MWC is over. In reflecting on the show, I came up with an idea and tried it out, just for fun. What if I take all the news coverage from the show and generate a ‘word cloud,’ would I be able to zoom in on the few key trends? What would ‘word clouding’ tell me? As it turned out, it was much more work than I had anticipated, but it was an interesting process. I’ll take you through this while I add my observations on the show.
To generate the word cloud, I used news text from the four editions of the Mobile World Daily, the official newspaper of MWC and fed it to a word cloud generator (in this instance wordle.net). This is a start because many common words repeat and are superfluous to the analysis. For example, the show is about ‘companies’, hence, the word ‘company’ is redundant. But where does one draw the line? And what if it’s the other way around: a common word that has deep thematic importance? Examples: ‘quality.’ Also, some words need to be considered in association with what precede or follow them: ‘small’ with ‘cells’, ‘base’ with ‘stations’, and ‘device’ with ‘management.’ A different type of contextual association is illustrated by this example: ‘developing markets’ and ‘developing a product’ result in two different trends by the word ‘developing’ (not to expand more on grammatical reasoning). Hence, I had to iterate to distill the text to a few key words and themes while not losing any unintentionally.
The start yields a common reference for the show which is obvious and often missed: the show is primarily about operators, mobility, devices, customers, technology, data and services. Was there any doubt of that? I say this with a hint of irony as the show has evolved from a focus on infrastructure (operator focus) to a focus on devices (a consumer focus). But what comes next is interesting: LTE is ‘the technology’; I say this because in past years, it was not clear as to what technology 4G networks would be based on. Today, there is no dispute.
Now, on to key themes:
1. Technology: Cloud, small cells, security, NFC top the list. Others worthy of note include SIMs (soft SIM) and SMS. My comment: was NFC really useful? All I heard were complaints about how poorly it worked at the show. Also of note is the proliferation of WiFi and bluetooth. This show as long since ceased to be focused on licensed-band systems. The poor WiFi quality at the show is perhaps the best demonstration that it was not built to scale. Still, the demonstrations by Qualcomm of carrier WiFi features available in 3GPP Release 12 provide a sneak peak of what can be expected in the near future. But carriers have to be careful: recent reports from Japan where WiFi access nodes have been deployed in the tens of thousands highlight a strong case of interference.
2. Vendors: Huawei and Samsung top the list. My comment: it’s sometimes about who’s not there, notably, Apple and Google! Nevertheless, Huawei and Samsung had some of the largest real estate and filled it up with devices. Vendors not strong on devices had restricted access to some areas of their exhibition space resulting is a dull presentation. On this note, an observation about the long term viability of MWC: will the show be overtaken by other events focused on consumer electronics? Or will it remain ‘The’ venue for top executives to meet, irrespective of displays?
3. Software, Applications, and Content: These are very key issues. Smart phones are the engine that’s fueling the market for applications and content which in turn increases demand for smart phones: a virtuous circle. Content is key and is well manifested in the ongoing battle between over-the-top service providers and operators (are they really a dumb pipe?). I often get asked about the future of Blackberry. I must say that I came out more negative on their prospects after the show. The market for apps has converged on iOS and Android platforms. Demonstrations in the ‘Connected City’ Pavilion provide a clue. Augmented reality, smart city, smart home, and smart ‘whatever’ may not all be realized the manner we think about today, but some forms will remain and along with it a ‘very’ few dominant operating systems.
4. Spectrum: A major issue and as always, there’s not enough of it. Need to say more? What is new this year is the evolving spectrum sharing technologies which had their firm spot as evident by demonstrations from Qualcomm and Interdigital in addition to a host of other companies in this space.
Other highlights include machine-to-machine technologies and vehicular connectivity. I think this was the first time that a car company (Ford) showed up at the event. The integration of mobile communication into ‘machines’ will continue. In the case of automotives, what is now available on luxury vehicles will make its way eventually to the mainstream. But will M2M communication also raise privacy issues? Will consumers eventually view some aspects of M2M as intrusive and shy away?
Another topic worth of note is the big splash of TD-LTE on the scene with a major marketing event by the GTI backed by China Mobile. Aside from the tens of thousands of TD-LTE base stations to be deployed by CM, Softbank, Clearwire, and a dozen other operators committed to this technology, what was most impressive if the high level of integration on mobile devices which features 5 modes (FDD and TDD LTE, WCDMA, TD-SCDMA, GSM) and between 10-12 frequency bands. The 2.5 GHz spectrum band is a viable access network option. How long would it take to get 3.5 GHz integrated into this mix?
But perhaps one of the most overriding issues remains the top line: how to generate revenues. This is after all the raison d’être for this show. Operators and vendors alike are under severe pressure to realize higher revenues and margins. Operators are skeptical of many of the vendors’ claims. Vendors face a dwindling operator pool due to consolidation and in turn have to consolidate. There is surely a gap between vendors and operators that needs to be filled. Neither can exist without the other.