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Analyst Angle: 3GSM + VoIP + FMC + Mobile TV = Rampant Misconceptions

Editor’s Note: Welcome our Monday feature, Analyst Angle. We’ve collected a group of the industry’s leading analysts to give their outlook on the hot topics in the wireless industry. In the coming weeks look for columns from Strategy Analytics’ Chris Ambrosio, Ovum’s Roger Entner and M:Metrics’ Seamus McAteer.
While packing my bags for a week of briefings, tapas and cava I realized that there are some things I left out of my last column about stuff I’d like to see at 3GSM. Okay, in the spirit of honesty, I got feedback on all the “sexy” topics I left out. And, to my credit, last month I was focused on the topics that vendors will want to address if they hope to be in synch with operator demands.
Ultimately, however, some “hot” topics got ignored. similar to the way my wife feels when it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m several thousand miles away. More importantly, it seems that these topics are often surrounded by confusion. similar to the way my wife thinks I’m headed to Barcelona solely for a week of tapas, cava and parties. (Why do analysts and the media always feel a need to talk about the parties they go to-don’t they know it hurts any image of trade shows being about work?) Perhaps it’s a function of hype. Perhaps it’s a function of the technologies simply being complex. I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that when these topics come up, people tend to focus in the wrong direction. and it’s my job to pontificate on the correct directions.
And, since I also know that people don’t like reading giant blocks of unbroken text, you know I’m going to lead into some bullets.
. Femtocells. Having bored you with femtocell chatter last year, I didn’t want to go back to that trough. That said, pre-show announcements alone signal that femtocells will get good exposure at 3GSM. But, while many people will argue that the fate of the femtocell market rests upon competition with Wi-Fi, they’re generally wrong. Operators will make their FMC decisions based on network assets and planned launch timing. Those with massive Wi-Fi or IMS plans will favor UMA or VCC-based solutions. Those who want access to a broad device portfolio in the near-term will choose femtocells. In the meantime, the real keys to femtocell success will be channel development (getting major vendors and retailers involved), deployment proof points (highlighting the delivery of reliable service) and service proof points (highlighting workable operator models and end-user satisfaction).
. Mobile TV. What would a wireless trade show be without the DVB-H vs. FLO vs. MBMS vs. unicast debates? Productive. Nonetheless, I doubt we’ll see that happen this year in Barcelona. If we did, however, we’d pay better attention the fact that there are two sides to any mobile video network: the radio access technology and the backend driving video content to user devices. No matter who wins the radio access wars, the real quality of any offering will be based on what’s going on behind the transmitter: server platforms; hosting platforms; content partnerships; convergent billing systems; IMS (or proprietary) session control.
. Mobile VoIP. In the run-up to 3GSM, Tecore-the niche radio access and switching vendor-announced a new base station with SIP interfaces into the network core. Heralding the announcement as interesting, a prominent VoIP newsletter claimed that the promise, “of course, is wireless VoIP over 2.5G or 3G networks.” Wrong. In a 4G world, VoIP to the handset will likely be the norm; network speeds will support it and so too will session signaling. Today, mobile VoIP is about transporting traffic over inexpensive IP pipes and integrating RAN assets with IP in the core-whether that’s a simple mobile softswitch or a full-on IMS deployment. The real promise, “of course,” is cost savings and an ability to integrate any vendors’ base station into an existing network (think femtocells). Don’t get me wrong, VoIP to the device makes sense with HSPA, EV-DO and Wi-Fi. But, it’s not what Tecore cares about and it’s not what will be driving the major VoIP sales discussions at 3GSM.
. Transport. So, this one is a no-brainer. Radio access network transport (aka backhaul) is the proverbial “elephant in the room” that nobody wants to acknowledge. We all know that the T1/E1 and microwave schemes of the past are running out of steam. hence, some operators are beginning to look at DSL. We have conferences dedicated to the topic. Big iron vendors like Cisco, Juniper, Tellabs and all of the mobile infrastructure heavyweights are ready to supply kit that can carry more traffic, more efficiently. Most will have these solutions on display at 3GSM-probably at the back of their booths. Yet, transport is never considered a “hot topic.” It’s never the “year of mobile transport.” Maybe we’ll just have to wait until operators get successful selling their 3G and WiMAX services and run into a transport bottleneck.
. Web 2.0. Are you tired of Web 2.0 yet? Join the club. If you’re not familiar with Web 2.0, well, you’re out of luck. Clearly you live in a cave and I won’t waste my time explaining it to the likes of you. Just know that it’s about making the Web interactive and social. Think rich Internet applications, YouTube, Flickr, wikis, blogs, podcasts, AJAX apps, RSS feeds and folksonomies. You know, all the stuff that operators and vendors alike hope will drive mobile data usage. all the stuff the kids just love. With 4G R&D already being turned into products, you can bet that Web 2.0 will be on everyone’s lips at 3GSM. Yet, just like the delusional IMS applications videos of two years ago, you can also bet that the futuristic world of constant, web-based social interaction is still years away, and even then it may be hard for operators to figure out the best way to make money from it.
Combined with all the usual device launches and content deals (not to mention the porn booths), 3GSM 2007 promises to be just as exciting as ever-slow-growing infrastructure revenues be damned! If you’re heading to Barcelona and see me roaming the halls, feel free to stop me and say “hello,” argue my views or just offer to buy me a drink. Most of all, travel safely, hold on to your valuables when strolling Las Ramblas and enjoy the show.
Questions or comments about this column? Please e-mail Peter at [email protected] or RCR Wireless News at [email protected]

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