Friday, February 17, 2006

JupiterResearch: Back from 3GSM's pilgrimage

Thomas Husson provides a thorough analysis of his three key issues at 3GSM at the Jupiter Analyst Weblogs. Here is the wrap-up:

1) Mobile TV : "it should not be overhyped"

As expected, it was the hottest topic at the summit. Rene Oberman, T-mobile's CEO, had a nice comment during its press conference: "I don't think we should overhype mobile TV". Good thing to hear among all the confusion around mobile broadcasting technologies. Nokia and Sony Ericsson announced their intention to work together to promote DVB-H interoperability. Samsung unveiled the SGH-P900, Europe's first T-DMB phone while also backing DVB-H and MediaFLo (sounds like a cautious but realistic approach for a handset manufacturer). LG has the same approach. Virgin Mobile will launch a mobile TV offer based on DAB in the UK, in partnership with Microsoft and BT. BT's offer, Movio, will then be available on a wholesale basis to all carriers in the UK. Given the lack of UHF spectrum (on which DVB-H is based), this sounds like a 1st mover advantage. A mobile broadcasting service will also be available in Germany for the Football World Cup, but that's no breaking news. The question will remain a political issue: the Northern German "Lander" promote DVB-H while Bavaria is more likely to promote DMB. Alcatel promoted its Satellite solution: interesting to deliver TV for the mass-market on a nationwide basis but requires several carriers to adopt the technology to share the satellite infrastructure costs. The most interesting announcement was however that of Orange and IP Wireless: the mobile operator will launch a trial on its unpaired TDD spectrum. In other words, on 3G. Why would they spend new billions and lose control on the value chain if current assets can be fully exploited ?
2) Mobile Broadband and VoIP: is 3G already over ?

A lot of hype around HSDPA (known as 3.5G) again. Yes, Samsung will be the first to launch an HSDPA handset (the SGH-Z560, up to 1.8Mbps, expected in Q2 2006). Yes, T-mobile will probably be the first to launch HSDPA, even though it is already available on...the Isle of Man (on a data card offered by O2). Many other players will follow since it is "only" a software evolution leading to faster downlink speeds for customers. But no, 2006 will not be the year of HSDPA. As for 3G, networks will probably be ready before handsets and the service will mainly be available with data cards for laptops with average speeds at 700kbits far from the theoritical 14.4Mbit/s. HSDPA is not yet "mobile DSL".

This year again, the show was significantly led by technology acronyms. Who will win the 4G battle ? Japanese NTT DoCoMo with Korean and Chinese partners promoting VSF-Spread OFDM, US Qualcomm promoting its proprierary Flarion solution, Wimax (and its Korean version, Wibro, to be introduced in Italy with TIM) ? Let's be honest. This will be the new standard war but it is too early to say. DoCoMo intends to launch only by 2010. Many do acknowledge the concept is not finalized yet and call it 3.9G or LTE (Long Term Evolution). It speaks for itself. The question remains: which services will the consumer use : download a movie from a mobile P2P network on their mobile phones ? Yes it will probably be a reality one day but let's go step by step. Let's sell 3G first. Qualcomm expects 85M 3G devices in 2006 while Nokia is more bullish intending to have a market share of 40% out of 100M 3G devices. That's a significant number but it is only below 15% of the total shipments expected in 2006. Nokia will only launch its first UMA device next year allowing VoIP calls over WiFi networks. Skype is only partnering with Hutchinson not with a major global operator. VoIP will become mobile and could even become an opportunity for carriers, but so far quality is probably not there and voice call prices are going down anyway. There is still a huge work to be done on user interfaces and simplicity for the end-user. Interestingly, Hamid Akhavan (T-Mobile's CTO) presented a slide on the number of remoted device updates, claiming to have updated over-the-air 300K devices, mainly for MMS and data services configuration. This is not as glamour as mobile TV but this is the reality many consumers face. Having worked for a mobile operator, I can tell you this is the nightmare of many CRM project managers...
3) Mobile Search: beyond the Vodafone/Google deal
After the Motorola agreement and the T-Mobile deal, Vodafone will offer a mobile search solution for Vodafone. Consumers are looking for strong brands they trust in the Internet world. I wonder to which extent Google's results in the mobile space are more relevant than that of white-label mobile companies such as JumpTap, Infospace, Enrique or Exalead. Apparently, MSN prefers to leverage its messaging branded services (MSN Messenger and Hotmail) and invest on the technology side for mobile search. Microsoft just announced the acquisition of the French MotionBridge (a firm already working for 02 and Orange). Interesting to see which strategy will pay in the long run.