Mobility - A Bunch of "Little Stories" That Can Add Up to a "Big Story"

28 Feb 2013

With the Mobile World Congress (MWC) wrapping up in Barcelona and the ongoing torrent of mobile announcements we see on a regular basis, I've seen a number of interesting things pass by over the past few weeks. MWC is always the big annual event in the mobile world, but a lot of the buzz in the field has shifted to devices, and on that front, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is stealing a lot of the thunder from MWC. So there were some important announcements, but more were geared to the operator environment than to consumers.

The two big names that stood out at MWC were Huawei and Mozilla. Huawei introduced the Android 4.1.2-based Asend P2 smartphone. Huawei is still relatively new to the smartphone business, but given the company's track record of delivering high-powered solutions for bargain basement prices, when Huawei shows up, competitors start to sweat. Huawei launched both an Android device, the Asend P1, and a Windows Phone device, the Asend W1, at CES back in January.

What's shaping up is a battle royale at the low end of the smartphone market. Nokia had long held sway at the low end of the market with the ubiquitous "candy bar" phones, but the growth area in the smartphone market appears to be shifting to the developing world. Nokia launched its own low end Lumia 520 at MWC, putting them nose-to-nose with Huawei. However, you also have HTC and ZTE pursuing that market. The Huawei Asend P2 appears to be more "upscale" with a 13 megapixel camera, NFC support, and is billing it as the fastest LTE phone ever, supporting data rates up to 150 Mbps. Of course the highest LTE speeds we are seeing offered today are roughly a third of that, so the utility of a 150 Mbps phone will more likely be seen in your next smartphone (or the one after that).

The other wild card in the low end space is Mozilla, the Firefox folks. It has long been known that Mozilla was developing a mobile operating system to rival iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Now ZTE, LG, and Alcatel-Lucent have all announced Firefox phones.

Here in the U.S., we are predisposed to look at the high-end market, but it is important to remember that the U.S. has the third largest number of mobile subscribers with 321.7 million versus 1.091 billion in China, and 909.6 million in India. There have also been rumors of Apple introducing a $200 iPhone, but given that company's overall posture, I don't see a lot of reason behind that. Certainly we don't expect to see Apple "grappling in the mud" with the likes of Huawei and ZTE.

There was also a lot of talk at MWC about the new 802.11ac radio link standard and the idea of mobile operators depending more heavily on Wi-Fi and femtocell offloading to meet their ever increasing data demands. With 802.11ac, Wi-Fi data rates could potentially grow to almost 8 Gbps using a combination of more efficient signal encoding, channel bandwidths up to 160 MHz (from a max of 40 MHz today) and 8-stream MIMO (from a max of 4-streams today). Most of the MWC announcements focused on 802.11ac chipsets, but the first "products" should be out by the end of the year.

Another piece of the Wi-Fi 802.11ac got stronger last month when FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his agency will be opening an additional 195 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band, the only band where 802.11ac is designed to operate. I will be moderating a panel on high-speed wireless at Enterprise Connect later this month with representatives from both the carriers and the equipment suppliers to discuss how the Wi-Fi and cellular technologies are coming together in light of developments like Hotspot 2.0.

Closer to home we've seen increased vendor partnering as companies try to shore up their positions in the mobile market. Siemens Enterprise Networks announced a partnership with MDM manufacturer AirWatch this past November, and while we've heard little on this since then, I wouldn't be surprised to see some type of "coming out party" at Enterprise Connect where both companies will be exhibiting.

Lastly, Samsung and GENBAND announced an alliance to deliver a solution that combines Samsung's SAFE (Samsung for Enterprise) designated devices and GENBAND's SMART OFFICEUnified Communications (UC) solutions. SAFE is Samsung's plan to deliver secure, enterprise-ready smartphones to secure the market that was once owned by BlackBerry. Samsung will also be exhibiting at Enterprise Connect, and it appears that GENBAND could be part of their story.

So while we don't have "one big story" here, there are certainly enough "little stories" that they add up to "one big one." The good news is that we will have sessions dealing with most of these at Enterprise Connect this year. We'll be touching on everything from BYOD, to Wi-Fi offloading, MDM, the role of tablets in the enterprise, to how contact center providers are improving the mobile customer experience. We might not draw the 700,000 that reportedly attended MWC, but we will have the mobility topics that mean the most to enterprise users.


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