Marketing what’s next? – A preview & quick guide to the MWC 2014

MWC2014We are just a few weeks away from the biggest mobile event in the telecom’s industry, the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, Spain, an event that typically measures the technologies and trends we will see during the rest of the year in the telecommunications’ world. What a better way of starting this year’s posts on The Madrid Telecom’s Blog, than providing a quick summary of the things you should know about the event and some predictions on the topics to discuss.

The show evolution

The “Mobile World Congress” (MWC) is a well-known show hosted by the GSM Association (GSMA) since 1995, originally done in Madrid in fact but moved to Cannes on 1996. On 2008, the GSMA moved the show to Barcelona, and hosted it there since then… and up to at least 2018 as the GSMA selected Barcelona on 2011 as the “GSMA Mobile World Capital”. Some might challenge the real purpose of the event, but a show that started as a way to purely encouraging technology evolution during the hype of the GSM technology, rapidly became a monster source of marketing and business for the rest of the industry. Some analysts estimates the GSMA represented an impact of around 3.5 million euros in earnings to the city of Barcelona during 2013, and no company in the technology or telecommunication spaces can afford not being present in the MWC show each year if wants to be known in the market.

The MWC2014 in numbers

The Mobile World Congress 2014 will take place from February 24th to 27th, once again in the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, Spain. The huge exhibition space has been slightly increased to 98000 m2 from the 94000 m2 of last year. Again there will be a total of 8 halls, from which 5 will be used as exhibition areas (halls 1, 5, 6, 7, 8). Huawei was the vendor with the biggest space last year, having a total of 240000 m2 and 8 pavilions used, and we can expect similar sizes this year. Ericsson will also have a huge space allocated. The full exhibitors map can be seen (here).

According to the GSMA a total of 1595 different exhibitors are registered until today, while MWC2013 had a total of nearly 1700. More than 72000 visitors are expected this year, having 72534 as the total record assistance seen during last year’s show. More than 200 countries are expected to be represented, keeping in mind last year’s attendees geographical split was: 67% from Europe, 15% from North America, 13% from Asia Pacific, 5% from the Middle East, 3% from Latin America, and 2% from Africa.

The agenda of conferences fully covers the four days, including 7 keynote conferences. The show is expected to have more than 60 conferences and seminars in total, with more than 10000 attendees. The MWC2014 will be having more than 3000 media and analysts covering the event.

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There are 4 types of tickets or passes for the show, visitor-silver-gold-platinum, ranging from 750 to 5000 euros depending on the access levels and options. The average price of a room in the hotels in Barcelona during the event is around 400 euros, while the regular price uses to be around 100. More than 25000 hotel rooms are booked in advance for the show with an expected occupation of more than 95% during that week. There will be around 50 restaurants in total across the exhibition spaces. The show will be open for visitors from 09:00 to 19:00.

Conferences Program

If you are lucky enough to have a pass to the conferences, the full schedule can be found (here). The keynote conferences include sessions from Alcatel-Lucent, América Móvil, Bitcoin, Cisco, EMC, Jasper Wireless, Millicom, SK, Telenor, Tele2, and WhatsApp, among many others.

Personally, I would specially highlight the following sessions thinking on what 2014 could bring to the industry:

  • Keynote 1: Industry Perspective: Mobile Operator Strategies (Feb 24th 09:15-10:45)
  • Creating the Next Access Networks (Feb 24th 14:00-15:30)
  • Building the Future Network (Feb 24th 16:00-17:30)
  • Keynote 3: The Connected Lifestyle: Transforming Industries (Feb 25th 09:15-10:45)
  • Smart Cities: Smarter Living (Feb 25th 14:00-15:30)
  • Driving New Revenues & Relationships for Operators & Brands (Feb 25th 16:00-17:30)
  • The Future of: Smart Buildings (Feb 25th 16:00-17:30)
  • Keynote 5: Up Close & Personal: The Power of Big Data (Feb 26th 09:15-10:45)
  • The Future of Voice (Feb 26th 14:00-15:30)
  • Complementing Coverage with Small Cells & Wi-Fi (Feb 26th 14:00-15:30)
  • Spotlight on Business Models for M2M Services (Feb 26th 16:00-17:30)
  • Optimising User Experience with Intelligent Network Assets (Feb 26th 16:00-17:30)
  • Keynote 7: Innovation Unleashed (Feb 27th 09:30-11:00)
  • Exploring Successful M2M Applications in Adjacent Industries (Feb 27th 11:30-13:00)
  • Rise of the Machines: Enabling the Evolution from M2M to an Internet of Things Future (Feb 27th 14:30-16:00)
  • Redefining Reality with Screens, Storage & Wearables
  • ·(Feb 27th 14:30-16:00)
  • Developing the Ecosystem for Mobile Identity Services (Feb 27th 14:30-16:00)

The key Trends and Topics

Every year the event gets bigger and massive, having representation from all the possible areas in the industry. However, we can always identify a few topics and trends as the most commented, or the ones creating the most interest or hype. These give an idea of what the year will bring for the telecommunications.

We can expect the following topics within the most popular during this MWC2014:

1. New wave of smartphones and gadgets, now including wearables: There are unofficial rumours of new smartphones being presented as the new Samsung Galaxy S5, or Sony Xperia Z1 Compact & Z2, among others. The wearables will be everywhere, possibly including a Samsung Galaxy Gear 2, and new features of the Google Glass for developers and designers. This topic will have a lot to say during the show and the rest of the year.

2. Smart Cities: The industry is making an effort to encourage the concept of the Smart Cities. There will be a space for the GSMA Connected City which aims to show the business benefits of the connected life.

3. Spectrum efficiency and automatic networks optimization techniques: We will continue to see many solutions targeting techniques for automation of the networks optimization and organization, now in both the access and core networks. The spectrum efficiency will be also discussed in detail as the vendors and standardization organizations are already starting to plan the next generation of mobile wireless communications.

4. LTE-A & VoLTE: Most of the operators in the world having LTE will continue evolving towards LTE Advanced and/or implementing Voice over LTE. Having the lessons learned from Asia and their successful deployments, we can now see the leader CSPs making plans for the next step in the evolution.

5. NFV , SDN, and the Cloud: The biggest hype in the industry during 2013 will continue growing during 2014. In the show we will hear a lot about virtualization, as almost every vendor will claim to support it in some level for catching up with the evolution wave. We should follow the demonstrations the NFV leading vendors and consultants, as this is the only way to have a taste of reality.

6. Everything connected, M2M and IoT: The Internet of Everything, as the industry is calling the Machine-to-Machine and Internet of Things these days, will be a key topic during the MWC2014 and the rest of the year. There are important evolutions in terms of hardware size and cost reduction for the devices, as well as connectivity and “cloudification” of the software and data from these. We will see a lot of different approaches and fun gadgets for the connected industry, connected car, and the connected homes.

7. Indoor coverage, small cells, WiFi: The next step in the wireless evolution, after the LTE is well established as the leading outdoor access technology, is covering the gap for the indoor access. Interesting solutions will aim to cover the gap with a combination of WiFi, small cells, and optimization techniques. Keep a close eye on the big players and their solutions for this space.

8. Big Data & Predictive Analytics: Once again, Big Data is the common topic among the business and network intelligence experts. We can expect more mature and sophisticated solutions for prediction of network performances and business behaviours. We can also expect highly advanced analytics solutions based on big data globally collected.

9. Consolidation of core networks and services: As most of the operators are taking the consolidation path, installing solutions from the big players for unifying all of the access technologies in a convergent core network and services, we will see more maturity in these solutions for providing easier transitions and additional features to the mix.

Companies to follow

What to see and who to meet during the event, totally depends on your area and your strategy for this year. However, I would highlight the following as the most interesting in my view:

– The big players Google (through its associates), Ericsson, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent, NSN, Samsung, Sony, Telefonica, Vodafone, etc. are always a must see

– The ones covering the most evolved systems and products AT&T, EE, Oracle, Juniper, Cisco, LG, HTC, Ixia, Spirent, etc. are also interesting to check out

– The smart start-ups Jolla, Spark, Lifx, Stick n find, Smart Things, Cyan, Connectem, Affirmed, Metaswitch, members of the CloudNFV, and a BIG etc….

MWC2014_2

Your list will of course depend on your specific interests. The important is having a clear plan, as the four days typically pass too fast for all the information and space available and you are not just collecting “goodies” in such an expensive show. Also, do not miss the chance to explore Barcelona outside the Fira, as you will find better food, nice people, and a very interesting city.

A. Rodriguez

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Three short stories on today’s Mobile Networks Performance

Ensuring the quality of the networks for an optimal end user experience is often a challenging task for mobile network operators. While the carriers’ engineers adjust the systems for getting the most efficient usage according to the load required, you might be affecting the quality of the subscribers’ service in particular conditions, subject to the applications being used by them, the coverage and access technologies available in determined locations, or even the non-always optimal policies used for access technology selection.

Evolved QoE – Application Performance who?

Nowadays delivering quality services to the mobile subscribers has evolved beyond the traditional network availability and quality. Today’s users are demanding sufficient performance for each type of application used, leading to profile based modelling of the traffic and increasing the complexity of the Quality of Experience (QoE) evaluation for the carriers. For the operators evaluating the QoE is hard, as published by the GSA and Ericsson this month (here) “A 2012 study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Akamai Technologies found that internet users start abandoning attempts to view online videos if they do not load properly within two seconds. As time goes on, the rate at which viewers give up on a given video increases”, “with the rise of mobile-broadband and smartphone usage over the past few years, the meaning of user experience has changed dramatically”.

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What used to be measured with coverage and bandwidth capacity is now extended to performance per application and end user experience, involving signal coverage maps, latency analysis, QoS, security features, loading speed for web pages or online multimedia content (e.g. HD video) and apps, among others. As explained and exemplified in a recent Ericsson Whitepaper on Network Performance (here) “Network performance cannot be generalized because the only true measurement of performance is the experience of those who use it.”, “App coverage is one way we describe this performance. It refers to the proportion of a network’s coverage that has sufficient ability to run a particular app at an acceptable quality level. For example, an area that has 95 percent coverage for voice calls, may have 70 percent coverage for streaming music and only 20 percent coverage for streaming HD video. A consumer’s usage patterns will determine their preferred type of coverage”

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Indoor small cells – Please mind the gap between the macro and small cells platforms

Evolved small cells for indoor installations are coming to fill the coverage gap between the macro networks (i.e. 4G/LTE, 3G, 2G, etc.) and the small cells technologies (i.e. Pico and Femto cells, etc.). A new solution was recently announced by Ericsson called Radio Dot System (here), which is according to them “The most cost-effective, no-compromise solution to indoor coverage challenges”. It is well known the operators have challenges for covering indoor areas and buildings on a cost effective manner, while more than 70% of the traffic is generated in this domain. The solution is ultra-small, light, scalable, with fast deployment, and relies on Ethernet connection for integrating with the existing mobile network.

Although Ericsson’ solution should not be available before next year, we would expect to see other similar solutions in the market in the near future. This trend would potentially look to take over part of the current usage being done on WiFi technologies, preferred by most of the users for indoor communications.

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Smart access network selection – The seamless cellular and WiFi access marriage

A recent report from 4G Americas (here) analyses the role of the WiFi technology in current mobile data services, and the methods for overcoming the challenges appearing as a result of the integration and mobility between cellular technologies and the WiFi. As stated by them “with smartphone adoption continuing to rise and the increasing prevalence of bandwidth-intensive services such as streaming video, the limited licensed spectrum resources of existing cellular networks are as constrained as ever. Wi-Fi, and its associated unlicensed spectrum, presents an attractive option for mobile operators – but improved Wi-Fi/cellular network interworking is needed for carriers to make optimal use of Wi-Fi.”

Network4

The so-called interworking between traditional mobile access technologies and the WiFi networks must be seamless and transparent to the end users. In such way, the service continuity must be assured when a subscriber moves in example from 4G/LTE coverage to WiFi covered zones and back, using methods like an automatic offload policy. Different methods are currently used for this interworking like session continuity, or client-based mobility, or network-based mobility. One of the most popular and accepted, also standardized by the 3GPP, is the network-based Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF), which is already supported by most of the WiFi devices and network elements, including Policy Managers and specific network gateways. Other innovations have been made available for addressing the seamless interworking issues, in standards like the Hotspots 2.0, or the seamless SIM-based authentication.

Network5

As it was commented in my previous post “The top 10 fast facts you should know about LTE today”, the 5G will be a combination of access technologies for jointly fulfilling the requirements of the future. In these scenarios the seamless network selection and mobility becomes even more important beyond the classical offload scenarios, and some particular issues for these are commented by 4G Americas and vendors like Ericsson. These issues include: Premature WiFi selection (access technology shifted when coverage is still too weak due to distance), Unhealthy choices (traffic offloaded to systems overloaded), Lower capabilities (offload to alternative technologies having less performing networks), or Ping-pong effects (frequent access technology shifting due to mobility affecting the QoE).

A. Rodriguez

Smartphones subsidies, no credit – no problem

Almost all the mobile operators around the world have offered or currently offer what is called smartphonessubsidies”, as a way to attract customers onto buying new handsets at cheaper prices, while engaging them on long-term service contracts with the operator. So this is like buying a smartphone on credit, and of course an exercise to increase the profitability of the handsets for the operator.

Although these offers seem quite positive for the customers, making simple math you can often discover these are not. Taking an example from one of the top carriers in USA, you find buying a subsidised Iphone on a two years contract and a decent plan can cost you at the end: $200 + ($100/month) x 24 = $2600. While a no-contract and no-subsidy Iphone on equivalent plan for the same time could cost you: $650 + ($45/month) x 24 = $1730. So in example you might end up paying additional $870 for buying a subsidised phone.

Subsidy

Beginning of the year T-Mobile changed the strategy with the announcement of ending the handsets subsidies, and of course, AT&T and Verizon among others looked at this move closely trying to understand the strategy (here). To me the strategy was simply trying to differentiate themselves from the competition, by offering “lower” rates on the monthly plans while having the full price for the actual handsets. Think on the tablets market where we all buy these devices at full price with no subsidy, and consider now how successful the tablets’ market is. You would at least agree there is an irony as a tablet functionality is very similar to a smartphone, but the operators do not offer subsidies for these.

Even apart from the simple differentiation fact, the operators in general are eventually seeing how the subsidy model is no longer paying off as expected due to the apparent innovation slowness. As the smartphones are becoming more durable, and as the Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said during a conference this year “…the subsidies just keep going up… the industry cannot afford to upgrade as often…” (here). The situation is even more radical in Europe, where according to a research from Informa Telecoms & Media beginning this year “…almost 30 operators (in Europe) have already dropped handset subsidies for some or most customers…” (here). In this case operators like Vodafone or O2 are replacing the subsidies with financing and leasing plans, much more profitable for the operators and allowing them keep offering latest and originally expensive handsets at low prices. Informa’s analyst Francesco Radicati comments, “The rising cost of devices like the iPhone means operators have to pay increasingly large subsidies to offer ‘free’ phones. Financing allows operators to continue offering phones for a low up-front price without subsidizing them; as an added bonus, it makes it easier to market smartphones to consumers on pay-as-you-go.”

An interesting change will be added when the LTE-only devices are available starting next year. As the voice will be also handled in the LTE chipset along with the data, and no longer requiring the current CDMA chipset for voice, the cost of producing the smartphones should theoretically be lower. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo already made the announcement they would launch VoLTE by the middle of 2014, and that would allow launching the first LTE-only devices (here). The question remains open on whether this would also represent lower handset prices for the subscribers, or not. Whatever the path followed it would seem the handset subsidies have the days counted, and as the corner store’ sign states: no credit, no problem.

A. Rodriguez

The top 10 fast facts you should know about LTE today

Top10LTE

1. LTE is the fastest deployment technology ever:

According to a report released by the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) a few days ago, “LTE is the fastest developing mobile system technology ever” (here). It took LTE less than 4 years to reach the same number of deployments 3G took more than 6 years.

Consider NTT Docomo launched the first 3G commercial network on May 2001, and for December 2007 a total of 190 3G networks in 40 countries were operating. Now consider Telia Sonera launched the first LTE commercial network on December 2009, and for July 2013 a total of 194 LTE networks were operating around the world, according to the GSA.

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2. LTE-Advanced is real and keep coming:

Ericsson announced this week the first carrier aggregation technology deployment of a commercial network for LTE-Advanced using the 1800MHz and 900MHz spectrum bands (here). In this way Telstra, the Australia’s operator, joins South Korea and Russia as the first deployments of LTE-Advanced in the world.

According to the Executive Director of Networks of Telstra, Mike Wright, “Telstra’s LTE subscriber numbers are growing dramatically, with nearly 3 million subscribers currently using the LTE network, up from 2.1 million six months ago. The capacity, higher data speeds and efficiencies provided by LTE-Advanced will help manage growth in data traffic as more customers choose our network…”

3. Total LTE subscriptions worldwide is expected to be 1.36 billion by the end of 2018:

According to a recent report from the GSA, the total number of LTE subscriptions around the world is expected to reach around 1.36 billion by the end of 2018. The rate of growth, particularly increasing this year, is the result of the number of deployments done by operators during 2013 including Verizon Wireless, SK Telecom, NTT Docomo, Everything Everywhere, and Vodafone Germany. All these operators speeded up the LTE deployments, devices penetration, and services this year.

4. The LTE 1800 is the key band for roaming:

Over 43% of the commercially launched LTE networks are using the 1800MHz wireless spectrum band, according to the GSA. A recent report from Informa Telecoms & Media comments “The adoption of the 1800MHz band for LTE has exploded over the last year, as mobile operators are attracted by the band’s unique set of advantages, such as widespread availability, excellent coverage and the possibility of reusing existing network assets. Coupled with strong support from LTE-device manufacturers, these benefits make 1800MHz an ideal band for LTE services, and a strong candidate to provide a globally harmonized roaming solution for LTE.” (here).

If you have a LTE device which can operate in both the band 3 (1800MHz) and band 7 (2.6GHz), you could potentially use it in at least 61 countries today (81% of the LTE commercially available countries). At least 363 LTE devices have announced its capability for operating in bands 3 and 7.

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5. Today almost 1K LTE devices are 3GPP Category 3, and 40 are Category 4… and increasing:

Information from the GSA indicates that 948 LTE user devices today are confirmed to comply with the Category 3 definition of the 3GPP. As LTE Category 4 implies higher peak downlink rates up to 150Mbps, and peak uplink rates up to 50Mbps, there are already 40 LTE user devices confirmed to support the Category 4 definition. These devices include dongles, routers, hotspots, smartphones, and other modules, and the numbers in Category 4 will continue increasing in the future.

6. Almost 60 LTE TDD networks are commercially deployed or being planed:

The Long-Term Evolution Time-Division Duplex (LTE TDD) offers an asymmetric spectrum flexibility advantageous for the operators, especially when considering the wireless spectrum capacities limitations and its increasing growth for the future. According to the GSA today 18 commercial LTE TDD networks exists around the world (details can be seen in the LTE table in my previous post “The European race for Wireless Spectrum”), and 9 networks are combining LTE FDD and TDD for cost reductions and increased capacity. Additionally 41 LTE TDD networks and currently in deployment or planned. Many operators are also running trials and studies for it, as this technology becomes more popular.

7. Small cells will become a critical technology in the future:

As it was already commented in my previous post “The European race for Wireless Spectrum”, the small cells (e.g. Wi-Fi) will become a critical allied for the macro networks when serving the increasing usage demand. The networks of the future (short and mid-term future) will most likely be a combination of LTE networks and small cells, offloading traffic when required for ensuring an optimal quality of the experience (QoE).

8. Huawei and Ericsson are dominating the LTE infrastructure market:

A report released by Informa Telecoms & Media this week, based on data provided and validated by different vendors, estimates Huawei has been awarded 40% of the LTE infrastructure contracts in the world and Ericsson another 34%. The runner-ups have been NSN with 17%, and others like ALU, ZTE, Samsung and NEC for a total of 9% of the allocated contracts. The reports states the reasons for the contracts being awarded to Huawei and Ericsson are mainly due to their technology, pricing, support, and managed-service capabilities.

9. More smartphones, more video, and a lot more mobile traffic usage:

Different reports from the GSA and the Ericsson Mobility Report for this year comment on the growing trend of the mobile data usage. Around 50% of the phones sold in the first quarter of 2013 were smartphones, considering during the full 2012 this percentage was 40%. The mobile data traffic usage doubled from the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013, and being mainly driven by video it is expected to grow 12 more times for 2018, having LTE as the main technology for accessing these services. The online video is the main contributor to the mobile traffic usage, and the GSA estimates around 100 hours of video are uploaded per minute today, being YouTube the most used service.

10. Transition to 5G will take place from around 2020:

A whitepaper published by Ericsson and supported by the GSA analyses the status of the 5G research, its standardization process, and the technical challenges it will have to face before being ready for the market (here). From this report we can highlight “…a much wider variety of devices, services and challenges than those accommodated by today’s mobile-broadband systems will have to be addressed (for 5G). Due to this diversity, the 5G system will not be a single technology but rather a combination of integrated RATs, including evolved versions of LTE and HSPA, as well as specialized RATs for specific use cases, which will jointly fulfil the requirements of the future. The research required for the development of 5G is now well underway. The recently founded European METiS (Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twenty-twenty information Society) project is aimed at developing the fundamental concepts of the 5G system and aligning industry views.”

A. Rodriguez