Mobile industry gears up for glittery confab

Delegates at the 3GSM World Congress this week can expect to catch up on the latest mobile technologies, as well as hear from the smaller players.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

More than 60,000 delegates are expected to pack the halls of the 3GSM World Congress this week and feast their eyes on red-hot technologies such as mobile TV.

Held in Barcelona, Spain, the mobile industry event will also feature several CEO luminaries including Arun Sarin of Vodafone, Sanjiv Ahuja of Orange and Rene Obermann of Deutsche Telecom.

Amid the glitz and glamour expected at the four-day conference ending Feb. 15, analyst company Strand Consult noted in a statement Friday: "This year, a lot of focus will be on new technologies but people tend to forget to see technology in relation to distribution, business models, alternative solutions already on the market, as well as how the average consumer will welcome this new technology."

Indeed, technology suppliers such as Nokia/Siemens, Ericsson, Alcatel/Lucent, Nortel Networks and Qualcomm will be touting their offerings.

Strand said: "We will be hearing their golden-song about how, if you purchase their technology, the operators' Capex (capital expenditure) will fall and ARPU (average revenue per user) increase."

The analyst added that in reality, the mobile industry is changing and undergoing a paradigm shift. It is developing in the same way as the pharmaceutical industry, which is consolidating into a few large players. However, Strand said, it is not the bigger players that are delivering innovation.

"Innovation is something you [see in] smaller companies," he said. "We believe that the exciting news this year will come from the smaller and midsize players who only have their unique products to profile themselves on, against the big boys' PR (public relations) machines."

For example, CoreMedia, a mobile content software provider, will unveil a mobile TV product during the event. Developed together with NXP Software, NXP Semiconductors and S3, the product also touts the industry-standard 18Crypt mobile TV content protection.

Mobile TV was already the hottest topic at 3GSM World Congress 2006, but this year, visitors should expect to see fully operational trials and compelling content, according to telecom research company Informa Telecoms & Media.

"Mobile TV services over 3G networks have rolled out in a number of European countries over the last year," Nick Lane, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said in a statement.

"But none of them have really taken the market by storm," Lane noted. "There are still big questions that need to be answered about the viability of different technology platforms and--more importantly--the business models for mobile TV. People are going to want to see compelling content that consumers will be willing to pay for."

Mobile operators around the globe are also well represented in this year's show. In particular, U.K. mobile network operator Vodafone's future strategy is expected to be in the limelight.

Strand said: "We, as always, look forward to hearing from Arun Sarin of Vodafone, the man at the top of [an] operator with the biggest ambitions and the man who has to admit [his strategy] didn't quite develop as expected.

"The fact is, Vodafone bailed out of Sweden and Japan, sold their operations in Belgium and Switzerland, and is facing a hard time in Germany and the Netherlands," the analyst added.

Where small is big
Strand also expects mobile operators in developing countries to present their winning stories. "There are quite a lot of operators who sell a mobile minute for a few cents and make a lot of money doing so," he added. "Some are smaller players, while others are growing big in markets with a lot of people."

"Maybe the real heroes in this industry aren't Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange and T-mobile," Strand said, noting that this year's event will be marked by many as the conference where attention moved farther away from large operators, to the many smaller players that are starting to influence the mobile value chain.

"People will be talking even more about Internet companies, media companies, content aggregators and innovative technology providers," he said. "There is no doubt that the industry is facing large changes but who will be the future heroes: the big old boys or the small new kids on the block?"

Underscoring the importance of content players in the mobile industry, the Sundance Institute, a supporter of independent filmmakers, is joining forces with the GSM Association to create the Sundance Film Festival: Global Short Film Project. The pilot project will premiere five exclusively made-for-mobile short films from six new and established independent film makers at the 3GSM World Congress 2007.

"Cell phones are fast becoming the 'fourth screen' medium, after television, cinema and computers," Sundance Institute's president and founder Robert Redford, said in a November 2006 statement. "We feel this experiment embodies fully, our quarter-century dedication to exploring new platforms to support wider distribution of independent voices in filmmaking."

Also noteworthy is the GSM Association's Global Mobile Awards night, held at Barcelona's majestic National Palace during the Congress tomorrow. Into its 12th year, the awards, featuring categories that include mobile innovation and handsets, recognize the best services and products launched by the industry in the past one year.

Asian companies shortlisted for the mobile innovation category include Microimage from Sri Lanka, G-Xchange from the Philippines and Open-Plug Taiwan.

Last year, the same event attracted a record 50,000 visitors, up from 34,000 in 2005. The show moved from Cannes, France to Barcelona in 2006.

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