What a week! Finally MWC 2012 is behind us, so are the endless queues for taxis and sandwiches. The main themes this year at MWC were smartphones, Long term Evolution (LTE), small cells, quality of service (QoS) and Customer Experience Management (CEM). Most of these themes were around in previous years as well, but what this year different is the emphasis on the implementation and commercialization.
Service providers have for several years been urged to learn from the retail industry on how to connect with their customers. The argument is that retailers have the correct perspective on things: they pay attention to what the customer wants, and constantly reinvent themselves based on buying behaviors.
The major announcements at this year's Mobile World Congress have mostly revolved around Android handsets. The heavy competition is pushing companies to be more adventurous with their designs both aesthetically and functionally. A common theme this year has also been the emphasis on photography and music quality out of the handsets. Let's look at the style, imaging, and sound trends in more depth. In this post I'll talk about the handset design highlights, and in Part Two I'll look at imaging and sound.
All four are tremendously powerful companies that each started in one category (book selling, search engine, etc.) and are branching out to disrupt adjacent categories. Because of this, they are all coming into conflict with one another. And they are all strong forces in mobile.
Walking down the main avenue here at Mobile World Congress I watched some gulls having an arial battle, oblivious to the crowds below who all work for companies fighting it out in the turbulent mobile industry. The pace of change in mobile was a theme running throughout the keynote/panel with John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, René Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telecom, and Ben Verwaayan, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent. The topic was ostensibly mobile cloud, but the discussion touched on subjects that affect all of the mobile industry, primarily from carrier and network infrastructure standpoints.
Oberman on how telecoms need to get away from the ghosts of their monopolistic, slow-moving pasts: "We have a hard time as an industry to cannibalize ourselves. We need to think differently in the future."
Verwaayen on the changing role of telecom service providers: "Telecoms will no longer be verticals, but will be a horizontal in other people's businesses."
Chambers on the improvements in performance and service that companies must provide: "Average is over. And being above average will only be good enough for the next 3-5 years."
Lots of statistics flew around as well: 26x increase in mobile traffic from 2010 to 2015; 50 billion connected devices by 2020 (machine-to-machine or Internet of Things); in 2011, mobile traffic exceeded internet traffic by 8x.
But Verwaayen was refreshingly frank: "We're doing very well as an industry. But there's one number we've always struggled with, and continue to do so: One." That is, the individual consumer. The industry still doesn't understand how to provide real service, and has an outmoded, authoritarian view of the customer.
"Customers don't use the same terminology we do in this room to describe their needs from mobile services." Like the gulls I saw with their own separate existences above the throngs of attendees, customers sometimes seem to live in a parallel universe compared to the jargon and extreme complexity of the mobile industry. (Saturday Night Live recently spoofed this with a satirical Verizon 4G/LTE commercial.)
Obermann joked that in telco, "Customer friendliness has meant that the customer must be friendly!" He argued that telcos must truly start thinking of themselves first and foremost as service companies, rather than as infrastructure and technology companies. This is the way out of the dumb-pipe problem where their services are commoditized, and they lose money on the enormous capital expenditures of deploying new networks while over-the-top players reap the rewards.
Aricent Group will of course be at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona again this year, and we are hosting a variety of events ourselves both at the main site and at the Hotel Arts, all of which promise to be thought provoking, insightful, fun, and often including libations (click through the deck below for details):