If you want to spot what's next in the mobile market, Barcelona is the place to be this week. Mobile World Congress is the biggest mobile trade show in the world. Over 60,000 people and 1,500 companies have come here to show off their wares, look for partners and discuss ideas.
As I walk around the eight exhibition halls and talk with people, I see five common themes emerge this year which will shape the way the industry evolves.
Devices keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible
The week kicked off with several mobile device launches, and lmost all the manufacturers had new technology to show. Sony now has a tablet that is .31 inches thick and comes with a 13 mega-pixel camera. Nokia launched four phones designed to capture the customer with vibrant colours, high-end features at an affordable price. Samsung’s booth is crowded with people wanting to see the new Galaxy.
While we are used to thinking about smart phones and tablets, you don’t have to walk far to see other devices that push the boundaries of what’s possible. I saw smart glasses, 3D communication systems, connected cars, sensor technology to detect things like radiation, calorie input, and identification. The bottom line here is that device innovation continues to improve to the point where the limits seem to be around the extent of people’s imagination.
What you see is what you experience
Tod Sizer, the head of Bell Labs wireless research has the task of trying to figure out what the mobile industry will look like 10-15 year from now. He's challenged his team to stop thinking about mega hertz per second and start thinking about displays. He says what matters to people is what they see and the experience they have, that’s a mindset change and it’s starting to show up across the industry. From telecom vendors, to operators, to device manufacturers - people are talking about customer experience.
The change means our industry is searching for ways to:
1) factor the network into the application
2) provide enough network intelligence to adapt to traffic loads and applications
3) measure customer experience.
Whatever the scenario, we need great networks that provide insight into the user experience expectations.
Translating big data into big knowledge
With more applications and more focus on customer experience, service providers want more information. You see vendors at Mobile World Congress responding with some impressive analytical capabilities. Service providers here joke that they don’t need more marketing people, they need more mathematicians. They want to get to the point where you see problems and trends on the networks before they happen.
Analytical packages can provide information on devices, signalling, trends, location, preferences, and security. This opens a host of options to service providers.
They can see where to build out networks, they can offer proactive care down to the device level and they can be more intelligent about the types of promotions they offer.
The cloud signals a change in weather
In case you had any doubt, cloud technology is here en force. Nokia is differentiating its new phones by the 130,000 applications available to users. Samsung is taking Apple head on with its Home sync TV device. The AppPlanet section of Mobile World Congress is humming with interesting things happening in health, entertainment and commerce. This has consequences for the network.
According to Dor Skuler, our head of CloudBand, an internal start-up at Alcatel-Lucent, “A typical telecommunication manger used to manage 10 servers. As we move more into cloud environments, people will be managing closer to 10,000 servers and many more applications.”
That’s not the only thing that’s changing, time to market is improving on a similar scale. With cloud architectures, service provision can move from nine months to a matter of weeks.
To make this work well, service providers will need to mesh networks and new datacenter infrastructure to improve performance. This will happen over the next several years and will have ripple effects through the network.
Making the network invisible
All of these trends point to the importance of a solid reliable and intelligent network. The changes in devices, the number of devices and the magnitude of what’s happening in the cloud weigh on the network. You hear telecom vendors talking about how they’ll cope with the demand and provide the intelligence required. The show this year features core, backhaul, macro and small cells solutions that come with impressive speeds and coverage: keeping users connected as a single account, whatever the device or access technology.
Sizer says right now we are talking 4G technology but as we evolve to 5G we’ll see a greater need to adapt the network to the application. That’s a whole new level of intelligence. We are starting to see progress but you can expect much more innovation on this front.
The irony is if we do this well the network will be invisible to people, the only thing they see is their display.
Richard Fraser is the head of market development at Alcatel-Lucent in New Zealand and Australia.