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Monday, February 27, 2017

Quick thoughts on MWC from afar

I'm not in Barcelona this week.

I stopped going to MWC a few years ago, when the hassle and costs involved started outweighing the benefits. One year I had 400 requests for meetings, and it took me a solid 2 weeks of email just to sort my diary. No more - I prefer smaller events, which have the added benefit of fewer "messages" being hammered into my skull by stressed marketing execs and their PR/AR minders.

But I am watching from afar, scanning Twitter and a few webcasts for nuggets of insight, from the comfort of my sofa, bed or local artisan coffee place.

A couple of quick observations so far:
  • The most intriguing announcement is the Cisco/Ericsson blending of VoLTE and Cisco's Spark collaboration and messaging app (link). Although the PR is carrier-focused and around selling UCaaS, I suspect the real story is yet to come. Both companies also have close relationships with Apple and IBM. And I suspect that a future enterprise-centric solution could combine private (or virtual-private) mobile networks, optimised iPhone/iPad experience, maybe eSIM, Siri, Watson integration and more. Let's see if there's any different messaging, or more detail, at Enterprise Connect next month, the big UC/UCaaS shindig in Orlando. I'll be there, unlike MWC, as it gets the signal/noise ratio right. [Sidenote: if anyone at Ericsson or Cisco is now thinking "hmm, sounds interesting.... why haven't we thought of that?" then get in touch with me!]
  • Nokia's reinvention continues. On its analyst/press webcast yesterday, it made a big deal about verticals and enterprise-related activities too. Utilities, transport, public sector and "webscale" companies were namechecked, including (again) private cellular either standalone or in partnership with classical MNOs. It also highlighted optical and IP networks (which came with the ALU acquisition) which was an interesting choice for a mobile event. Props to CEO Rajeev Suri for using "Webscale" instead of the pejorative "OTT": much more mature and inclusive language. 
  • There's an awful of of 5G-washing going on, unsurprisingly, with plenty of references to its supposedly world-changing abilities. Governments and policymakers have all swallowed the 5G spin, without realising it's mostly just a pitch for more spectrum. Yet the GSMA head Mats Granryd talked in his keynote about 1.1 billion users in 2025. Given half of those (or more) are likely to be smartphones, that suggests that maybe 500m, at most, will be 5G IoT devices. Which, depending on your preferred overhyped forecast number, implies about 1-4% of the total IoT universe in 2025 - hardly the most indispensable enabler of the overall automated society of the future, nor an indicator that a spectrum monoculture policy is desirable. Doesn't suggest billions in new value from network-slicing capabilities, either. In a nutshell, 5G is important, but it's not the gamechanger many assert. Use the hashtag #5Gwash to call people out on it.
  • The most-discussed new handset is HMD Global's new take on the classic Nokia 3310. As well as its retro looks, it sports a month-long battery, the Snake game, and a whole two (count 'em!) generations of cellular technology. That's right, it's a good-ole 2G GSM, calls+SMS device. Plus, it comes in a dual-SIM version. That's proper plastic SIMs, naturally, not this newfangled eSIM stuff. Sounds like a great backup device for 2-factor authentication when your main phone breaks or gets stolen.  
  • GSMA published an eBook on "Messaging as a Platform" (link), tying its MaaP vision to RCS. There's a lot of generic stuff about chatbots, AI and "conversational commerce" in there, without explaining how it relates to a useless messaging service which isn't even a successful product, nor has any form of unifed API. Unless, as I suspect, it's aimed at making MNOs the distribution channel for Google's chat interface, Assistant and voice-recognition tools. Maybe there's a Google API / PaaS play to look forward to?  As I wrote last week, operators should ignore RCS and So-Called Advanced Messaging (yes, I like the acronym) and do more-relevant things instead. The same applies to contact-centre and multi-channel vendors: there are plenty of more-urgent things to look at. The GSMA's continued use of a Twitter SnapChat avatar points to the fact that platform status is earned not just imposed.
  • The "official" announcement that Deutsche Telekom's immmr VoIP/messaging spin-off is using GenBand's Kandy cPaaS is interesting (link), although it was talked about informally last year at TADSummit (link). Looks like it's Internet/WebRTC-based and very much a good example of "post-IMS" mobile communications, with iOS and Android apps as well as browser access. No RCS nonsense visible, although I can imagine that DT's network-fundamentalist wing might have something to say about in future.
More MWC de-spinning if I get a chance over the next couple of days.

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