Two questions tend to bookend the month of February for me. The month starts with everybody asking me what I expect to see at Mobile World Congress, and of course the month ends with what did I see there. For me, the first question is always the easier of the two the answer is based on what I have learned over the twelve months that have passed since last year's MWC. For the second question I only have 4 sleepless days, with sunup to sundown meetings, punctuated by late meals and even later mass-transit commutes to come up with an answer. For that reason, and the fact it is only the start of February, let me share a few of my 2014 MWC predictions.
LTE-Advanced demonstrations, trials, and announcements will be in abundance at MWC. Sure, you can call this prediction easy and obvious but you can't deny it won't be true. With initial commercial launches in 2013, and more coming in 2014, you can be sure every vendor will have something to say about this topic, especially as LTE and LTE-A will drive market activity for at least the next decade.
Small cells go to work. Seeing the enterprise market as the best near-term opportunity for small cells is nothing new, with interest in this opportunity only getting more vocal after Ericsson's September Dot announcement. At MWC 2014 I would be surprised if there are any small cell vendors without an enterprise story. Product and partnership discussions on this topic should be plentiful at the conference.
eMBS (LTE Broadcast) will make a return appearance at MWC in 2014. Rising from the ashes of Qulacomm's failed FLO-TV, LTE Broadcast based on evolved Multimedia Broadcast Service (eMBS) provides LTE network operators with a way to broadcast video content simultaneously to multiple users. Its application goes beyond just video, as eMBS can be a tool for mass software updates on smartphones. Beyond just the value of the transmitted content, eMBS benefits operators by providing a more resource efficient method of transmitting high-demand content than a standard one-to-one or unicast connection. Also, unlike the prior FLO-TV, eMBS doesn't require additional spectrum. Operators can use their existing LTE spectrum for eMBS and only reserve downlink capacity when needed. Korea Telecom and Samsung announced commercial launch of eMBS service in late January. Verizon Wireless along with multiple partners (Samsung for devices, Alcatel-Lucent for network, and Qualcomm and Sequans for chipsets) demoed the technology at the 2014 Super Bowl, an obvious venue for this type of network solution. I was surprised at the number of vendors showing LTE Broadcast at last year's MWC. With growing support for the technology and operators' need for applications they can successfully commercialize, eMBS should be in full force at this month's MWC.
Optimization makes the video go down better. LTE Broadcast may provide a more efficient manner of video streaming, but even its deployment won't come near to addressing all of an operator's requirements for mitigating video's impact on the mobile network. Video optimization solution providers will certainly be present in Barcelona. What won't be present however, is a set of unified standards to measure and compare the actual benefits different vendors video optimization solutions.
Improved customer and quality of experience will be the goal. Conversations in the video optimization space over the last 12 months have really highlighted the change in the vendor community in talking about just raw performance, and capex/opex savings. Vide optimization vendors have shifted their messaging emphasis to the ultimate value of their solutions--how it improves the paying customer's experience. However, video optimization vendors are not alone in playing up the benefits of improved customer experience. Vendors in other parts of the mobile arena like Nokia Solutions and Networks makes CEM (customer experience management) a central part of their portfolio. Improved customer experience will be the foundation of many a vendors' market message this February. It only makes sense as holding onto and growing the number of paying customers is the ultimate objective of every service provider, and quality of experience is key to retaining subscribers.
While not a prediction, I do want to share some advice for conference newcomers. Wear comfortable shoes. Moderate your intake of the salted ham, and, have a sense of humor--meetings will be canceled on you at the last minute, it isn't personal it's just Mobile World Congress.
Daryl Schoolar is Principal Analyst of Wireless Infrastructure for Ovum. Daryl's research includes not only what infrastructure vendors are developing in those areas, but how mobile operators are deploying and using those wireless networking solutions. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him at @DHSchoolar.