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Industry heroes

There aren’t really words to describe that feeling when you’ve boarded one of the final EasyJet flights out of Barcelona on the Thursday evening. As the Informer looked down the row of heads in front, every one listing to the left and leaning up against the window or resting on its neighbour’s shoulder, he couldn’t help but feel like part of a platoon being shipped out after an arduous tour of duty. Industry heroes to a (wo)man.

And what a nice bunch! The Informer would be unable to tell you what the big news was from this week if you asked, because the show is now so vast and immersive that it’s impossible to tell what’s going on from the ground. Team telecoms.com also spent most of the show running around with a camera crew doing video interviews, which turned out to be a great success and not a single prima donna among them. So a shout out to the telecoms.com clients helping us drive video as a content medium. The Informer met a great many people with some very interesting things to say, so he’ll be following up in the coming days.

This year also saw the inaugural telecoms.com drinks party, which kept a good number of our closest industry friends chattering long into the night, with the added thrill of us having inadvertently picked the one street where all the protesters were assembling to hold the shindig. There’s nothing like the imminent threat of it all kicking off to keep things interesting eh? Well, watch this space as next year it might be knees up everyone is talking about.

Fair play to our MWC hosts, the GSMA, for sorting out the transport issues at the last minute too. Although the Informer was genuinely interested to see just what the secret contingency plan entailed. He guesses that with the show moving to another exhibition hall next year, this was the last chance the transport workers had to squeeze the local government by the cojones. There was also a greater presence of riot police this year was there not? And the swell of protestors seemed somewhat larger than usual. In dire economic times the Informer understands the need to protest but he wasn’t clear on why so many of them were touting an icon that featured a pair of scissors crossed out in red. Do they have something against scissors? Should hairdressers be running in fear?

The Informer has a prediction for next year, that with the shift to a new venue close to the airport, the GSMA will start offering accommodation in the form of those Japanese stacking coffin hotels. Imagine being able to climb into your pod at the end of the night and wake up bright and breezy and already at the show. Unless you can find alternative arrangements that is. Courter of controversy and Russian billing company CBoss really went the extra mile this time, and caused a bit of a flutter on Twitter with its latest package.

Imagine the scene: You’re walking the show floor on day two, feeling vulnerable (or is it the paranoia that sets in on day two and the vulnerability on day three? The Informer can never remember) when you are approached by one of the CBoss girls who shoves a flyer into your sweaty paw and asks if you’re interested in “deep market inspection”. But before you’ve had chance to digest the various entendres of the question, she’s gone in a cloud of gold and expensive perfume.

The bait delivered, eyes fall to the flyer, which features a picture of said female, in a somewhat alluring pose, accompanied by an explanation of the pitch. The idea is you drop your business card off at the (in)famous stand, and the Informer presumes that using an algorithm based on your eligibility as a spending client, you may be awarded a “romantic dinner” with a girl of your choice (personal preferences will be accommodated, the blurb says). Then over champagne and caviar you are invited to deliver your thoughts on telecom BSS market trends whilst your dining partner hangs on your every word. Brazen indeed, and it probably had the desired effect, given that the Informer suspects CBoss follows the Michael O’Leary strategy of marketing.

You have to have some admiration for a company that’s able to pick a strategy that works so well at the show however. With so much noise it’s easy for announcements to get lost, no matter how important they are, so being one company that everyone is talking about definitely has its advantages. The glitz and glamour of the internet brands continue to draw the crowds, with the likes of Google and Facebook making big waves once again even if there wasn’t much substance to what they were doing.

Clearly, this is what the Joyn initiative, kick started by the Spanish offices of Telefonica, Vodafone and Orange as well as T-Mobile and Telecom Italia is about. If you can’t beat ‘em, Joyn ‘em, seems to be the message here and the Informer wonders whether it’s actually do or die in terms of RCS or rich communications. In a bid to stave off the threat from the over the top guys – the number of times someone mentioned WhatsApp this week is amazing – the five carriers are banding together to deliver their own brand of over the top candy to their existing subscriber bases. Hey, it worked for SMS all those years ago, so surely there’s some tricks left in this old dog?

It is interesting, and the Informer was having dinner with Bill Gajda, ex CCO of GSMA and now head of Visa mobile, to talk about how the show has evolved from its origins as a place for the operators to get together and sort out their roaming agreements, to how the carrier community now takes a back seat.

Gajda, Hannes van Rensburg from Fundamo, and a very interesting chap from Monitise, Alastair Lukies, were all talking up the opportunities in the mobile money sector, and from the buzz at the conference it’s clearly going to be a big topic this year. In fact, keep your eyes on this site as telecoms.com is doing a big feature on mobile money in the very near future. Not only are the operators moving out into the financial services spaces, but the finance guys are moving into operator territory too.

And what topic goes hand in hand with money but ways to spend it. The most popular of which this week was by keeping in contact with friends and colleagues while overseas. Yes, roaming charges were very much front and centre and ‘Steely’ Neelie Kroes took Vodafone chief Vittorio Colao to task with a stern warning after Colao used his keynote to make high-profile complaints about “auto-pilot regulation” in Europe and a need for greater regulator clarity. Yes, the operators would have been right behind Colao at that point, but non-members of the operator club find it hard to sympathise whilst data roaming prices remain at their current levels.

The irony wasn’t lost on Informa analyst Thomas Wehmeier, that whilst data prices have lowered at glacial speeds in the roaming market, operators have allowed domestic data pricing to drop too quickly and too sharply. And the stark contrast between the price of a megabyte at home and abroad only serves to intensify customer frustration and as long as that vast gulf remains, the operators will have to live with the regulatory shadow cast by Kroes.

Orange made an announcement of note, with a tariff that is innovative in that it offers roamers a bundle of mobile services for a set fee. For example, Orange France customers will be able to purchase a roaming bundle that includes 10 minutes of voice, 10 SMS’s and 10 MB for approximately €4-€5 on a daily basis when travelling in the EU. This will be available from June onwards.

Informa analyst Paul Lambert said that while it remains to be seen how popular this bundled approach will be with customers, it is a step in the right direction for operators trying to stimulate roaming usage beyond the old price-per-minute/ SMS/ MB approach.

Yet further irony could be had, and this might be a wind-up, in the rumour that the GSMA issued a blanket ban on roaming for its employees during the show. It’s probably one story we’ll never find out the truth of. Given the prevalence of twitter as an announcement tool this week, the Informer’s chums reckon they were averaging about £1 per tweet. While the prize for outrageous roaming charges has to go to one of the chaps at WDS who was kindly alerted by O2 that he’d hit £102 by 5pm on Monday. He was so shocked he tweeted the news and racked up a few more quid.

On this subject, the Informer is keen to hear about how people actually digest the news at the show, if indeed they do at all. From most conversations it seems typical that attendees who have shelled out for a stand spend all four days in back to back meetings and never set foot outside their meeting cubicles. For sure the best time to assess what happened is in the aftermath when the dust has settled a little, but do people like to read news during the show? Help an old telecoms curmudgeon out and fill out the polls at the bottom of the page.

As expected, there were handsets aplenty, with Orange unveiling the first Intel Atom powered smartphone, while Sony, ZTE, Fujitsu and Panasonic fought to get into the mobile devices space. The Informer had a sit down with Taro Itakura, director of Panasonic Mobile, who explained that the main reason the firm got out of the global market and concentrated on the domestic Japanese market over the past decade was to wait for the rest of the world to catch up. Well, now that’s apparently happened. As William Gibson once said: “The future’s already here, it’s just very unevenly distributed.”

In fact, Panasonic was lucky to have a stand at all. The excitement was almost too much for Vodafone next door, with part of the construct threatening to fall over and flatten the stand next door. Voda and its neighbours had to be evacuated for five hours the Informer was told.

There’s a lot more being made of the importance of partnerships in this industry, as operators come to understand their place in the various value chains that increasingly introduce a wider range of vertical markets into the mix.

M2M is a key pivot here and Jasper Wireless has announced a few contracts which firmly position the American group as the leading independent platform supplier. While Nokia Siemens Networks made the first public announcement of Cumulocity, the infrastructure manufacturer’s new M2M service management platform – and the result of two years of development work.

On the software side, Telefónica Digital has announced a new deal with Firefox browser-maker Mozilla, giving the Moz a backer for its Open Web Devices platform (OWD), which will see a host of HTML 5 based devices running on the open web entering the market. The two companies claim that the platform will enable smartphones running HTML 5 applications to enter the market at low price points, delivering access to core phone APIs. But really, the Informer isn’t sure how this would differ from any other HTML5 implementation in the future.

At a roundtable hosted by Technotree, the Informer heard about complexities in partnerships that are often overlooked until the last minute. The key culprit here being convergent billing. If there is scope for an operator to become a ‘digital marketplace’ – selling on third party services to its customers and charging them to the user’s phone bill, it has to be appreciated just how difficult it is to integrate these various billing platforms in the back end. It’s not an insignificant task.

There’s also an argument to refrain from partnerships in some cases, according to Starhub CEO, Neil Montefiore, who said unlike many operators, Starhub hasn’t outsourced its network based on the short term thinking led a lot of MNOs to take the leap in a bid to drive swift cost reductions. But in five or ten years, he said, they may regret the fact that they no longer have the staff, they no longer have the network and they no longer truly own the technology or the roadmap.

Right, there’s plenty to dwell on there while the industry raconteurs set about preparing an analysis of the week’s events.

Well done everybody.

The Informer

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telecoms.com – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion

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