Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reality Check column. We’ve gathered a group of visionaries and veterans in the mobile industry to give their insights into the marketplace.
Each year the mobile industry starts with a bang as attendees flock to the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC) and International CTIA Wireless conferences and vendors introduce new devices, technologies, partnerships and deployments. As I pause and catch my breath between the industry’s two largest conferences, MWC and CTIA, I want to take stock of the significant announcements from last month.
Before proceeding, let me add a plea from many of us in the industry: we would appreciate a larger gap between these two shows. Especially with the disappearance of the major telecom equipment shows in the U.S. in the mid to latter half of the year, I think the entire ecosystem would be better served if CTIA moved to a June or September time frame. Yes, attendance currently does vary between the shows, but maybe it would not be so divergent (Americas for CTIA and Europe/Asia for MWC). If there is a bigger gap between the two shows perhaps more decision makers would go to both events? And, press, analysts and equipment vendor employees would certainly breathe a bit easier!
From my perspective, MWC was a great event in terms of meetings and relevant news. Focusing on my areas of interest – voice, messaging and the SIP evolution – I took away these headlines from the show:
–Mobile VoIP grows up: It seems that sanctioned mobile VoIP is coming to 3G smart-phones in the U.S. (well, sort of, given that the client will use the CDMA circuit-switched voice network and Skype VoIP in the core). Verizon Wireless is installing Skype clients on specific smart-phones and subscribers will be able to IM with buddies as well as benefit from Skype calling rates to international destinations. This is quite dramatic and shows that mobile VoIP is maturing. It represents the largest of the partnerships between an over-the-top provider and a mobile service provider, and many mobile providers will watch it closely to see how it benefits Verizon Wireless. Will this be a model that will result in greater change in the mobile industry?
–GSMA VoLTE initiative ends 4G voice debate: Building upon the One Voice initiative unveiled in November, the GSMA announced it is taking up the IMS-based approach to voice over LTE (VoLTE) as the sole solution for delivering service parity and multimedia innovation for the new all-IP RAN. This voice focus is critical to ensuring that LTE rapidly becomes the mobile broadband access network for all services. Indeed, voice is the bulk of mobile revenue today and will continue to be so – Infonetics Research projects that by 2013 voice revenue will account for 61% of all mobile service revenue.
–Rich Communication Suite (RCS) picks up steam: The GSMA also announced that NTT DoCoMo, Softbank, KDDI, EMobile and NTT Corp., have joined together to start technical work on an interoperable RCS pilot in Japan now that the specifications for RCS Release 3 have been delivered, providing some enhancements to the core feature set included in RCS Release 1 and 2. While RCS is starting to move beyond the French focus, all eyes remain on that tri-operator trial to see how the business case for RCS will prove out – this remains a big unanswered question.
–Femtocells gain traction: With announcements centered on product line extensions and reseller relationships, femtocell news is starting to get boring in some ways. Contrary to what you might think, this is a good sign, not an insult, as it shows that the market is moving from vendor pontification to service provider commercial deployment.
–IPX services go commercial: On the subject of IP interconnects and VoIP peering, wholesale providers iBasis and Tata both announced the launch of IPX (IP eXchange) commercial services. By helping mobile and fixed service providers reduce costs and provide a single IP onramp for many services, and to many service providers, IPX carriers provide transit services with end-to-end QoS, security, multilateral connectivity and cascading payments. After years of trials, the launch of IPX services should help accelerate the mobile service provider transition to VoIP interconnects.
While these points are not all SIP-based developments, they do show progress for the VoIP and FMC evolution for mobile service providers. So, what does that leave us for CTIA, a mere month later? I suspect the following:
–Femtocell, femtocell, femtocell: The U.S. market is the only competitive market for femtocells with three (yes, THREE!) mobile service providers offering femtocell services. The news from MWC was heavily UMTS-focused, so I anticipate some CDMA femtocell updates (which are SIP-based, unlike the UMTS Iuh standard), including enterprise-class devices. Coincidentally, CTIA also overlaps with the Femto Forum Plugfest in France, which brings together dozens of femtocell and core equipment vendors to prove interoperability on the Iuh standard. A plugfest is not a big news event, but again demonstrates the maturation of femtocell technology.
–LTE rollout details revealed: I expect service providers will release more details on time frames and markets for LTE rollouts, but this will mostly turn into a race to be one of the first for data services. While AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Bell Canada have public commitments to LTE and are supporters of the GSMA VoLTE initiative, I do not suspect service providers will reveal more details on the timing of voice and messaging over the new IP RAN.
–SIP-over-3G silence: Sadly, I do not expect to hear much on the RCS front to keep up the momentum on RCS development. While AT&T and Telus are RCS members, the trial and vendor activity is largely European and Asian-based. Likewise, I do not anticipate any new SIP-based over-the-top services partnerships in response to Verizon Wireless and Skype. There is likely more risk than reward at this time.
So, when CTIA concludes later this month, a third of the year will be behind us, and after many product announcements and visionary proclamations, the real hard work begins – actually delivering these new technologies and architectures to market, which should make for an exciting and challenging remainder of 2010.
Kevin Mitchell is Director, Solutions Marketing at Acme Packet where he leads wireless solution marketing focusing on wireless access, interconnect and core session routing applications of Acme Packet’s Net-Net product family. In addition to developing marketing and event strategy, Mitchell serves as the chief spokesperson for Acme Packet’s solutions for femtocells, fixed mobile convergence, RCS, 4G voice, VoIP peering and core session routing. Mitchell joined Acme Packet in 2005 after 8 years with Infonetics Research where he was most recently a Principal Analyst, serving as an overall company director and lead analyst responsible for consulting, analysis, product development and overall strategic direction of multiple technology coverage areas.