I was at the Osney Media 3G LTE--> 4G yesterday & Monday, co-chairing with the ever-evangelical Tomi Ahonen, and with a fairly diverse set of speakers ranging from Ofcom & ETSI representatives through to visionaries from major operators & vendors.
Some interesting snippets:
- The "real" standards world is getting mightly irked by the misuse of the term 4G, which is seemingly bandied about by every mobile industry marketing dept lacking the imagination to come up with something clever.
- While even the standards folk admit 4G is still "vague", there is apparently a (fairly contentious) process ongoing at the ITU which will determine which technologies qualify as part of "IMT Advanced", the follow-up to "IMT 2000" (aka 3G).
- The WiMAX folk are clearly trying to crash the IMT/ITU party, firstly by submitting a request to be considered a 3G IMT-2000 technology along with UMTS, CDMA2000 etc, and secondly by lobbying early and hard for IMT-Advanced. I suspect the IMT-2000 pitch is unrealistic, but is perhaps nevertheless a really more a good exercise in enabling their lawyers to say "see? why tried to play by the rules, but they turned their backs, we're the good guys"
- Although the WiMAX Forum allows both SIM- and non-SIM authentication, the prevailing opinion seems to be toward the latter view. Sprint-Nextel won't use them, nor will WiMAX Telecom. A good thing in my view, especially as the initial incarnations of 802.11e appear to be very geared to non-phone consumer electronics devices like web tablets, MP3 players, gaming consoles, laptops etc.
- The ITU World Radio Congress at the end of the year is going to be a right laugh. I bet the world's tech lobbying industry is gearing up as we speak. The thorniest issues will be reclaiming some "digital dividend" from the broadcast industry, with lots of telecom folk pointing to the rise of "unicasting" and who's going to watch HDTV, anyway? Then there's how much more spectrum should be licence-exempt for future WiFi-esque developments - and whether Ofcom & others can convince the world of the benefits of tech-neutrality (apparently now referred to as WAPECS in Europe. Nice acronym...)
- Speaking of tech-neutrality, another elephant in the room was IPR. There seems to be a fairly strong argument that whatever 4G turns out to be, we're going to try to make sure that it hasn't been patented up to the eyeballs. Joe Barrett from Qualcomm was busy ensuring us of the Big Q's honourable intentions, and challenging Nokia, Ericsson & co to be as transparent in their royalty rates.
Now, the downside. I thought we'd killed the stupid "everything will be wireless, and integrated into your phone" mantra. Yet I still encounter numerous examples of people breathing their own exhaust fumes, usually flavoured with scent of Japan and Korea. While I am certainly one of the believers in SMS as an unstoppable train, I certainly don't buy the notion that "the web will migrate to the mobile". No, not even in emerging countries. There was also assorted wince-inducing blather about other niche/useless mobile enhancements like mobile search, micropayments, widgets and so on.
The conference had assorted proponents of this - obviously Tomi whose enthusiasm I respect, but also assorted others exhorting faith among the mobile planners and strategists. Loads of out-of-context quotes ("mobile is the future" XYZ CEO, April 2005) and misinterpreted/poorly-defined forecasts.
I simply do not believe any of this. Experience has shown that most Internet innovation takes account of the fastest, flattest-rate connections, the largest screens and the fastest processors. Yes, Korea has done wonderful things with mobile communities like CyWorld. But eBay, Skype, YouTube & blogging absolutely would not have occurred without PCs.
The notion that "PCs are for old people" and that anyone under 21 would rather use the web on a mobile phone is unspeakably ludicrous. Younger people are probably the most intensive users of PCs, outside of high-end business activities like CAD design. Every kid who sends 300 SMS per day probably also has a PC with 20 simultaneous IM sessions on the monitor, a richly-customised full-screen MySpace page, and assorted games requiring DVDs & a graphics card that would put Pixar to shame.
Let me put this succintly. Japan and Korea are different. They both have 2 main mobile operators plus one smaller one, they both have no heritage of prepay, heavy control by operators over handset requirements, better spectrum allocations than much of Europe - and, critically, assorted social/cultural issues. You can walk around Seoul or Tokyo with $1000 of phone & other electronics on you, use it in public, and not be worried that it's going to be stolen. Try the same in Barcelona, Nairobi, Rio or, hell, even parts of London.
If you're designing 4G around the assumption that the web is somehow magically going to transform itself to being mostly mobile-centric in 10 years time, and all the cool Web 2.0 / Web 3.0 stuff is yours for the taking, you're mad.