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Industry News

What MWC 2011 Tells Us About the Mobile Communications Market

Mobile World Congress 2011 had more energy and attendance (over 50,000 according to organizers) than ever before. Apps, OS, processing power and new mobile devices gave this event plenty of WOW factor. And yet behind all this mobility, lies the microwa...

February 22, 2011
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Emerging Connectivity

The big story of day one…. or rather one of the big stories was the announcement that Nokia had opted for Microsoft’s WP7 platform as its primary Smartphone OS over the Android OS, rejecting Google’s effort to win the company over to their platform. According to CEO Stephen Elop, Nokia was prompted by a desire to avoid a “duopoly” in the mobile industry between Google and Apple, although comments during the CEO’s keynote speech imply the move was driven by an alternative strategy. MS which was clearly lagging behind Google and Apple in the OS wars needed a big win and were likely to cut a sweet licensing deal. Tie Nokia’s announcement in with Elop’s keynote speech several days later on the company’s focus on the entry-level smartphones for emerging markets and it seems apparent that Nokia is striving to cut expenses at every opportunity.

With Nokia the emerging connectivity market, similar low cost, reduced feature capability will drive other aspects of the user unit including less sophisticated yet lower cost RF front-end solutions. So while we have been talking about multi-mode, multi-band front ends the past year, there will still opportunity for RFIC vendors who can offer a high volume, low cost solution -maybe even CMOS based. Whether this niche is filled by one of the big three (RFMD, Skyworks or TriQuint) or some other the smaller players in this space (ANADIGICS, Avago, etc.) remains to be seen.

Final note on Nokia – apparently someone leaked an internal e-mail from CEO Steven Elop in which he lambasted the company for falling behind in every market sector, from high end phones top Apple, mid-market to Droid phones and low market to no name emerging market manufacturers. Did I read this in the Mobile World Congress show Daily? No, straight from the New York Times.

In India, mobile operators are set to invest a combined $2.5 Billion (US) in building out new 3G networks this year. According to new Wireless Intelligence data, India represents the world’s second largest mobile market and is on track to hit 400 million 3G connections by 2015, representing almost 30 percent of total subscribers in the country. Indian operators spent over $15 billion (US) acquiring 3G licenses with the first commercial 3G networks going live in Q4 of 2010. 80 percent of Indian 3G connections by 2015 will be based on WCDMA/HSPA with the remainder based on CDMA2000 1X and CDMA2000 1X EV-DO Rev. A networks.

Capacity Crunch

According to Ericsson’s CEO Hans Vestberg, the global mobile subscriber base will increase from the current 5.3 billion to a staggering 7 top 8 billion by 2015. Which has me wondering how many people are on the planet, who doesn’t have a mobile phone yet and how do telemarketers get in touch with them? Connectivity is a big theme at MWC and with data overtaking voice traffic on mobile networks, providers are desperate to find solutions to the capacity crunch.

Femtocells are becoming an important component to deal with the explosion in data usage. Quite a few exhibitors were discussing how to better manage networks by offloading traffic from macro cells to femtocells. Femtocells has the benefit of size and stealth, which allows them to be placed in more locations, reducing traffic and improving the quality of service for users connected by macro-cells.

The devices will be used from day one by some carriers - to offload data from the macrocell or to provide indoor coverage in high frequencies like 2.6GHz; to add capacity to deployments in low frequencies like 700MHz; and even as a starting point for greenfield providers, which could then add macro networks later, explained Simon Saunders, chair of the Femto Forum

The MWC saw a large number of femtocell deployment announcements. Most notable was the announcement from Telefonica Spain, but MegaFon in Russia and Network Norway also announced commercial launches, while Zain announced a trial in Saudi Arabia.

Also of note was the growing range of form factors in which femtocells are appearing. At MWC, we saw femtocell technology that had been scaled up to become enterprise solutions, or metropolitan femtocells that offer outdoor coverage. Among a host of announcements, the leading silicon supplier for this segment, picoChip, was working hard to maintain its headstart even as Qualcomm and others gear up to enter the market. It announced no fewer than six new customers, many coming from the Taiwanese ecosystem that is so vital to mass adoption, and price competitiveness, of any emerging consumer product.

Another method for addressing the capacity problem which was being discussed involves spectrum refarming. The UK is one of several European country to open up 2G spectrum such as 900-MHz for refarming, a move that allows operators to better utilise their existing spectrum assets but will also put them in a better position to decide what they need for future LTE services.

However, according to Chris Haslett, Senior Consultant of Mesaplexx, "care must be taken when re-farming spectrum - any mistakes can severly impact an operator's bottom line." Haslett includes the following considerations in mapping a way forward.

First, virtually every GSM base station today will evolve into a 3G or 4G basestation in the future. This will lead to mixing 2G with 3G before migrating completely to a 4G network. This interim step will be the biggest challenge for operators. The challenge is to how best deploy multiple technologies within the same frequencies. Methods of spectrum sharing to increase coverage and capacity include utilizing seperate antenna and feeder equipment or adopting a method of combining on to common feeders. While multiradio basestations combine GSM and UMTS within the unit itself, these require having to write off existing GSM hardware, which will likely be evolved out of the network in five years.

NFC

Near Field Communications (NFC) was another hot topic at MWC. NFC gives users the ability to interact with other devices that are nearby. Think about buying a soda from a vending machine simply by waving your phone at it, or printing pictures from your mobile by setting it down on top of your printer. At the show here there are many examples of NFC. Qt and the Qt Mobility APIs make it possible to integrate with stores and more. The upcoming release of Qt Mobility (1.2) features the Connectivity API, which allows NFC enabled phones such as the Nokia C7 to recognise NFC tags.

The GSMA decided to put out a release backing the spread of NFC amongst member mobile network operators. The point is that some 16 operators – including China Unicom and Vodafone said that that they are committed to introducing near field communication (NFC) services in a number of territories from next year [2012]. The important point is that the good old SIM card will form the kingpin of all of these initiatives.The GSMA said this, “The standardisation of NFC technology is critical to success with the SIM providing the secure element for authentication, security and portability.”

Recent Articles by David Vye

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