MWC Day 2 - Connected, but…

MWC Day 2 - Connected, but… Cerillion’s CTO, Simon Matthews, reviews the keynote sessions at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

I’m one of the few in the exhibitor camp that loves the Mobile World Congress. The opportunity to discuss, debate and learn, all in one place with the whole of the GSM community, with all of their different points of view, is a very motivating experience. The opening keynote on the Monday morning gives you a good view on what to expect, and this year, like every other, it was delivered by very high profile Communications Services Providers (CSPs), with Vodafone, China Mobile, and AT&T putting their top management on the stage.

The GSMA strapline this year is “Building the Connected Economy”, and the big ticket must see item is “The Connected House”. Whilst every presentation made reference to the “6 billion mobile connections” worldwide, it is interesting to see the trend is to focus on the connection itself rather than the nature of that connection (Consumer, Enterprise, M2M, etc).
There are also some important messages that can be interpreted by reading between the lines, with only China Mobile’s President Lee brave enough to spell it out - the challenges in the mobile industry currently outweigh the opportunities.

There is continued worry over the constant meddling of the regulators and their focus on mobile termination rates (MTR), when freedom of operability needs much more attention. There’s also constant investment required to cope with continuously growing data demands, with mobile data usage currently forecast to grow 18 times (18x) over between now and 2016, and that’s purely from existing subscribers. Then there’s the Over-The-Top (OTT) service providers, viewed with the same levels of caution as encouragement, and their well-publicised lack of familiarity with how mobile data networks really work leading to service outages and many other complications for CSPs.

Personally I acknowledge, agree with, and share all of those concerns. I do feel the unpredictability of the OTT players is currently a massive risk that requires immediate action, as their impact on the end consumer’s view of their CSP is huge. But I do have another concern. Last year my wife was busy giving me a son so I missed the Mobile World Congress for a year. This year, a full two elapsed years since I last attended, each of the CSPs are still calling to arms the need for greater co-operation. This was the message in 2010, so what is going wrong?

Certainly nobody can look at the application community - there are literally thousands of developers, from individuals building applications in their bedrooms to full blown development houses. They collaborate by virtue of the operating system they develop against. You also can’t blame lack of consumer demand. The almost unreasonable demands from consumers for ubiquity of high quality data in a safe, secure, predictable and feature rich environment wherever and whenever they desire, means the app market is strong, growing, and bullish. I can’t help but feel that the CSPs must continue to look at themselves.

Plenty of partnerships are announced – Monday’s unveiling of Vodafone’s global deal with Visa for SIM-based proximity services is just one very significant example. But in terms of unity amongst CSPs, it still looks rather bleak and quiet. Each presentation from each of the CSP leaders stressed the need for cooperation, for standardisation of approach, and competition for the end products/services. But none have announced such collaboration.

Some of you may be thinking that intra-CSP collaboration is unnecessary. However I would argue that shared operator-independent marketplaces, seamless geographical service experience, and consistent geographically-independent pricing, will be the only way to genuinely build a connected economy in which the end consumer can thrive. And thriving consumers generate vibrant communities and growing revenues.

Monday’s keynote sessions have opened a can of worms at the Mobile World Congress this year. I’m hopeful over the coming days that some of the CSPs will announce partnerships between them of some merit, that don’t involve apps or shared testing arenas and standards. If not I sit firmly in the sceptic tank of doubters that the industry can deliver what it needs to keep growing. It is easier to understand the complications than deliver the solutions. Let’s see what the next few days bring.