Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2009 predictions (well, everyone else is at it!)

As the year winds down with yet more gloom (though whether Voda's decision to stop sponsoring the England cricket team is credit crunch driven, or a result of their woeful result against India this week, it's hard to be sure), looking forward to 2009 has to be a bit more cheerful ... doesn't it?

So, in no particular order, what will be some of the themes for 2009...

1. Femtocells will be revealed as the emperor with no clothes. It's all the rage, all very trendy, but anyone actually have any idea on how the price point will come down to where it can be a consumer product? Will they actually solve the technical issues that are starting to come out of the woodwork as operator trials come to a close? They've been great PR fodder this year, but 2009 will see femtocells starting to talk the LTE story. Surely recognition that they've missed this first boat and are having to refocus on a technology that is still another couple of years off. Which means theme two will be ...

2. Start-ups running out of cash. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies, but Sequioa seems to have single-handedly frozen the whole VC market. If companies were expecting revenue this year but see this pushed out, we'll surely see some bright ideas staying as just bright ideas and never coming to market.

3. Self-optimising networks (SON) have been talked about for a while, but now operators are starting to join in. Cutting OPEX will be a key focus in 2009 and, with the RAN accounting for the single largest expense, operators will look to move SON from theory as they look cut costs out of their business, while still delivering a true mobile broadband experience for subscribers.

4. LTE-this, LTE-that ... the down in the weeds techies will have their moment in the sun in 2009 as the underlying protocols on which LTE is built get their airing. From DPI to GAN, we'll see three letter acronyms flooding the market to explain other three letter acronyms. What's not to love about telecoms!

5. Mini-notebooks ... already a growing phenonoma, this new form factor will become the mobile broadband device. Embedding HSPA into the devices and bundling them with operator contracts will become the norm.

Friday, December 12, 2008

We're doomed Captain!

I was optimistic for a while (or is that naive?) ... when the big bad credit crunch hit I made the argument that the mobile sector would be relatively protected. Afterall, after the last telecoms crash cut out the fat in the industry so it's already lean and mean. Also, the research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in July claimed that a mobile phone had now now from being a 'luxury' to an 'essential' item in people's lives. Getting rid of your mobile phone just isn't an option.

But of course it cuts deeper than that and the news today that AlcaLu is cutting jobs is all part of the general doom and gloom.

So what does it all mean? Well, we're all going to have to work alot harder to make the case for the business benefits of technology. In a recession, you have to cut costs out of a business and technology is the path. Hence we're seeing debates around, for example, Unified Communications develop from being focused on productivity gains to have a clear recession-busting slant.

How technology plays into these 'new economics' will be the key battleground, I suspect, of 2009. And as we know, if you frame the debate, you have a much better chance of winning the debate!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Top 10 Mobile Brands

Today, Mobile Communications International has published a list of the "most valuable operator brands". In many ways, it's a list of the usual suspects, Voda is #2, followed by the T-Mo's, Oranges and Verizon's of the world. However, seeing China Mobile at #1 struck me as interesting ... and I can't help thinking it's a bit skewed. Yes, China Mobile has got a growing list of subsidiaries around the world (for example in Pakistan), but ranking a brand by value when the quirk of fate has it operating in the largest market in the world does seem to distort things.

So, what's the unscientific 'top 10'? The list of the top 10 operators who are 'most interesting'?

#1 - T-Mobile US ... forced to act like the new entrant, their 3G roll-out has happened at world record speed and are using UMA technology to deliver aggressive homezone priving and services to grab market share. Oh, and don't forget they're right out there at the forefront with the Google phone.
#2 - Orange ... they're pioneering FMC strategies and, with services like Unik, at the bleeding edge of technology
#3 - Softbank ... to be honest, I don't know much about these guys apart from the fact that if there's something new to try (e.g. femtocells), they're bound to be at the head of the queue of operators trying to work out how the hell they can make money from it!
#4 - China Mobile ... ok, ok, I'll defer to the 'pros' and put them high up the list. They're big. They're the 800lb gorilla to watch. So they're on this list because we should forget about them at our peril!
#5 - Sprint Nextel ... bless 'em, they're trying to build a business case for WiMAX. They deserve points for at least trying, don't they? Certainly by the criteria of are they "interesting", they certainly make the list.
#6 - NTT DoCoMo ... the Frank Sinatra of the industry ... yep, you got it, they'll do it their way!
#7 - Reliance ... anyone of a host of the Indian operators could make the list, but Reliance have always been the ones to grab my attention at least. Real innovators in some of the services they're delivering, making massive strides in terms of growth and definitely one to watch.
#8 - O2, AT&T (and any other operator who took the iPhone) ... if you're making enough money to be able to give a huge chunk of change to Apple, good luck to you. But when you look at some of the stats coming back (certainly from AT&T whose network has been crushed by the data usage driven by the iPhone) they are demanding attention
#9 - Telefonica ...They could (they should?) be up there with Orange / FT ... they've got it all, the mobile, the fixed, the geographies ... a sleeping giant
#10 - Vodafone ... maybe I'm just deliberately contrary, but god are Vodafone boring. Technology innovators? Hell no. Most interesting as a brand because increasingly that seems to be all they are. And just who are they competing against?

You may quible (and I'm sure you will) with who's in the list and where, but the point is this... if you're looking at who the innovators are, who are the operators who are leading, rather than following, you start to see a different list.

Leadership can obviously be defined in all manner of ways. But what ever definition you use, when you put your PR hat on, there's only one measure that matters ... are you interesting!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Better late than never?

Finally. Nokia has come out with what is purported to be its response to the iPhone. Oh, and its response to the Android-based G1 from T-Mobile/Google. Oh, and to the Samsung touch screen phones. Oh, and to the ...

Can you see what it is yet, as Rolf Harris would say?

For a company that is the market leader, Nokia's complacency has been stunning in many respects. It seems to have been either blindsided by Apple and Google, or just been unable to demonstrate the rapid innovation that propelled it to its current position. While Nokia has nailed the business market with the E and N series, in the consumer market the threat from the new guys has been a sharp one.

There are clearly some constants emerging across all these devices that point towards where the mobile industry sees (hopes) mobile data will come from. No longer is video the great hope. Social networking and widget-based applications are now the big thing.

If you look at the sort of data usage being reported back from operators who are supporting (and that also means bankrolling giving the slice of cash they have to hand over to Apple), it's clear that these devices are the catalyst for a dramatically increased data usage by subscribers.

Of course, Nokia is making a much bigger play that just shipping shiny phones. Just looking at the other announcements it made at its Barcelona event where it unveiled the N97, and there is news around Nokia Maps, Nokia Messaging and its acquisition of Symbian.

Google v Nokia. It's an OS war. It's a handset war. It's a content war. And looking at the pace of innovation in both companies and their ability to really understand the consumer and where they are heading ... you'd be crazy not to have at least an each way bet on Google to win.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mobile set to beat enterprise VoIP to the punch

Interesting report out today from Analysys Mason which claims that as businesses look to cut their communication costs, it is fixed-mobile substitution and not enterprise VoIP that will hold sway.

Interestingly though, we're not looking at WiFi voice (ie enterprise FMC services) here, but rather mobile operators slashing their wholesale costs so the rates for large business customers are plummeting.

According to analyst Margaret Hopkins: “As fixed–mobile substitution continues, enterprise interest in FMC is still being driven by a desire to reduce mobile bills, especially for calls from fixed to mobile, and for roaming charges. The opportunity for integrating Wi-Fi and cellular voice depends on these charges remaining high.”

So, mobile operators are responding to the challenge of VoIP. Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?

Yes and no. They're responding by cutting margins not by cutting their costs. If Analysys Mason is right, the fixed line guys like BT will continue to struggle and the mobile operators will win the battle for the building. But at what cost?

Mobile operators need to do more than just cut call charges ... that's all a bit too much like the fetish with 'eyeballs' and to hell with what the revenue ie. And we all know where that ended.

But if they can be a bit more innovative then they really can land the sucker punch. Maybe it's a case of extending UMA-based services from the consumer to the business market? Or maybe offloading traffic on to the enterprise network so they can reduce their costs by using the customers IP network instead of their own backhaul. If the operators are winning this battle, it's a good sign for the companies in the business of these sort of technologies.

For the vendors doing enterprise VoIP though, well, it's a less promising lookout.