more to do with process and metrics.

FierceWireless: Finally, how are enterprise applications changing?

Short: We see more interest in the enterprise space as that market gets mobilized more fully. Traditionally mobile enterprise has focused on fleet management and mobile email, but it's moving more toward business process re-engineering and more into accessing workflow, work records and information sources. We see that also extending into the public sector with healthcare and health telematics and transport telematics as well.

To sum up, there is a lot of innovation already going on, but it's good to see when new companies enter these awards so we can see what's coming out next.


Datebook

Feb. 11-12.
The Mobile Innovation Marketplace. Hall 5 of The Fira. Designed to help small and medium size companies reach mobile operators, this program lets 25 companies present their innovations to operators and potential investors. www.mobileinnovation.org

Feb. 12 at 9:15 a.m.
The Fira. Keynote address: Battleground for a Brighter Future with John Chambers of Cisco, Rob Conway of the GSM Association, John Hoffman of GSMC Ltd., Wang Jianzhou of China Mobile, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo of Nokia and Arun Sarin of Vodafone.

Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
The National Palace. Global Mobile Awards Dinner featuring comedian Graham Norton.

Feb. 13 at 9:00 a.m.
Robert Redford keynotes Mobile Backstage at the National Palace.

Helpful Links

> In case you have time to attend sessions at the conference, take a look at the Mobile World Congress' full session schedule. Site

> Still need a hotel for the show? The GSMA has set up a website to help find available rooms and suites. Site

> This year's MWC has plenty of sideshows and co-located events. Check them out here: Site

> Don't forget the food. Barcelona's tourism office can help you make reservations. Site

> The GSMA also provides a scheduling tool to ensure you don't miss a session or briefing. Site

> First time to Barcelona? Here's a map of the Fira de Barcelona, which is where the conference is taking place. Map


This special issue of FierceBroadbandWireless focuses on the upcoming tradeshow, but it is not officially endorsed or affiliated with GSMA.

Editor-in-Chief: Sue Marek - [email protected]
Executive Editor: Lynnette Luna - [email protected]

VP Sales & Business Development: Jason Nelson - [email protected]
Publisher: Jeff Giesea

Advertising: contact Jason at [email protected] or call 202.628.8778x10
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