> Also see an impromptu interview with Ubiquisys at MWC featured on their blog here. <
Day 1: Keynote Highlights
Anne Bouverot (Director General, GSMA) opened the congress keynotes painting a broad landscape: currently there are 6.6 billion mobile phone connections, 3.6 billion subscribers with 1.3 billion phones supporting mobile broadband. It comes of no surprise that MWC will play host to an expected 60,000 delegates all looking for a slice of the pie.
Taking to the stage, Franco Bernabe (Chairman, GSMA, Chairman & CEO Telecom Italia Group) said that by 2015 we can expect to see 9.5 billion connections, that is 1.3 phone for every person alive. To give one measure of value, it is also expected that by 2015, $50 billion of transactions will take place through NFC enabled phones. These are very big numbers, which if we add context: 8x more data is available today via mobile phones than was available on the internet in 2010. And this is while smartphones today account for just 12% of device sales.
With 600m+ subscribers in China, Li Yue (President, China Mobile) spoke of recognizing mobile as a lifestyle – not just a set of products and services. And to ensure they are prepared, China Mobile have launched a mobile internet job creation platform which ties into over 2000 universities, has 30 million students registered, 10% of whom are developers. That is to say that the equivalent of half of the UK population are registered on this work program alone putting to shame our own governments efforts to take growing unemployment. President Li is correct to say that ‘Mobile Changes Lives.’
Vittorio Colao (Chief Executive, Vodafone) shared some additional insight. By 2020, we can expect to see 2.3 billion Machine-2-Machine devices. And the following chart shows what people are willing to give up for a week to have a mobile phone – some of the results, truly shocking!
In true unashamed Italian fashion, Vittorio plugged one of Vodafone’s initiatives under their ‘Mobile For Good’ banner, a plan to completely remove from Tanzania obstetric fistula. He gave the example of how when a lady with the illness is found, the finder receives a fee, an SMS is sent to her which details the date and time for an appointment at the hospital, along with an e-coupon with a value to ensure she can reach and return to/from the hospital; mobile is also used to ensure the hospital is paid. As he himself pointed out, by promoting this program on-stage he violated terms for speakers adding, ‘I don’t care.’ Here’s a man I can respect, and here’s a real-life example of how mobile is helping eradicate a treatable illness.
Ralph de la Vega (President, CEO, AT&T) spoke about changing consumer perception where 2 years ago his customers perceived mobile as an additional, complex, burden. And now, mobile is adding value making their lives a much richer experience where one of the examples given spoke of Digital Kinship where a grandparent would communicate with their grandchild via mobile.
Ralph also illustrated how the internet of things is having a positive impact on agriculture. With 80% of all water in the US used for irrigation, new technology solutions which are embedded in the soil can now communicate the extent to which they are dry so as to ensure a better allocation of water. In his own words, he had never thought an open field would grow revenues! At the other end of the spectrum, given that 70% of all traffic by 2016 will be video he spoke on the need to find better ways to encode video to better manage video data and the power needed to store, deliver and play video content.
John Donahoe (President, CEO, eBay) observed that the next 3-5 years will see a greater change in the way we shop than we have seen over the past 20 years. Where today 1 in every $10 transacted on eBay is via mobile, he expects this to increase to $2, $3, if not more.
Brian Dunn (CEO, BestBuy) touched on two main areas. First, financial barriers to entry, price plans which restrict certain economic groups from utilizing fully the potential of the mobile intenet, be it by mobile or tablets. He gave the example of paying $135 a year on average to use a tablet through a mobile network – which is quickly becoming the equivalent of another utility bill. Second he stressed that consumers do not think in MegaBytes (MB) instead they think about what they want and how they will get it. And while any business model must be priced correctly, understanding consumer behavior is fundamental to delivering the correct solution: ‘Customer needs in the center of all business models.’
Following on from this ethos, Michael Roth (Chairman, CEO, IPG) spoke of the disparity between television and mobile advertising identifying an as yet huge opportunity. The reason? Mobile Marketing vs Mobile Engagement. He touched on dual-screening where 40% of people now use their mobile phone whie watching tv and how one of the companies they work with, Viggle, has created a business model rewarding viewers who are doing just that, offering them promotions while dual-screening.
He also gave the example of how difficult the learning curve actually is as when HBO Go was being developed, they created 28 different versions until they finally settled on one which. The struggle with this learning curve can be seen by a recent survey of 680 clients all of whom had average revenues of $150m. Mobile marketing accounted for less than 10% of their marketing spend, less than 15% ran mobile adverts, more than 50% said they do not expect to try it next year, only 40% have a mobile optimized website and only 14% said that their website allowed mobile shopping.
Despite these troubling statistics, Bret Taylor (CTO, Facebook) said that the mobile interface is the most natural version of Facebook, which, if the technology was available earlier it would have been built on mobile instead. To illustrate it’s influence, he shared that 90% of Nigerians who access the platform do so via their mobile phones with 30% of new registrants in India, also doing so via mobile.
But perhaps the most interesting insight came from Bill Ford Jr (Executive Chairman, Ford) who along with addressing the real problem of car ownership which is set to move from 1 billion today to 4 billion by 2050 causing near gridlock. His response when prompted on ‘going it alone’ was to say that there is little point if only Ford cars have a solution. Rather, all motor companies have to be involved to agree a set of standards to ensure that the better management of car flows through technology to ensure that the better quality of life is delivered to the customer. What a vision – working together – with which to end the keynote sessions of day one.
Day 2: Keynote Highlights
Santiago Valbuena (Chairman, CEO, Telefonica Latin America) began this mornings keynote beginning by correcting a perception of the region: while slums do exist, they do not reflect the wider urban environment. This stereotyping ignores the 56% who make up the new urban middle class, all of whom are being empowered and driven forward via mobile. He identified three areas: (1) growth, (2) a young urban population and (3) an open society – that is to say, while competition does exist as elsewhere, the rules of engagement are clear for those wishing to enter the market. Crucially he addressed the consumer’s mindset which after satisfying their need for food, mobile is their next sought category, followed by health and education. This need to communicate for business or pleasure is the cornerstone to growth.
Jo Lunder (CEO, VimpleCom) echoed these sentiments. One of his key examples was of the market in Pakistan where 66% are under the age of 30. Another example, Russia, where more than 50% of the market are aged between 12 and 24. What was once the bread and butter of the industry, voice, has since become a bundled add-on as what this younger audience want is access to the internet. And with mobile traffic set to grow 18x over the next 5 years, what is really being sold is the speed with which the youth, who are driving change, can access data.
Sunil Mittal (CEO, MD, Bharti Airtel) began with a short history of how the company grew, against all odds in the most financially unfriendly and new, thus unregulated environment. One of their smarter moves was to sign a billion dollar deal with IBM to whom they outsourced more-or-less everything. As a result they now have 250 million customers, 200 or so of whom are in India, with their network managing over a billion SMSs per day. He observed that while broadband is a game-changer in Europe, it is a life-changer in India, and that one of the biggest hurdles they are faced with today is the affordability of smartphones.
Sunil took advantage of the platform to invite industry to come together and create a low cost smartphone. While still some years away, with plans already in place to bring, for example, e-education to the 300 million Indians who would not have access to it otherwise, a low priced smartphone will empower the wider developing world. One of his more interesting remarks, when profits from European networks allowed European companies to expand, he looks forward to companies in the developing world, growing and generating similarly large profits allowing them to participate in initiates in the developed world. A very bold statement to make, and one which I respect.
This session was adjudicated by Siki Mgabadeli (Freelance Anchor, Producer, SAFM) who ran an equally interesting panel discussion where the key point for me was that if you build a highway, you need to have a toll to ensure that it is paid for. It is much the same with mobile networks, they cannot be expected to build a channel for the consumer to use without there being a charge which leads directly into the next session.
Rene Obermann (CEO, Deutsche Telekom) addressed the oft repeated phrase that the networks are ‘dumb pipes’ – that is simply channels to distribute information. He delivered a convincing argument that in fact, the networks are ‘smart pipes’ for in delivering access to information and services, smart management is required. He gave the example of 300,000 customers calling the network service center for help with regards to any and every mobile-broadband device/service.; unsurprising given that the operator deliver’s an end-to-end experience to the consumer. Aware that industry often ends up being canabilised from outside as they do not respond fast enough from the inside, he touched on one key message: intelligent data traffic management, not discriminatory traffic management. In the past IT systems were optimized for peak working hours, now, with the cloud, optimization needs to adopt an ‘always-on’ approach.
John Chambers (Chairman, CEO, Cisco) delivered both a fast and simple message: video. His personal view (one which I share), all devices will deliver video, though I disagree that it will be the method of choice for all forms of communication as if the power of video was really that good he wouldn’t have flown here to address us in person. He also touched on something key, the path of convergence, pointing out that devices today are independent, they are rarely designed to work together. This will change, even if only to ensure seamless security across multiple devices and platforms particularly given that 85% of people still believe privacy to be of utmost concern, irrespective of the small 15% minority who would have us believe that isn’t the case.
Ben Verwaayen (CEO, Alcatel-Lucent) delivered a singular true message, that as an industry we can manage every number except the number 1. The single customer. Who is the customer? What does he want? How does she want it? Where, when. Industry understandably speaks with terms such as ‘value-add’, or ‘core USP,’ the customer doesn’t care. The customer wants to know what technology can do for them, and then wants to do it. Such in-depth personalization may not have been possible in the past, it is still not quite possible today, but a time will come when the customer will satisfy the adage that the customer is king.
Closing the days keynote session, Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman, Google) delivered yet another inspiring speech. Along with a demo of the new Chrome app for Android by one of his colleagues, Hugo, which admittedly, not only looked rather good but illustrated some very useful functionally cross platform (desktop and mobile), Eric spoke about the continued rate of growth leading to more of science fiction becoming a reality – from instant translation, services such as google maps, etc. He touched upon the belief that within two years smartphones will be priced between $100-150, and shortly thereafter down to even $70.
But perhaps the most interesting remark came from the Q&A session where a gentleman from the audience asked why Google had blocked Iranians from downloading Chrome. After a quick confirmation from his legal team, Eric apologized answering that it was on account of US sanction on Iran and that Google had to abide by the law. When asked again to clarify, he responded saying that he was with the Iranian gentleman and he would love for Iranians to be able to download Google products and services, saying, “I’m with you but in prison there is no bandwidth.” The audience burst into a gaggle of laughter and so came an end to today’s report. Till tomorrow.
Day 3: Keynote Highlights
Rajeev Chand (MD, Head Of Research, Rutberg & Co) began the morning, adjudicating the program on Operating Systems & Applications. He raised some valid questions such as how operators will deal with apps that cannabilize their existing business models, and the changes in consumer behaviour with regards to devices, apps and services.
Dennis Crowley (Co-founder, foursquare) began by sharing some of their success, that 15 million people are using the service and they alone have check-in more than 1.5 billion times. Along with other social media services collecting data, they when analyzing the data can see the things you do, where you do it, and who you do it with (assuming your friends/others also check-in). The data then allows a profile to be created enabling future offerings to suggest, for example, as you walk down the street in a new city, knowing that you enjoy museums, the service may let you know there is a museum just around the corner from you.
Other practical features include a relationship with American Express. Here, they have cut short the annoyance of dining at a restaurant where you present a voucher for a discount only to find you may have picked up the wrong one, or that it has expired, etc. Instead, when paying with the card, the discount is automatically added to your bill. A simple and subtle change of process but one which is extremely convenient!
Peter Chou (CEO, HTC) addressed a real issue that the consumer is less interested in the underlying technology, instead focused on wanting to do something, and doing it with ease. He observed that many manufacturers run walled gardens but HTC’s approach is to be open making the technology as relevant as possible to the customer experience. Perhaps the most interesting of his comments was when replying to a question on future projections, to which he quipped, ‘I don’t know, I’m not a fortune teller’
Stephen Elop (President, CEO, Nokia) said that the industry has shifted from a war on devices to a war on eco-systems citing the examples of Apple vs Google where the former is closed, the latter, open. He opined that it is not the device alone but the wider eco-system that will have the greatest impact on the customer experience, stressing, in his words, that ‘the world will go local’ with apps and their relevancy.
He continued to observe three areas of focus. First, the ability for apps to be shared socially, whether from person to person via the network or person to person, in person e.g. tap phones together. Secondly, the issue of horizontal eco systems where features such as location based services begin to add value addressing the who, what and where. And thirdly, he touched on monetization, micro-payments, subscription services and in-app advertising.
The next session addressed financial services in a mobile world. It was moderated by David Pringle (Freelance Content Consultant, Editor) who made to me, a single statement which summed everything up: data is the new oil.
Kristin Lund (EVP, Head of Digital Services, Telenor) began with an awe-inspiring education, their EasyPaisa (Paisa being the word for money in the Urdu language) service in Pakistan, facilitated 30 million transactions last year. This was made possible by having more than 18,000 outlets and 9,000 bank affiliates. Taking no longer than 10 minutes to open an account, money transfer is instant, and their costs for doing so were just 5% what banks charge. Month-on-month they are witnessing a double digit growth – understandable given than 85% of Pakistanis do not have access to even basic banking. The scheme has been so successful that they have even secured a grant from the Gates foundation for $6.5 million.
John Partridge (President, CEO, Visa) followed on claiming that those born in the past 5 years will never see a physical wallet. He took it a step further suggesting that many of them may never even step into a physical store. Why, how? As technologies converge, global interoperability will ensure that information, services and payments are done swiftly and remotely – already in South Korea customers waiting at bus stops can buy their supermarket shopping. And on the subject of trust he cited a study by KPMG showing that 56% of consumers trust their financial institution. With 92% of those in the developing world still using cash, the opportunity to deliver mobile financial services to them has only just begun.
Michael Abbott (CEO, ISIS) began with an illustrative case study. He walked through the shopping experience where a customer first cuts coupons from a newspaper, then sorts them, then places them in their wallet, goes to the store, finds the correct sized items, goes to the check-out, searches for relevant coupons, pays, then leaves. After all the time and effort the supermarket makes to capture the customers attention, the first time they realize the customer is there, is when the customer is leaving. When asked whether people would like a mobile wallet, only 15% replied with a yes. But when asked if people want safer shopping, NFC capabilities, security, etc, the response rate was 70%. His message? The problem is not the technology, rather the perception by the consumer, this like many other things which are matters of education, can only be addressed with time.
Don Callahan (COO, CTO, Citi) as one of the largest banks in the world, Citi is engaged in multiple geographies exploring a variety of opportunities. Don also stressed the need for a revolution of thought, stating that it is not only about mobile, but a dramatic rethink of money, services and technologies that are needed. He closed on a simple yet poignant thought, echoed a previous Citi executive, that information about money is as important as money itself.
Between new technologies and the established modes of financial services, mobile is bringing change for everyone everywhere. At times it feels as if the unbanked are being offered a better set of solutions all the while those of us in the developing world are playing catch up. Nothing new here. Still today in Pakistan, you can get faster mobile broadband access than you can get in England. I just hope that with the developed world leap-frogging us at almost every step, we find a way to grow together with none being left behind.
Day 4 Keynote Highlights
Dan Hesse (CEO, Sprint) began the days keynotes sharing a side to responsible corporate America often rarely seen. Combining sustainability and experience, he mentioned that of the 1.2 billion android apps downloaded in the last week of 2011, 42% of these were in the US. Part of the success may be accredited to their focus on the consumer with features such as Sprint ID where there user can create their own personal home screen using ID packs which are tied to brands. That is the user elects a brand experience, with some 6 million having been downloaded thus far. I was also extremely impressed at their target of recycling 90% of their phones by 2017. True success is not about what you can do, but the way in which you can do it.
Kevin Johnson (CEO, Juniper Networks) progressed this methodology further speaking of three specific areas. First, an open programmable internet where an app responds to circumstances, understands the environment and can prioritize data. The concept was illustrated with a video clip where a lady crashed her car, her phone understood what happened, called for help, an ambulance arrived, her medical history was pre-loaded, after she gave permission further details became available, etc. The idea of technology delivering this degree of responsiveness to me, simply wonderful.
Kevin then touched on the issue of trusted mobility, the importance of ensuring security particularly in an environment where many employees bring their own devices to work. The third point continued a theme which featured heavily at the congress this year, a symmetrical internet where upload speeds matched download speeds. He gave an example of how AT&T saw 40% more video being uploaded than downloaded during the Superbowl.
Shi Lirong (President, ZTE) continued by referring to the data explosion and how his company is focused on the customer experience ensuring that it is delivered in the best possible way through the network. He closed giving the example of Kung Fu, where a master of the art receives the greatest deal of respect for having understood many other martial art forms. And that whichever mobile network manages to master all of the mobile network solutions, they will be like King Fu i.e. the best.
Warren East (CEO, ARM) from an organizational perspective stressed the need for better power management through improved design. He also described how his mother understands on-line as something she does in her computer room, all the while his children understand on-line as something they simply do. And what better way to conclude the MWC keynotes?
We are sitting effectively in the midst of a generational learning curve where the expectation of the future generations will surpass anything those before it know. While this year I didn’t feel much of a ‘wow’ moment, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear of the continued growth in video content, refreshed to hear that the networks are working to improve our upload/download speeds, the mobile companies are working on new video solutions, and that industry is looking for new ways to understand how video fits into the next generation of advertising.
These are amongst the reasons why for the past 15 months I have been running a video blog, trying to understand the impact of User Generated Content, how it is packaged, formed, shared and distributed, socially between friends or virally with everyone.
Of course this year there was no shortage of product announcements, nor for that matter comedy, as for example the senior officers of Nokia and HTC jostled jovially while comparing their respective phone cameras. If any messages are to be taken from MWC this year, they are as follows:
– Operators are fighting to redefine themselves moving away from the dumb pipe analogy to creating new niche markets piggy-backing off the same offerings, apps which are slowly eating away at their industry.
– Device manufacturers are still struggling with the age old problem, better batteries: bigger better faster phones are ‘useless’ is there is no power.
– Mobile financial services are already banking the unbanked something set to grow, and when coupled with mobile data, the individual is becoming empowered.
– And finally, Video. Beware of video. Some of us already understand it but it’s coming, and coming fast.
With this I draw an end to my time at MWC and God willing, look forward to the experience again next year – though hope that by then the political situation has improved somewhat and that delegates are not met by striking train/bus unions or protesting/rioting students, for which security needed to be stepped up with policemen on horses!
The Night Before
Boasting the worlds fastest quad-core smartphone, Richard Yu the chairman of Huawei captured our attention as they were the first to launch a product: at 3:30 on Sunday afternoon. Playing to a room full of techies, the visuals for the Ascend D came complete with visuals of a winged horse, Pegasus to some, Buraq to others. Crucially, and perhaps more interesting was the power consumption when using Huawei’s proprietary power management, saving up to 30%.
Of course, while devices were available for us to view, and with a projected sales target of 60 million, it is a shame Huawei didn’t do a small production run. Billed to have a battery that would last 1-2 days, if true, those of us in attendance would have ranted and raved about the phone as we made our way through the congress without spare batteries/chargers. Instead we have all been blessed with a stainless steel mug, certainly, it can be filled while we ponder the new Earsmart technology which with two microphones is said to provide superb noise cancellation. Just a shame the mug didn’t come with a teabag.
Moving to the flagship Showstoppers event on the other side of town, newly established and growing companies took to presenting their latest wares and innovations. Amongst the first to catch my eye was P2i’s water repellent nano-coating technology. Like other solutions available in the marketplace, they provide a small layer repelling droplets of water, all the while ensuring that breathable items remain so. The on-site demonstration compared two tissues, one treated one without, both dunked into a container of water. As expected the later became soggy while the former, remained the same – water droplets formed then rolled away – impressive!
With more than a third of mobile phones becoming wet at some stage, research shows that more than half of consumers expect phones to be water repellent. So along with my own phone I did ask if they could spray my shoes, trousers and sweater while there, but sadly, the solution isn’t available as a spray on option…yet!
Nearby French company Coyote was making strides. While the congress attendees may have had difficulty with train and bus unions on the verge of striking, Coyote offers a number of solutions where members form a community and share information of speed traps while driving of speed traps. From a dedicated device (seen here) to a standalone app, their offering can being integrated into Garmin, TomTom, Renault and others. Of course if Europe simply adopted the German Autobahn methodology, life would be easier for us all.
Taking music to the next level, Cricket has a service named Muve Music where for a fixed price, you can download as many songs as you like (current limit of 11,000), have unlimited voice calls, unlimited messaging and unlimited data. A different take on the financial model, so long as the user is on a plan, the music stays with them. And while the music cannot be removed from the phone itself, should they move to another device later, the music can be ported over.
Community groups are growing nowhere faster than in the creative space. Movellas is a read, write and sharing platform, designed for both boys and girls, but predominantly attracting teenage girls. The format is simple, a short story is written with others commenting on it. Given the age of participants, the community is monitored by a number of moderators, and the average time on site to date is 17 minutes. This is about young people having a creative outlet on-line, and as any community-based-offering centred on the idea of social, it is growing at a phenomenal rate.
It isn’t of course all work. Sennheiser, one of the leaders of audio products, showcased two of their new bluetooth headsets. While one of the demos didn’t quite work, I am told there is up to 20 hours of playback, or 10 hours with the noise cancellation technology active. As expected from the brand they both fit comfortably, though priced at 319 Euros for on-ear and 339 Euros for over-ear, they are both testaments to you getting what you pay for.
New products, new devices and new technologies, make a perfect prelude to MWC. For now, let me enjoy the fastest, and most power consumption friendly phone, with my new Huawei branded stainless steel cup: it does after all say, ‘Let’s simply share.’ To some, it may look as if a storm is coming. For the rest of us, let the congress begin.