MWC 2011 pt 1 - Nokrosoft, Google, "4G", regulation, tablets and LTE

Mobile World Congress is over for another year. My feet are sore, I'm glad I instituted a no-drinking rule and I've worn more make-up this week than in the rest of my life put together. Here's my round-up of some of what I saw at MWC.

In the news
As usual I didn't get to see any of the congress sessions. I was just too busy with briefings, client meetings and generally spreading the word about Machina Research. I was aware of some of the goings-on though. Stephen Elop was ubiquitous on the back of his striking move to hitch Nokia's wagon to the Windows Mobile OS horse. He has a lot of explaining to do and MWC seems to have been the place to do it. Apple in contrast didn't turn up as usual, and couldn't be bothered to collect their award for best handset, and were roundly booed for their win. Mike Short of O2 picked up the award after certain others turned down the honour. Elsewhere Google's Eric Schmidt was very complimentary to MNOs about their investments in access networks. At the same time he alluded to the argument about how maybe content providers should pay toward delivery. I won't rake over this one again, but content is the reason people buy access. Notwithstanding all the net neutrality arguments, if network operators demand payment from CPs those CPs may start to demand payment from the operators for providing their valuable content. Subscribers pay for access. That's how it is. If network operators can't make a profitable business out of that then more fool them.

Other interesting news for me during the show, and discussed on the Mobile World Live TV Analyst Daily panel were T-Mobile bringing "4G" (in the form of HSPA+, don't get me started on why that's not 4G) to Europe. Vodafone's Vittorio Colao complained about regulators being out of touch, particularly with regard to mobile termination rates (MTR). This view was echoed by Telekom Austria's Hannes Ametsreiter in the Show Daily mag. Changes to the termination regime (i.e. very low MTRs) will mean low spend users become less profitable and they'll see prices go up. Also, if you thought it was annoying having double-glazing salesmen call you at home, wait til they start calling your mobile (which is a bit too expensive today).

Less interesting (as anyone who saw my very uninspiring response on MWLTV) was the likes of LG's 3D screen and other breakthroughs in mobile phone technologies. I just don't care that much.

LTE - Wait and see
Also interesting was O2's selection of NSN for LTE deployment in Germany. NSN seem to be really kicking on in LTE courtesy of their market leading position in LTE Advanced. Germany is a rather unusual case as the regulator has imposed LTE rollout requirements as part of the digital dividend and 2.6GHz licence awards. One suspects that the German operators would have towed the European wait-and-see line if there had been no such obligation.

The ability to sweat HSPA+ really seems to render the advantage of moving the LTE useless. For 3GPP2 players like DoCoMo and Verizon it's obvious as they don't have access to the HSPA upgrades. Sprint, the only major global MNO to adopt WiMAX, even admitted during the show that it was keeping its options open for shifting to LTE. For smaller WiMAX players like Russia's Yota, shifting to LTE is reasonable as it's a bigger market so unit prices should be lower.

But for 3GPP operators the advantages are modest. This week I heard Ericsson talk about upgrades of HSPA+ to 168Mbit/s and NSN was even talking about 672Mbit/s. I've heard from a few sources that where there are no licence requirements for LTE most MNOs are going to bide their time.

Keep taking the tablets
There was a lot of news on tablets with launches from Samsung, RIM and HTC amongst others. All very interesting but it's yet to be proven that there's a massive market here. And it's not all about who can make the best hardware. Apple wins because their end-to-end experience is better.

An M2M roundup will have to wait...
I've not really mentioned M2M here. There was a lot of it about, not least driven by the GSMA. I think all that's good in the world of M2M is deserving of a separate blog post (or two). Keep an eye out for that in the next few days...